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Country first must be our guiding light

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Two pressing, and inter-related issues demand my attention this week. The first is the reported rejection by Prime Minister Gonsalves of talks with the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) on trying to arrive at common approaches to the crime wave sweeping St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

According to the reports in the media, the PM claimed that he does not “trust” the Opposition leader Hon. Godwin Friday, claiming that Friday had betrayed his trust in him on a security matter.

The second issue is the public spat between former Prime Ministers and NDP past Presidents, Sir James Mitchell and Hon. Arnhim Eustace. Both men have taken to the airwaves to voice their disagreements and in the process, to disparage each other. This does not augur well for either gentleman, for the NDP or, for the country as a whole.

In regard to the reported refusal by Dr Gonsalves to consult with the Opposition on the crime situation, it is disappointing that he should take such a view in light of the gravity of the matter.

Certainly as an experienced politician and social scientist, the Prime Minister MUST KNOW BETTER. He may have good reason to feel aggrieved by what he perceives as Mr Friday’s disclosure of confidential matters. If that is true, his reluctance to engage would be understandable, yet when one calls on both sides of Parliament to seek common ground, one does not expect that confidential security matters would be involved.

Certainly my own view, and apparently that of others who have called for such talks, is not for detailed agreement on security matters, which would remain the prerogative of the Minister of National Security and security officials, but an outline of a broad national strategy to not just address police actions on crime, but a national and more social approach to address the causes of crime.

Cooperation between the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader on this matter does not warrant hugs and kisses, or a lessening of political differences. It ought to be recognition that there are national issues which override the partisan ones and on which both can cooperate whilst at odds on other matters. That is the only mature and sensible course of action. What more appropriate time to demonstrate TOGETHER NOW, than in a common fight aginst crime!

We can only hope that our Prime Minister will give the matter a well-considered second thought, and as astute as he is, find ways to meet with the Opposition and other social forces without compromising our national security interests. In fact, taking the ‘go it alone’ road can only strengthen the hands of those on the other side who seem bent on non-cooperation and give them excuses for more unpatriotic actions. I am sure that there are persons in the leadership of the NDP, who recognize the gravity of the situation and, while still differing with the governing party on many issues, are prepared to cooperate in the interests of peace and security.

The second major issue I highlighted at the beginning is the unfortunate exchange of words between Messrs Mitchell and Eustace. The mid-week issue of this paper has addressed the matter in a manner which I subscribe to in total. It described the public criticisms of each other as “unbecoming of former Prime Ministers”, “downright embarrassing” and “counter-productive” and instead called for restraint by both gentlemen.

SEARCHLIGHT is very correct in this analysis for this back-and- forth exchange does no good to either gentleman, to the NDP, nor to the country as a whole. Of course, there will be narrow-minded persons in the ULP who would welcome this as another opportunity to sow divisions and undermine confidence in the electorate that a divided NDP can prove to be a viable alternative.

But worse, it distracts from the pressing issues facing our society. There is room for both political competition as well as cooperation where national interests are at stake. The crime situation is a blot on our entire country and, as I have said repeatedly, it cannot be tackled using any partisan political approach. We all are affected and hence all have a contribution to make towards finding solutions. These can best be found by working together.

As we approach our 39th anniversary of national independence, I can only again repeat the appeal, LET US PUT COUNTRY FIRST!