St. Vincent and the Grenadines is today a small Caribbean nation held in high esteem internationally and by our Caribbean neighbours. It is an accord not idly apportioned but based on hard work, commitment and sensible policies but not sufficiently appreciated locally because of the intense competitive nature of our partisan politics.
It is an indisputable fact that both the level of confidence in the government, and the level of stability brought to our governance, have been positive factors aiding national development. But it is also true that the failure of the Opposition to provide mature political opposition, trapped in a repetitive cycle of “opositionism” has also contributed to the success of the government and three successive electoral victories by narrow margins.
Yet, experience has shown that keeping parties in government for long periods, even if by the democratic choice of the electorate, has its challenges as well. Complacency can easily set in, especially when enough attention has not been paid to continuously raising the consciousness of the people as a whole, or to building and strengthening democratic institutions at the local level. It is nearly 50 years now since we have had democratically-elected local government, and neither government nor people seem to regard it as a big deal.
In addition, many of the noble initiatives started by the government at the beginning of its “national democratic revolution” have stalled for one reason or another and more and more, we are depending on “the Boss’ at a time when that very long period of stability should have been used to prepare us for exactly the opposite, to rely on organised, united institutions of civil society.
In this regard the full potential of our mass political parties is being stifled. Both have demonstrated not only that they have mass support, but they seem to regard that power to be unleashed only for partisan political purposes. Look at their mobilisations at elections or to advance or defend party positions, for instance. Now think of what mobilisation like that around campaigns to encourage positive attitudes on critical matters like testing and vaccines to combat COVID, or on cleanup campaigns after the volcanic eruptions, even if done separately but with the same purpose, can do for our country!
We have entrenched ourselves deeply on one side or another, blanking out alternative views and news which do not suit our political purpose. Supporters of the ruling party have almost blind faith in their party, in their leader in particular, even to the tendency to try and bypass governmental institutions to get what is desired. On the other hand, the NDP, for some strange reason maybe harking back to the ULP’s successful use of the mass opposition which forced it to cut short its term in office and call premature elections which it lost in 2001, still seems to believe that without experienced leadership, rabble-rousing can work. The country suffers in both instances.
I found it most heartening that during the state funeral service for the late PR Campbell, former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, the NDP’s founder, lifted the bar by appealing to all Vincentians to be vaccinated highlighting not just the health dangers, but to the much-overlooked economic threats to the recovery of the nation. He followed this up on public radio subsequently. His party would do well to take the cue, as would the ULP. Not just relying on PM Gonsalves to the extent where it is becoming overused but by being innovative, using community and local party leaders who have influence and are respected in their communities. As I indicated above, such a strategy can be most useful in the volcanic cleanup.
Speaking of “cleanup”, it is not just the physical cleanup that is necessary. We have a number of social and legal issues, ones concerning national security as well, which need pressing attention. The Police Service (that’s what it should be, not a Police Force), has been coming under rather bad light recently. The matter of Deputy Speaker and government Senator Ashelle Morgan is becoming an unnecessary distraction. The police investigation seems to be one of those interminable “university seminars” to which the PM is so fond or referring. Whether it is Opposition lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste leading the charge or not, what is wrong with Ms. Morgan stepping aside temporarily, does that indicate guilt or rather it saves distraction from more pressing national issues? The police must also share part of the blame for the deliberate ignoring of health protocols at the VPL cricket finals and the inconsistency generally with which the matter is treated.
But above all, there is the matter of the disappearance of arms and ammunition from the police station in SVG’s second town, Georgetown. The response? Transferring officers from Sergeant downwards? That is why former PM Mitchell was right on the ball. This is no trivial matter, and we need answers from both the Top Cop and the Minister of National Security, the Prime Minister himself.
We need to get these matters under wraps so that we can focus attention on our recovery, economic and social in particular. Let the chips fall where they may. In the long run we will all be the better off for it.
l Renwick Rose
is a community activist and social comm