Our Readers' Opinions
November 25, 2005
Opposition suffering 17-year memory loss

by Camillo M. Gonsalves

The legendary American economist and Harvard University Professor John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote that “nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.”

The nominal leader of the NDP, purportedly an economist himself, is apparently intent on putting this maxim to the test. Not only has the opposition conveniently and collectively forgotten its own lengthy record of ineffectiveness and incompetence, but its election strategy is apparently premised on the hope that political amnesia is a contagion that will also infect the electorate.{{more}}

What else but acute political amnesia could explain a straight-faced opposition leader publicly decrying the levels of poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Has he forgotten that almost 40% of the nation lived in poverty under his government and his tenure as minister of finance and Prime Minister? And has he forgotten the current government’s ongoing success at reducing poverty through a multi-faceted approach that includes job creation and land ownership in the short term and access to education in the long term?

What memory lapse could cause him to lament the ULP’s economic stewardship? Has his amnesia extended to the $200 million debt albatross of Ottley Hall? Can he no longer remember that his administration failed to pay for hospital drugs? Or students’ UWI education? Or workers’ severance pay? Or that he was unable to secure debt relief from Britain? Has he forgotten that the economy has grown in each successive year of the ULP government? Or that even the International Monetary Fund has praised the prudent fiscal management of the ULP?

And how can he bill himself as “Mr. Clean?” Is his memory so selective as to omit his party’s association with sweetheart Grenadines land deals, corruption allegations and the ongoing Ottley Hall investigation? Maybe it is true, as English wag Doug Larsen once commented, that “a lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience.” But what of the convictions for dishonesty and allegations of bounced cheques, stoned churches, misused sheep and missing chickens that swirl around his current hand-picked team? Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are, Mr. Clean.

It is either pathetically brazen or simply pathetic that a key holdover from a failed and resoundingly rejected NDP administration could presume to speak on education, tourism, agriculture, housing or jobs without first apologizing for his own unrivaled record of nonperformance. Has he forgotten how, or why, a majority of the electorate voted against his party in the last two general elections?

It is apparent that the opposition leader’s political amnesia extends not only to his own personal failings and that of his party, but also to the lessons of recent history. After the Labour Party was drubbed 15-0 by the NDP, it had to reinvent itself with a new team, a new leader and a new political focus and philosophy before again finding favour with the electorate.

The NDP either forgot or never learned this lesson, because five years after its own election trouncing, it has returned with the same stale leader, discarded philosophy and dearth of ideas that led to its defeat. Their current slate of candidates is headed by the same old brain trust with the same old faces of yesteryear, and shuffling candidates from one constituency to the next or from the background to the foreground is an exercise in futility akin to reorganizing the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.

Maybe political amnesia is an infection that spreads from close contact, as the NDP’s dwindling base huddles together and listens to itself in the echo chamber of its own radio propaganda. But while the opposition leader infects and is infected by the failing memory of his recycled team, the majority of the electorate seems to have been inoculated against political amnesia.

The ULP’s regular doses of progressive policy, measurable performance and innovative leadership, coupled with booster shots of hard work and good governance, have kept the public’s memory clear and sharp. And despite the opposition’s most fervent hopes, five years is not so long as to make Vincentians forget the NDP’s ineffectiveness while in government.

Those who forget their past are destined to repeat it, so while the opposition’s amnesia has consigned it to another defeat, the electorate has a longer memory – and no desire to revisit the NDP’s abysmal administration.