By Kenrick Quashie
In the lead up to the 2001 general elections, I remember spending many nights at the North Central Windward ULP constituency office monitoring vehicles heading up to the villages beyond the Rabacca River because the NDP government was supposedly taking truckloads of goodies to distribute to voters there. (For me, this meant forfeiting the Beres Hammond and other shows that the ULP held in order to stand guard — and I was happy to do it!)
I was 15 years old then and I was already a card-carrying member of the ULP. I knew then that I wanted to be associated with the political party that was against the practice of oppression (in one form or the other) and that one day I would aspire to be a politician that doesn’t engage in that oppressive and destructive culture.
Fast forward some 19-20 years later and I could tell you about so many “the night before election day visits to the same over the river places” to distribute goodies. To some, the night before elections day has been referred to as “Christmas”. I witnessed the distribution of materials the night before voting day.
At 11 years old, I mounted the ULP political platform in South Rivers as an active Youth Arm member under the guidance of Adah Grant-Mc Millan. I heard of the many stories of political vicitimisation, patronage, etc. that were practiced by the then NDP government.
In 2001, almost immediately upon the ULP government taking office, the “three kings” (Stanley McBarnette aka “Abbott” or “Teaser”, Reuben Latham and Bruno Lorraine) were fired from the Georgetown Hospital. Later in life, I became friends with Reuben’s children and learnt of the implications that such an action had on their father’s ability to take care of his family. That same year, one of his sons was about to enter secondary school.
The firing of most, if not all, watchmen across the country followed. I can only imagine the stories of those households.
Today, we know of Kenroy Johnson, Elvis Daniel, Addison “Bash” Thomas (Thursday Nov. 26, 2020 will mark 10 years since they were forced to resign). Marcus De Freitas, Otto Sam, among others.
I know of my own experience as a child growing up with a single mother of four boys living in a two-room wooden house (hall and bedroom). There were politically strong men and women in the community who were aligned with the MP and government — those who you had to go to in order to get any type of government assistance.
I still remember my mother making attempts to get some assistance for us and our house (newspaper had to be pasted on the inside so that rain water wouldn’t come in). Everyone in the community knew we needed help. Sadly, the help didn’t come.
Much like in days past, under this administration, we have the strong men and women who are closely affiliated to the MPs and government who serve as gatekeepers to government resources in their communities. There are many stories of residents who are in need of the government assistance. However, they are denied such because they do not support the ULP.
It is as if government resources are only for party supporters. We are still unable to separate the party from the government.
Growing up, I heard stories about NDP MPs personally going on the government job, including road gangs, to relieve citizens of their jobs because they didn’t support the NDP. Today, the practice of relieving workers because of their political affiliation has been repeated by the ULP administration.
As a matter of fact, since the 2020 elections, I have had to confirm with a particular road gang leader that she did in fact receive instructions from one of the ULP strong persons to not rehire any NDP supporter for the expected December roadwork.
I recall that after the 1998 general elections some ULP supporters declared that no NDP supporter must ask them for anything and that they will not provide assistance to the less fortunate because they voted back the NDP into office.
In 2020, since the NDP lost the general elections, I see and hear NDP supporters declaring that they will not be helping anyone to pay for CXC or help in any way for that matter because Vincentians wickedly voted back the ULP into office.
When the then NDP was in office, it was accused of giving supporters jobs, promotions and contracts because of their allegiance to the party. Today the same type of political patronage repeats itself.
I can go on and on with the list of practices that occurred then and are repeated today.
In my lifetime, I have witnessed on both sides our leaders reneging on promises. I have witnessed that the same things the ULP then in opposition campaigned against the NDP now in opposition are also campaigning against.
When the ULP was in opposition, a draft Integrity legislation was circulated. The ULP promised to stamp out corruption and enact integrity legislation within the first 100 days of taking office. Nineteen years later (365 days x 19 year = 6,939 days) and we are yet to get any form of integrity legislation. It has never even made the Order Paper. Instead, we received a half-baked disingenuous explanation that it is hard to shape and legislate integrity. Such disregard is an affront to us as a people. It is an affront to us as citizens of this country who expect our leaders to honour their words.
The then NDP administration had promised integrity legislation and didn’t do it. The ULP came and did the same thing. An opposition NDP came back again and promised us integrity legislation.
For these reasons, I have come to believe in the idea of change for the sake of change. Yes, we must change our governments just because we can change them. We must change them because they have spent more than a decade in office.
Prior to 2001, when the ULP took office, NDP asked “change from what to what”. NDP supporters said, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t know”. Today, it is the ULP who is singing those tunes.
The more things change, the more they remain the same! It is my conclusion that in order for there to be real change in our political modus operandi, the system has to change.
The current political system breeds corruption, political patronage, political victimisation and partisan political divisiveness. We must impress on our government to do the right thing and enact integrity legislation.
It is ok if it doesn’t have much bite. At least we have something to start with. Having nothing at all is not better. Old people say, “Half a loaf is better than none.” Set up an independent Electoral Commission, strengthen the Police and Public Service Commission to operate more independently to award jobs and promotions based on merit rather than political affiliation.
I can’t help but to implore Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves to act on strengthening the supposedly independent institutions even as he plans his exit political office and prepares for a transition. What a legacy he will leave if he ensures that the independence, integrity and operations of government is not left to the whims and fancy of future leaders’ personal integrity, values and principle. These and many more can be done without constitutional reform. They are within your current purview as leader of this country.
As citizen we must demand more of our leaders. It is high time that our national lenses are worn rather than those tinted with our party colours. To whom much is given, much is required.
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].