By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 21, 2020)
One of the flaws some people make when engaging an opponent in an argument is to accuse the person of having a bias. The fact is that all of us have biases. The key is to be able to recognise, admit, and contain them and thus limit their impact on our work and our utterances. The fact of having a bias does not, therefore, limit the capacity of a person to argue factually or to assert politically colourless truth.
Elected politicians or those aspiring for public office may pledge to serve the people faithfully. They usually declare that the people are sovereign, and their views and votes will never be taken for granted. However, there is only so much trust that pledges, and statements of commitment can buy. Most people, especially those who have attained some level of political and economic independence, expect and may even demand consistent action intended to build trust.
With election fever rising in SVG, we can expect to hear the charges of bias repeatedly being met with the response “but is the truth though”. In making crucial decisions about our lives and the future of SVG, citizens must thrive to distinguish truth from fiction, propaganda from empty rhetoric.
Martin Luther King, in one of his many wise utterances, counselled that it is not where a person stands at a time of tranquillity and ease that tells us the measure of the person, but where he or she stands at a time of conflict and controversy. So, the prepared speech is not what exposes the real intents and beliefs of a person, but what the person says.
Let’s take the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no doubt, that by going against the grain and refusing to lockdown the country, PM Gonsalves gambled correctly. His decision turned out to be a correct balance between the twinned choices of life and livelihood.
However, is there any truth in the rhetoric that leaders in neighbouring countries and beyond engaged in “a lazy man approach to public policy” by exercising their responsibility to those whom they pledged to protect by taking drastic measures? Conversely, would it be a biased untruth to claim that, to date, Vincentians have lucked out even as the government went about its business of governance in the face of a deadly, unknown disease?
As someone commented following the column “Safe and Safe in SVG”: “In 2000, Gonsalves was prepared to bring the country to a standstill for as long as possible to ensure he gets into power. Now during the pandemic, he refuses to lockdown to save Vincentian lives.” Readers can decide if the comment is truthful or reflects a political bias. If back then we celebrated the fact that the lockdown was “as tight as a virgin”, should COVID-19 times demand any less virgin-like tightness?
Optimism and opportunities
It is common to hear that Vincentian young people have never lived in a more optimistic period. There are opportunities galore; our young people are studying in historically high numbers; the government is investing millions of dollars to spur on entrepreneurship among our youth.
However, others maintain that there is an increased level of hopelessness and helplessness among the youth. The IMF has said that youth unemployment is as much as 47%. Even when we haggle with the numbers, none of us can persuasively deny youth unemployment is exceedingly high. Young people are leaving school with good grades and finding it impossible to find meaningful employment.
No one can be charged with bias if they were to truthfully declare that far too many of our educated young people are underemployed. They are forced to work for as little as $400 per month while a large slice of the population work for less than $1,000.
Roads, cost to citizens and elections
One will not be expressing a bias opinion in saying that the roads, byways and highways across the country are being repaired/refurbished at breakneck speed to coincide with the rapidly approaching election. It is the unbiased truth that many citizens are most pleased by these developments. Motorists are especially delighted because better roads mean less wear and tear on their vehicles; less money to spend in replacement parts and cost to mechanics for repairs.
But it will be equally unbiased and truthful to proclaim that government is insulting the intelligence of citizens when it allows the roads to badly deteriorate for years, and then engage in a mad scramble as the election cycle comes around to repair the roads and byways.
It is the unbiased truth that those responsible for repairing roads in SVG do a very poor job. Many tasked with repairing roads have little or no experience. Roads, properly constructed ought to have a life expectancy of decades. However, in SVG roads do not live past the rainy season. By rushing to repair them just before an election means that citizens are exploited and abused. Their tax dollars repay the loans taken to repair the roads. And in short order, motorists must shell out much more to repair their vehicles as the bad roads, which were improperly done, take their toll.
Those seeking our vote and our trust must understand that they are answerable to us for every dollar of public funds they collect, spend and borrow in our name. They are accountable to us for everything they do.
Once the elections are over, those who begged for and won our favour disregard the truthful fact that they are not only accountable to those who voted for them, but also those who opposed them and those who did not vote.
Some leaders count it an honour and a privilege to account for their actions to citizens; for them, to give an account for their stewardship; go beyond the duty of public office. Those with such calling place accountability above being admired, adored or feared. The truth is we need more of these people in government.
As decision 2020 comes along, we the voters must tame our biases and truthfully assess which of our politicians genuinely deserve our votes.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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].