Occasional Essays
August 26, 2005
We must at all times try to preserve our state

Sometime ago the Prime Minister of Barbados accused the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines of not doing enough to curb drug trafficking between the two countries and hence posing a threat to the security of Barbados. The Vincentian Prime Minister replied spiritedly and appropriately. The exchange led me to reflect on the nature of the State and the threats to its existence. The subject has recently been in the news with studies in State failure in regard to Afghanistan, Columbia, Sierra Leone, Central Africa and the islands of the South Pacific.{{more}}

The one which is of most relevance to us is that of the South Pacific which, like ourselves, is a group of small islands. There, several states are regarded as having failed; in particular Nauru and the Solomon Islands. Nauru used to be rich but the phosphates which made it so ran out and now they depend on money laundering, selling passports and switching allegiance from Taiwan to China for survival. Our ruling party has firmly set its sights against these expedients. It has been emphasising tourism, agriculture and construction.

Based on the Singapore experience, it has been argued that one way to avert state failure is to decisively implement development projects. The Government here has been trying to do just that with projects in electricity, airports, water, education and prisons among others. Not only does the Government initiate the projects, it seeks to monitor them through its Cabinet Committee on the Economy which has just held its 42nd monthly meeting.

The Prime Minister simply ignores those who criticise his committee.

In the Solomon Islands, a group of rebels, aided by elements of the police, overthrew the Government. Originally Australia refused to intervene in the internal affairs of these independent island states but as the situation deteriorated and it was realised that they could become a base for terrorists, it decided to intervene and restore order in the Solomons. It still continues to do so.

The factors identified as leading to state failure in the South Pacific are: 1) Ethnic division, 2) Land disputes, 3) Civil – Military relations, instead of having only a police force they also had an army, 4) Small arms proliferation, 5) Weak Governance, 6) Law and order.

Items 1 to 3 are of no relevance to us. Small arms proliferation is something we have to watch and the Government has been doing this with its “stop and search” and severe penalties for persons caught with unlicensed firearms.

As far as weak governance is concerned, the Solomons did not have political parties but government consisted of a collection of individuals with continually shifting allegiances. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines we at least have two political parties each with a well disciplined parliamentary following.

Item 6, “law and order” referred to a situation in the Solomons where lawlessness and intimidation were rife. Crimes also went unpunished. This in fact goes to the very heart of the security of the state.

State failure comes about when a government is no longer able to provide services such as education, health as well as law and order. Obviously to perform these services the government must be able to levy the appropriate level of taxes and the taxes having been raised they must not be squandered.

Of the three services mentioned, law and order is the most critical. Crucial to its maintenance are the prisons, the police and the government legal service including the judiciary. The present Government has, from its very inception devoted considerable resources to dealing with the prison problem. The perennial difficulty with the legal service is being able to pay salaries that would attract and retain the best talent available. There is no easy solution here.

The Government has been building police stations even acquiring mobile ones. Recently a new coast guard vessel was commissioned. It is clear from this and the comments made during the last meeting of the House of Assembly that police matters constitute a top priority.

We mentioned Australian intervention in the Pacific. Obviously the Eastern Carib-bean Governments are very much aware of the vulnerability of their small islands and no doubt this is why they set up the Regional Security Service and any intervention here would have to come from this source as happened in Gren-ada in the aftermath of Hurri-cane Ivan. Of course, very often, the possibility of intervention rather than the actuality is sufficient to ensure the maintenance of law and order.