By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 27, 2021)
PM Gonsalves was not always combative and dismissive when dealing with workers. There was a time when he offered meaningful advice that was intended to bring real and lasting change. You can be the judge of what happened as time passed.
In a brilliant address at the 29th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Public Service Association in 1999, Gonsalves declared, “In the final analysis, the public worker individually and collectively must put all the relevant issues on the agenda. An apathetic public service that is easily cowed by the powers-that-be will not be able to do more than survive. Those public workers who take no interest in their union or who fail or refuse to tackle aggressively their own concerns will be trampled upon by a manipulative, Machiavellian government. Public workers must support their unions; pay their dues: participate fully in their collectives or branches; display utmost vigilance in their hard-won rights; build the requisite industrial and political alliances on an ongoing basis; and serve the public well and faithfully. When all that and more is done, the public worker will not only survive; they will prosper and advance. In short, the public worker has to take up his or her bed and walk. To be sure, the weight of the public workers will be less to carry if there is a government that embraces their concerns demonstrates the practices of good governance.”
Those were the lyrics of a politician yearning for power.
During that address, Gonsalves told regional public servants that many problems retarded the growth and development of the public service. Among problems cited were:
1. The manipulation and coercion of public servants by highhanded Ministers of Government and a few senior public officers who have the ears of the prime minister;
2. Undue political interference occasioned due in part by the imprecise demarcation of political and administrative roles but also because of the unwieldy quest for excessive administrative powers by the politicians;
3. The lack of popular controls and the inadequacy of existing formal controls on the public service;
4. A condition of anxiety and insecurity among public servants as a consequence of their alienation, loss of self, despair, apathy, loneliness, pessimism, powerlessness, meaninglessness and isolation.
5. A lack of motivation on the part of a significant number of public servants;
6. Insufficient resources to meet all the pressing demands in the civil service and a lop-sided or skewed distribution of the existing resources;
7. Too much waste in the public administration of the country:
8. The failure or refusal by the competent authorities to find a proper role for the Public Service Union (PSU) in the administrative machinery;
9. Inadequate remuneration and poor conditions of work for too many public servants;
10. The lack of participatory involvement of the population in the state administration.’
Reading these words 22 years on, a keen observer could easily conclude that not much has changed even as we enter the 21st year of ULP and Gonsalves in power.
In the same address, Gonsalves calls for a participatory governance model, intensely political societies that do not yet have a tradition of independent Public Service Commissions. “But some governments do not even try.”
Gonsalves also opined that “the public worker requires a political framework of governance which is responsible, which is responsive to democratic imperatives and demands, which is corruption-free and which does not lurch from one crisis to another without a solution.”
Pointing to the centrality of the consent of the governed, Gonsalves, in a scathing critique of the Mitchell government noted, “… it follows that the ruling regime has had to use undemocratic means or practices, whatever their legal clothing, to govern. These means have included the cynical manipulation of the democratic institutions of the state, political victimisation of citizens, including public workers, reckless political propaganda, bribery and intimidation, and even threats of physical coercion in unjustifiable circumstances. In such a climate, a state of virtual paralysis or siege envelopes the public service. And no bull-in-a-china-shop approach by any [government] Minister can remedy this. Much more is required that is positive.”
The bull-in-a china-shop analogy most aptly describes our current political reality regarding, leadership and governance.
Ten years before his address to the regional public servants, Gonsalves penned a letter to the Vincentian newspaper titled “Fear stalks the land.” He lamented that “too many public servants, teachers, policemen, prison officers, and even lowly place government employees are trembling in their boots in the face of a seemingly all-powerful governmental authority. Their mouths are muzzled by the food they eat to live.”
A similar argument can be made regarding Gonsalves’ method and style of governance.
Gonsalves message to regional public workers 22 years ago is particularly relevant now. They are worth remembering as he threatens, intimidates and attempts to bullyrag, nurses, teachers, police officers and anyone brave enough to question his misrule.
*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].