Let me take a break from my 50th anniversary journey as relayed in this column these past two weeks, to share some reflections on local developments which have roots in that same journey. There are valuable lessons to be learnt by all of us if we only spend time to reflect on the history of past governments here in SVG, and the world for that matter. Will our politicians, on both sides of the divide, please spend some time with us to reflect?
For the purpose of this article, I will exclude Joshua, given the limitations on his power. So, lets limit our reflections to the post-independence era. When the Labour party won the 1979 elections, its second five-year term in a row, and the third since 1967, it became so drunk with power that it boasted of being “the strongest government in the world”.
This self-adulation quickly led to the government “running off its rails’, becoming oblivious to the cries of the people and listening only to its shrinking band of sycophants. It tried to ride roughshod over the protests of the people which mounted each passing year. Payback time came in 1984 and, had it not been for the alliance with Dr Gonsalves MNU, Labour would now be history, not a part of a successful, progressive government.
Sir James Mitchell swept to power on an unprecedented wave of popularity, truly a populist victory in 1984. Five years later, he achieved the unprecedented feat of a clean sweep of the polls. The rot began to set in from there, first with the refusal to make some constitutional adjustment to allow for some sort of opposition in Parliament. Then, like Labour before it, but without the repressive measures, taken or attempted, the NDP too began to lose touch. It could not even see that it was making some of the fatal mistakes of its immediate predecessor.
So up comes the year 2000 and the mass protests leading to the curtailment of the life of the government, elected only two years before, the resignation of the mighty Sir James and the 2001 electoral triumph of the ULP. Again, a wave of populism, this time with a far more progressive content, swept the nation, enough to sustain the ULP in power these past twenty years. True there have been narrow victories and even a defeat in the constitutional referendum of 2009, but generally, in spite of weaknesses, the report card of the ULP remains positive.
There are however occasional indicators that complacency is setting in and that the deeper into the innings we get, careless batting may put not just the innings but the match and series at risk. Just reflect on these couple of recent issues.
We can begin with the Budget debate, a golden opportunity which the Opposition continues to squander to the extent that one is led to believe that either they do not understand its significance or do not have any alternatives of worth, so protest and boycott instead. But why should the government seeking to fulfill self-imposed deadlines, go so far as to make senatorial appointments seem to be there for whim and fancy? Did we have to reach the stage of changing a pitbull for a tigress one week, only to revert to the old pet the next? What message does this give? The precedent is worrying.
Secondly there is the mess-up over Richmond and the contract for quarry mining there. Is there something we missed in the Budget concerning this project? Did someone “drop the ball” as Minister Francis describes it, or was it a “no ball”? How could a contract be signed, and excavation work commenced without even the persons affected being informed? Is this not the government which solemnly promised, and in many instances did deliver, to some degree or another, “consultation with the people”?
In recent years it has been obvious that the quality of that consultation is declining so this is as good a time as ever to take stock and pull up the socks. If not, do not be surprised when people begin to believe that there is more in the mortar……. Minister James could take us all into the “metaverse” but not into the Richmond sands? If even the former Chief Town Planner can’t get a copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the project, who is the rest ah we?
Yes, these are warning signs. People have a right to question, and this “open” government of the people must not only welcome such signs of civic consciousness, but it must also be prepared to admit its weaknesses or failures and correct them. One warning though. I see a colleague of mine has raised questions and made criticisms, describing St Lucians as “outsiders”. Very often, the “inside job” does the most damage. The “outsider” road is a dangerous one to tread and must be blocked at once. Petty nationalism will do us no good, especially in an increasingly globalized world.
Please ULP, before you react and give explanations, see this as another sign of the slippage. Take heed, for when you slip……..
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.