The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
I do my best not to comment publicly on political matters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) but I feel compelled to in the light of recent developments.
Accepted or not, the New Democratic Party (NDP) lost the general elections — again. That, by itself, is bad enough, but the party, having lost support in 13/15 constituencies, has proceeded to work against itself. When you are not enlightened enough, you can end up working against yourself; you become your own worst enemy and unconsciously begin to engage in self-destructive behaviour. I write this article because the role of the opposition to the development of any country is critical. I believe SVG is on the brink of having no opposition and that worries me greatly — as it should all of us regardless of our allegiances. Let me hasten to say that I have no training or experience as a political strategist/analyst and for that reason everything I say may be disregarded — but I write because it is obvious that the NDP needs all the help they can get and things are so grim, everything said should at least be taken into consideration.
The NDP has filed a petition alleging that the elections held on Dec. 9 was not free and fair. On Dec. 9, I sat in front of my computer as I am now and tuned in on election.gov.vc. Results started coming in approximately between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. At 11 p.m., no results had been reported in the Central Leeward constituency at all (some 6 hours after the polling stations closed). The Central Leeward constituency is by no means the largest constituency; approximately 4697 people voted in that constituency. There are six constituencies bigger than Central Leeward, yet all results were in — fully — from every other constituency and not a single polling station in Central Leeward started reporting any results whatsoever until after 11:00 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2015. I have never worked at a polling station before so I cannot begin to understand or explain why it is that it took over six hours to count 4697 votes. I do not know why results were reported as they came in little by little at every polling station except the ones in the Central Leeward constituency. I sat for a very long time waiting and wondering what could be the problem – where is Central Leeward? The supporters of the
I do not know why results were reported as they came in little by little at every polling station except the ones in the Central Leeward constituency. I sat for a very long time waiting and wondering what could be the problem – where is Central Leeward? The supporters of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) started celebrations, articles were posted from news networks giving final results (which later proved to be false reports) at a time when the official results were stalled at 7-7 for a considerable period of time. So, there are some who make it seem like the NDP is being ridiculous for making certain allegations but it is my humble opinion that it is, in fact, questionable at least why it took six hours to count 4,697 votes in what was the swing constituency in the 2010 General Elections and was again, as anticipated, in the recently concluded elections. The argument has been made that it is impossible to cheat in an election. I am no conspiracy theorist. My opinion (and it may very well be a wrong opinion) is that there are few institutions in the state of SVG that can truly claim to be independent and impartial. Without casting aspersions on any particular individual or organisation and please excuse my cynicism, I do not think of it as being an impossibility — for a simple reason enunciated below. I have heard also the remark being made that if the elections were rigged, the North and South Leeward Constituencies could have been stolen as well. The logic of that argument
I am no conspiracy theorist. My opinion (and it may very well be a wrong opinion) is that there are few institutions in the state of SVG that can truly claim to be independent and impartial. Without casting aspersions on any particular individual or organisation and please excuse my cynicism, I do not think of it as being an impossibility — for a simple reason enunciated below. I have heard also the remark being made that if the elections were rigged, the North and South Leeward Constituencies could have been stolen as well. The logic of that argument would, of course, depend on the foreknowledge of those making that assertion of the eventual margins in those Constituencies. I fail to see the intelligence in that assertion, especially in light of the level of confidence held going into the elections. In my mind, politics infiltrates just about everything in this country — regardless of what it is — and that to a great extent accounts for my cynicism and our current position in the region among our sister islands. In the final analysis, every literal thing always boils down to politics and the greatest hindrance to progress in our country is our leaders (on both sides). Notwithstanding my own reservations and unanswered questions, petitions are to be based on evidence, not suspicions/distrust.
Here are my proposals to ensure the viability of the present opposition–
- The President. I believe Mr. Eustace is the greatest liability to the NDP. After leading the party to failure so many times, it is undeniable that the time has come for him to step down as leader of the party. He may play a role in the field of his training but he is not a leader. This is crucial. I don’t know how many times the Vincentian public (supporters of the NDP included) have to say it before it can be acknowledged and acted upon. I agree that challenging the legitimacy of the results is an attempt at delaying making some very difficult decisions that need to be made. Keeping him as the president of the NDP has contributed significantly to yet another loss. Beyond stepping down, Mr. Eustace should be slow to speak publicly on behalf of the party. Every time he opens his mouth he causes supporters of the NDP to appear less than intelligent for supporting the party. Please remember that the party will never rise higher than its leader and that should be prayerfully considered in light of Mr. Eustace losing considerable support to Luke Brown in the recently concluded elections. Since then, it has been revealed that Mr. Eustace as the leader of the party is ignorant of some of the basic laws relating to the electoral process and missteps such as taking public positions before seeking legal counsel saps public confidence. The truth is, many Vincentians go to the polls with Ralph vs Eustace as the Prime leader in their minds and that is a matchup that Mr. Eustace will not win for a multiplicity of reasons. My recommendations are limited to Mr. Leacock (by virtue that he is the only candidate to significantly increase his margin in the recently concluded elections) and Dr. Friday who is the most loved and respected candidate of the party. A situation developed last week and this week that really could have been avoided if the leadership of the party was of an altogether different political mind. Further delay will only worsen an already bad situation.
- The candidates. It is said that you can lose with good players but you can’t win without them. You need different players. One would expect Dr. Linton Lewis and Curtis Bowman to step out the political arena. No disrespect intended to both candidates, we appreciate your contribution. A female and a young candidate really ought to be included — not for the sake of saying you have a female and youth involvement but because both classes have invaluable contributions to make if given the opportunity. My suggestion is Anesia Baptiste. Anesia is a candidate who quickly developed a reputation of being unable to separate politics from religion and for being rude, disrespectful, power-hungry and arrogant. Nonetheless, she has shown herself capable of rising above public misconceptions. She has a lot to offer and although she is proud of her accomplishments in the recently concluded elections — the reality is that the Democratic Republican Party will never win the general elections and it is doubtful as to whether she can win her seat being a part of that party. She is very intelligent and hardworking and stands a very real chance of defeating the ULP candidate for that constituency in the next election. In time, I see her maturing to become a very good vice president of the NDP. Beyond that recommendation, the NDP has little youth appeal and the party will not advance without it.
- Your other players. There are too many spokespersons for the party. I believe Vynnette Fredrick is the greatest liability to the party second only to Mr. Eustace himself. Further, NICE Radio has great potential for good and even greater potential for evil. Things said that ought not to be is an indictment against the party, not the station. Monitor this and other affiliations carefully.
- Your focus. Winning an election consists of two things — telling the people why they should vote for you and why they should not vote for the opposing party. 95 pre cent of your time is spent telling the people of SVG why they should not vote ULP and hardly any time sharing your vision and plans for the country. You cannot launch personal attacks, and continually criticize then at the very last moment put major plans of a hospital (with insufficient information) and a new cruise ship terminal to the people. Balance your focus. Some of your criticisms are legitimate but overall, too much time is spent focusing on the ULP. If that approach is taken, the people will vote for the NDP only when they are fed up of the ULP and clearly, that time is not yet. Indeed, there is also a psychological component. Separate and apart from the campaign slogan “Ask Ralph” delivered to the ULP by Mr. Eustace himself, you unwittingly reinforce “Ralph” and the “ULP” in the minds of Vincentians by your unnecessary repetitions. The reality is, there are few things either party can accuse the other of without the criticism being an exercise in hypocrisy — redirect your focus to your vision interspersed with legitimate criticisms.
- Act like big men. Stop walking out of Parliament. The people put you there to do a job — do it. How you conduct yourself as an opposition signals to the people whether or not you are actually ready to lead. Being in opposition is not about waiting for an opportunity to — it is about working while you wait. Nonetheless I see the saga continues. Acknowledge that the behaviour pattern you have adopted doesn’t work for you.
- Approach your campaign more positively. There are a lot of things the people of SVG need to be educated about. Examples include:
- The truth about the Education revolution — was it an initiative of the ULP?
How was it implemented?
Was it properly implemented?
How should it have been implemented?
We have Vincentians believing that education never got started until 2001, and if the NDP returned to office that would be the end of education — that the NDP has no vision as it relates to education. The truth is, our education system is a mess. We have so many students in secondary schools who cannot read or write and that should never be. We have less literate students and more criminals in our school system but if our parents and teachers are satisfied with the present state of the education system — who am I to complain?
Across the region we have educated young people from St. Vincent who are actively developing other Caribbean territories because there are no jobs in our country. But who am I to complain about the brain drain if our leaders are content? Their pockets are overflowing, they care not who stays and who goes. Who am I to complain about unemployment and underemployment if the young people of St. Vincent are satisfied with being at home while the fortunate few enjoy lucrative post-retirement contracts? Sure, we can’t rely on government for everything but the government has a role to play in creating an economic environment friendly to the entrepreneurial spirit. The present education revolution ends either in unemployment or brain drain.
What other projects within St. Vincent and the Grenadines are being sold to the public as ULP initiatives that are actually not ULP initiatives?
- The Argyle International Airport – is due to open in a few short months. Ask the questions that need to be asked instead of taking a stance that leaves the impression that you are anti-development.
Ask about the strategy behind bailing out LIAT financially if the vision of the leaders and the will of the people is to significantly reduce their need for LIAT. Ask why at this late stage in the construction of the airport — up to present time the ULP has not disclosed to the public which airlines will be flying to the AIA.
Curiously, it was stated that Caribbean Airlines will be flying to the AIA. Perhaps I am wrong but I think I recall the reason CA was not at first permitted to fly to ET Joshua is to protect LIAT from regional competition. Maybe that’s another false rumour, but I find it very ironic that the celebrated airline at the AIA is the airline the airport seeks to destroy.
Why don’t we know what we should know at this late stage?
What is the current state of development of the tourist destinations in SVG in comparison to those in other Caribbean territories and the condition of the road systems leading to those destinations?
How many businesses in SVG are actually owned by Vincentians?
Who stands to benefit most financially if the AIA is as successful as projected?
What are we doing as a country to create a nightlife? We are still at the point where SVG is locked at 4:30 p.m. and our capital is a ghost town by 5 p.m. and if you don’t get a bus by 6:30 p.m., you’re screwed. Even gas stations are closed on public holidays. How much longer until we can begin seeing 24-hour activity?
Why is it that neither political party has proposed government-operated buses that run at later hours at subsidized prices like Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad? This is a relatively inexpensive initiative that can reap considerable benefits for the people of SVG. In Trinidad, in addition to government operated buses, there is a fast ferry service between Port of Spain and San Fernando — how much longer until similar initiatives enter our contemplation? We can explore these possibilities with a view to increasing the productivity of our people. Just this week I started going to the gym — worked out until 7 p.m. I could not even get a bus to go home from Villa. I had to beg a ride from a stranger. When we think tourists we think taxis. However, when I go to other Caribbean territories I avoid taking a taxi as far as possible — public transportation is what I use. If I can’t get a bus to go home — what is all this international airport talk?
- The economy — what has the ULP done since 2001 to bring money into the country? Do we intend to actually open an industry, have products to export or are we satisfied with begging our way through? Do we really intend to continue surviving on custom duties or are we hoping that a seasonal, uncontrollable and unpredictable industry can sustain our economy?
Here is an excerpt from the state of the economy address from the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago:
“Fellow citizens, there is simply no way that other sectors of the economy can realistically be expected to compensate for the loss of export earnings from oil and gas; not in the short run (1-2 years) and not even in the medium run (3-5 years). In the long run, yes we do need to work towards building an economy with many different contributing sectors so that it becomes less vulnerable to these types of shocks. But the fact is, today, we are where we are!”
I hope we too will build an economy with many different contributing sectors so that it becomes less vulnerable to crippling shocks. Diversify, make better use of technology and cut costs.
Are we actually proud of the amount of people on the public welfare system? When I was growing up, only vagrants begged for money. I am observing the class of people who approach me these days asking for money. The ULP candidates do their best to appear excited about a fourth consecutive term but I know they are disappointed. After all they have done and promised to do, after all the money spent — they still lost in seven constituencies to a lacklustre opposition (swing or no swing). That is partly explained by the fact that Vincentians are struggling financially, including the supporters of the ULP. I nevertheless have to admit I was amused by the ULP supporters asking me for money during the election period — lovely folk attired in their “Ask Ralph” t-shirts. I guess they didn’t read the t-shirt before putting it on.
- Climate change – the Prime Minister challenged the opposition for including no plans in their manifesto relating to climate change or the territorial waters. To him I say, we are on the verge of completion of the largest capital project in the history of our country and no plans were included for alternative energy to lower maintenance costs. Time will tell whether the project, which is five years behind schedule and continuing and much more expensive than at first estimated will be an asset or liability to our people. We can only hope your estimates and projections are more accurate than your election result predictions.
- Healthcare — how much longer will we be satisfied with burying our human resources who could have been contributing members of society if we actually had a healthcare system? How much longer will those who can afford the expense be forced to fly to Barbados/Trinidad/US for medical attention — even for minor/routine matters?
- Morality — when questioned by the students at the Community College about whether or not the voice on the sex tape is actually the voice of our beloved Prime Minister, he responded by saying that it is irrelevant. Irrelevant, he says. Dr. the Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves is a master politician and he has perfected the art of saying nonsense eloquently. He is such a gifted orator that people never really stop to listen to what he is actually saying. We have scores of “educated” men and women defending that kind of rhetoric private life in public office not our business. It is that we ourselves have become less moral? As for the professed Christians — Seventh Day Adventists included — I have read and listened to your perspective on this matter with great interest and will restrain myself at this time from commenting beyond saying — the salt is losing its savour. I am more persuaded by the philosophy of Warren Buffet: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.” Integrity is defined as adherence to moral and ethical So to those who said focus on the issues, this election is not about sex — to them I say we should be fearful about promoting education without values. Do better Dr. Gonsalves, whether true or false; it is at the very least — relevant. After all, what could be more relevant? Turn around to see the same people who said not our business criticize Chris Gayle this week — imagine my confusion!
One thing is sure. There is a lesson here for young leaders. Understand that if you make great accomplishments that find themselves in the history books, you will lose the respect you worked hard for if your moral uprightness is called into question. Do all your business in the light of day. I hope when we do our analysis of the Prime Minister’s legacy we will take into consideration the quality of the opposition he had in comparison to other elected leaders in the region and his methods of governance. We have a people who are intellectually incapacitated, which is why I am slow to engage in political discussions even with intelligent young people. As long as we choose our political allegiance it seems, everything done and said by them is good and lovely and above reproach. No accountability, no high standards demanded by a people who have lost their intellectual honesty. If this is our approach, we need to examine anew the value of our education. In this regard, I have not lost all hope. I desire to see a youth parliament set up. On a lighter note, I know many look forward to the retirement of Dr. Gonsalves to see whether their suspicion that the ULP is essentially a one-man party (now two) with 13 other candidates who are there simply to make up the numbers to ensure the royal family remains on the throne will be confirmed or denied. I, however, look forward with eager anticipation to the analyses of his legacy. May they be sufficiently balanced.
Our Legal System — I wish the Office of the Attorney-General a Happy and productive 2016. Similarly, this is a shout out to the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force.
Crime — over the past 15 years there has been an increase in violent and drug-related crimes.
Housing revolution — The housing revolution is one area that I’m inclined to salute the ULP administration as least as it relates to low-income housing. If we, however, shift our attention to the distribution of materials for the “poor and unfortunate” we have to ask ourselves a couple questions. We have all seen the fire at public works and we have all condemned. Our country needs healing and not the kind of healing where someone comes out and says let’s come together. People are not upset because NDP lost and they wanted them to win. This is not about NDP or ULP. This is about people. People are personally invested in the outcome of elections and that is wrong… it should not be. Politics determines who gets jobs, scholarships, promotions, post-retirement contracts, building materials and a wide range of other opportunities. Before the last election I heard a lot of people saying I am not voting for ULP or NDP… I am voting for MYSELF. Why vote for Ralph or Eustace when you can vote for yourself? That is what people do. They determine who to vote for by asking themselves under which regime they stand to benefit the most and they make their choice. Leaders know this and that is why they bribe people with a variety of things. This is greater than party and it has more to do with our political philosophy. A philosophy that says if your party is not in power then you should not have food to eat — a ceiling is set as to how far you can stretch out while others get ahead sometimes not based on merit but nepotism… that is why people will continue to be upset even if they have NO legal leg to stand on and what they do is morally wrong because they perceive that a political loss is a personal loss for them and their family. Until we stop running our country by protecting narrow interests the country will always be this way. It is our fault… our collective failure to make hard choices. Instead we facilitate the garbage done by our so-called leaders and then pretend to be surprised and outraged when the people set the country on fire. I will not fool myself into thinking this began in 2001, but the ULP administration has done nothing to facilitate unity and nothing to change our underlying political philosophies. Why is it that only supporters of the ULP could get building materials before the election? I do not know who they belonged to but I hope they were materials purchased with money from the pockets of the ULP candidates and not public funds.
There are many other points upon which the NDP could have challenged the ULP if they actually took the time to do thorough research and articulate themselves intelligently to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines but the campaign was sloppy. Even the basic strategy of focusing on the swing constituency was missed. Instead, much time was spent in constituencies where the NDP candidates never had a ghost of a chance, later revealed by the severe beatings delivered in those constituencies. Based on the 2010 results, Central Leeward (Layou in particular) should have occupied the main focus of the NDP. If we are going to move ahead in life, it is so critical that we look back every so often to see where we have gone wrong. Yet, we continue to run substandard campaigns. We paint the roads, paint the walls, put bumper stickers on our vehicles, drive around with loud speakers being a nuisance, bringing in artists and our campaign is like a fete — drinking, smoking, dancing, violence and sex. When will we get to the point where we have debates and candidates attire themselves in shirts and ties instead of red and yellow polo shirts and have serious conversations with the people in a less vulgar setting more conducive to actual brain activity? Take the people in small groups and stop trying to impress on social media with big crowds. Educate the people about the issues because I can guarantee you, the people of St. Vincent have no idea what your plans are because you spend almost no time talking about them and the ULP capitalizes on your incompetence by telling the people you have none. The image of the NDP has become a party with poor leadership, no plans — waiting on Vincentians to get fed up of the ULP. Whether that image is representative of reality or not is always debatable but you really ought to exercise due care and skill in presenting cogent evidence to shield yourself from such fatal impressions. Again, I say the NDP as presently constituted cannot win a general election.
I do not believe the ULP has done much to develop our country because I view development from lens altogether different. I do not view development as building an airport or building a hospital. That is not development; that is the result of development. Development is about establishing and protecting institutions and philosophies that enable the citizens to do their work — their best work. The people of SVG are no less intelligent, no less creative or inventive than the citizens of other Caribbean territories. However, we live in a country where you can get fired from your job or transferred for having an opinion (if your political persuasion even allows you to get one); having your business shut down; arrested military style for posting a Facebook status, commit serious crimes and get a slap on the wrist because of your political affiliations and institutions whose independence is critical to their effectiveness have been become enfeebled because of corruption. We hold strongly to nepotism, we protect narrow interests and we do not aspire to accountability and transparency. As long as these circumstances continue to worsen as they are now, we will forever be third world in our developmental status and in our thinking even if we build roads and design many bridges. We can do so much better than we are now if left unmolested by the idlers in Parliament.
People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
For greater democracy, for greater representation – wise up.
To the NDP – get your act together because the people of SVG who are not in a position to migrate actually need you — if not as an elected government, as an effective opposition. We can’t do your work for you. Neither, indeed, can we walk off.
Cheers to a better 2016. May we not take our old worn out philosophies and practices over into the New Year. Someone once said — don’t focus on having a new year, focus on having a new mind — Romans 12:2.
Jemalie John – newly enrolled barrister
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].