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]
On my frequent and increasingly extended visits to Bequia, failures of the current administrative model and the need for it to be replaced by an elected assembly, dominate discussions on the beaches, under the almond trees and at the taxi stands. The re-establishment of local government has been the topic of many national phone-in programmes and newspaper articles. In 2005, the Local Government Reform Commission, chaired by Owen Cuffy recommended a return to locally elected assemblies. Therefore, the call for local democracy is not limited to Bequia; and it is not party-political as Mr. Ashton tried to make out in “An Opinion of opinions”. On the contrary, the discussions in the various media outlets allude to a national issue of concern to all Vincentians who treasure their right to have a say in the governance of their local community. That is how true democracy works best.
With specific reference to Bequia, the suggestion that the clamour for local elected representation will recede based on affordability and party political biases is short-sighted, showing as it does a worrying lack of insight into local government funding procedures and the determination of the people of Bequia to once again have a voice at the table where decisions about their community are made. In support of the latter, those on the island who cannot escape to the comforts of another land argue, not only that the current administrative system which has operated under both the political parties, is unrepresentative, but that it has failed, and failed miserably. The indigenous people have no option but to live with the consequences of that failure which others on the island, quite understandably, would find intolerable. Of course, the deficits in the system play directly into the hands of that segment of the residents who are intent on manipulating it for their own ends. But for those with an interest in Bequia and its people, the need for change is undeniable. Therefore, Mr. Ashton has a point. It is time to persuade the political elites to implement the recommendations of the Local Government Reform Commission of 2005. The Forum for Local Democracy, a Bequia initiative which was formed specifically for that purpose, is hopefully the start of that process.
In his article, Mr. Ashton indicated that the idea of Spring becoming a gated community never existed. Such public rebuttal of the rumour is both welcomed and reassuring. However, let’s be clear, the inference in that article is that a gated community is merely the setting up of fences and gates around one or a few houses to provide security and privacy. Far from it! The concept refers to a sub-set of the general population determined to isolate themselves from the rest of society because they identify with a specific socio-demographic group based on financial status, social class, race or religion among others. As such, these enclaves tend to be socially homogenous (Caldeira, 2000), often with a controlling group that imposes levies, enforces local rules designed to filter who can and cannot be part of the community, and develops services for the exclusive use of the residents (Roitman, 2008). Referred to as a form of social apartheid (Rahman, 2015) gated communities undoubtedly have a negative impact on social cohesion, with mistrust and resentment the most likely reactions. Fast-forward to a few years from now if this issue is not addressed, and the picture which is emerging is an unpleasantly divided Bequia in which the indigenous people and ex-pat are segregated in different parts of the island living contrasting lives. This is not the Bequia we wish to see. Therefore, until Mr. Ashton and like-minded ex-pats denounce the broader concept of a gated community, the people of Bequia, and Vincentians in general (it is their country after all), must remain vigilant and resist these divisive developments at all cost. Yet another reason why there should be an elected assembly.
Dr. Kingsley Simmons
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].