R. Rose
February 4, 2005

Clean up your act!

On Monday of this week, a friend of mine accosted me with the question “Have banana farmers got their money yet?” Before I could reply (indeed I couldn’t, not being responsible for their payments), he followed up with a punch- line, “I thought this new government was supposed to correct the ills of the past…” {{more}}

He was referring to last Friday’s embarrassing development when the state-owned National Commercial Bank (NCB) refused to honour cheques issued by the state-directed Banana Growers Association (BGA) which represented payments for banana sold by farmers to the BGA for export. There was a bit of a scramble before ways and means were found to pay some farmers.

That same Monday, parents of pupils attending the Richmond Hill Government School in Kingstown began picketing the Ministry of Education over that Ministry’s plans to convert the Richmond Hill Primary School into a secondary school. Those plans are supposed to be put into effect as early as September of this year, forcing the relocation of the pupils at the primary school. Apparently parents are unhappy about the developments.

Parents picketing, cheques bouncing…. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It as if we are getting a replay of earlier action movies from the nineties. In the case of the banana fiasco, one would have thought that after such intensive and exhaustive discussions about restructuring we would have been past that stage by now. But apparently the overloaded overdraft of the Banana Association is what prompted the Bank’s action.

What this does though is to further undermine the credibility of the BGA and the confidence of the farmers in the continued viability of the industry, for if we already having cheques bouncing like Curtly Ambrose’s lifters and “tariff only” ain’t reach yet, what will happen after January, 2006? No doubt the Bank is trying to protect its interests, but the BGA needs to not only give an explanation, but assurances that firm measures will be taken to avoid any re-occurrence.

Ultimately though, responsibility will fall back in the lap of the Government of the day. After all, it is the Government which has assumed responsibility for the BGA, and has that for the NCB as well. A similar charge rests with the Government for the Richmond Hill conflict. Clearly, based on what the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) of that school is saying, there has not only been insufficient consultation with parents about such a fundamental step, but the Ministry seems to have taken them for granted in making an apparently ill- advised and premature press release about their compliance with the ministry’s plans.

I must congratulate the PTA President Joel Poyer on what I thought was a very balanced response to the situation. He did not, as some are wont to do under pressure, condemn the action of parents, but calmly pointed out that being engaged in discussion with the Government, his Executive did not sanction the action. More importantly, he put forward constructive alternative proposals for a resolution of the issue. This is as it must be, exercising our right to differ and even to protest, but also offering possible solutions.

Neither event is of credit to the ULP administration. They are both scenarios from the past when lack of communication, failure to consult adequately, insensitivity to the needs and interests of others and poor or flawed judgement caused the previous NDP administration to run afoul of the people. There is “much of a muchness”, and more than a sign of the “same ole khaki pants” in this.

Where I differ is that I cannot rejoice in a repetition of past mistakes. The fact that the ULP is bungling in some of its endeavours must NEVER be used as justification for the mistakes of its predecessor. At the same time this administration’s positive efforts in other endeavours CANNOT be used as an excuse, a cover-up for any bungling. The ULP must never forget that, as my friend reminded me, it got a mandate to cure the ills of old. They will not be cured overnight but the reoccurrence of old sores cannot inspire confidence.

It is our duty as citizens to challenge the powers that be to put their house in order, to clean up their act, to deal firmly with the bunglers and ditherers and to proceed to new levels of efficiency and competence. Mediocrity must not be tolerated nor can we be simply satisfied by turning to our political merry-go-round to justify every failure. Every failure to honour payments, to consult adequately, is not just a blot on the pages of ULP or NDP; it is a blot on our collective national notebook.

There are problems confronting us which are not of our own making. For these we must try to find creative means of mitigation and containment. But for those over which we have control, we have no choice but to act decisively.