By Kenrick Quashie
As it is December and close to Christmas, I really wanted to move away from writing something with a political undertone. However, two activities took place within the last week that I simply cannot ignore:
- Numerous reports of victimisation in the allocation of the annual Christmas road work; and,
- The call for NDP supporters to boycott businesses owned and operated by known ULP supporters.
I vividly remember in 2002, while a 5th form student at the North Union Secondary School, I participated in the Lion’s Club South Independence Public Speaking Competition. The finals included Kezron Walters from the St. Vincent Grammar School, Delana Horne, of St. Joseph’s Convent Kingstown, Delano Charles, of Petit Bordel Secondary School and Rita James, of St. Clair Dacon Secondary School. I emerged the champion of the night. It was a hat trick win for the North Union Secondary School. We all spoke on the topic “Is Partisan Politics negatively affecting the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?”
Competitions of this nature tend to be on relevant topics of the day. Some 18 years later, and it appears that things have deteriorated way beyond the arguments proffered on that fateful evening. It is no longer that we are slipping but sliding into our own demise as a country. Has the train for national reconciliation missed us?
A few examples of how partisan political acts have countered national development are:
1. Partisan politically charged radio programmes from morning to night that perpetrate continued politically division.
2. In 2009, a meaningful exercise on constitutional reform became a partisan political battle that ultimately failed.
3. There are lawsuits and threats of lawsuits by politicians. This practice threatens freedom of speech.
4. Continued rejection of the proposed constituency development fund. This breeds neglect of constituencies that are not represented by government MPs. (One might argue that even constituencies which are represented by government MPs are neglected; so, it is worse for those that are not).
5. Rejection of other economic programmes from the opposition.
6. Appointment of unqualified persons to posts, based solely on political affiliation.
7. The destruction of private enterprises such as Bigger Bigs among others.
8. Award of contracts along partisan lines.
9. The wearing of colours associated with political parties has to be carefully considered, as one can easily be labelled for casually wearing a piece of clothing of a particular colour.
10. Boycotting of businesses is encouraged because of partisan political differences.
11. The Leader of the Opposition is continually denied access to state resources such as the NBC Radio.
12. Poor and vulnerable citizens are denied all types of jobs and opportunities
13. Road work is only given to supporters of the government.
The list above is by no means exhausted.
The powers that be have recognised the counter development that partisan politics has had on the nation and gave way to a government ministry aptly called the Ministry of National Reconciliation (now a one-person unit). A clear indication of how concerned they are about the work of reconciliation.
One might argue that partisan politics itself is not counter-productive but rather it is the brazen acts of victimisation that are. After all, partisan politics is healthy for democracies.
Partisan boycott of businesses
On the issue of the economic boycotting of ULP businesses, it was only a matter of time before the NDP supporters pushed back. Old people say if you keep pushing a dog in the corner it will eventually bite. The ULP cannot expect NDP supporters to be continually victimised and do nothing.
I caution though that boycotting has grave implications for us. It is similar to creating two nations. Similar to Dr. Gonsalves and the ULP separating the Grenadines votes from the mainland ones when, in fact, we are all ONE nation.
Boycott is a form of protest. It is similar to a trade embargo. Yes, you deprive a nation that is boycotted of trade. However, it pushes the country into deeper economic woes. Its citizens feeling the economic strain are almost forced to acknowledge the errors of their ways and correct them. It is a form a protest.
So, too, ULP supporters and the businesses owned by ULP supporters must acknowledge that depriving individuals of economic opportunities based on political choices must not be encouraged. Silence is no longer an option! You cannot appear to be the Pontius Pilate in this situation. National Unity requires a voice calling in the wilderness.
It is of absolute importance that the current government, driven by the Ministry of National Reconciliation, as well as future governments, step in and arrest this problem. Don’t just criticise the call for boycott because of its inherent implications for the country. Instead, acknowledge the root of the problem and address it.
The annual Christmas road work is not something new. Successive governments have done it. It is used as an economic stimulus and has little to do with tidiness of the environment.
I have written about it before because I made sure I received first-hand information. It is absolutely wrong for road supervisors and ULP strong men and women to instruct road gang leaders not to hire NDP supporters. It is absolutely wrong for road gang teams to be denied a job opportunity to eat of the spoils of the state because it has a lot of NDP people in that gang. First acknowledge that it has happened and stop it!
Let us not forget the previous years where we experienced floods and disasters. I know of houses that were skipped from repairs or receiving materials because they do not support the ULP. These people are our neighbours and relatives. I have seen where supporting one’s political party trumps blood relations. Shameful!
Sometimes I feel like we are so gone as a people that it can only be downhill from hereon. But I am constantly reminded that where there is life, there is hope. We have to persevere. So, in all of the gloom we must strive to be our best. As a people, we can rise above the destructive nature of partisan politics in our nation. We must rise above the tribalism. We can and we must!
In this season of joy, of giving and celebration, let us say no to victimization and reach out to our neighbours and the less fortunate.
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