By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” July 1, 2022)
In SVG, politics is infected with an illness that chokes articulation and development. Policy implementation is weak and often disastrous. A senior opposition politician tried to convince me there was no difference between policy and politics. PM Gonsalves is infamous for saying, “I am talking policy.” He proceeds to politicise the issue.
Citizens will develop a greater appreciation for government and democratic best practices if our politicians, social activists and change agents consciously attempt to recognise the difference between policy and politics. Our politics often inform our policy when the reverse should be true.
SVG is a developing democracy. We are still relatively young regarding the art of government and the graces of governance. Often we do things that retard our democracy rather than allow it to flourish and grow.
A few examples are in order:
A Vincentian who left here for “greener pastures” and over the years gained an education, experience, training, and a bold worldview is barred from returning to her homeland to make a vital political contribution to the development of the country. She must first renounce what the neo-colonial constitution terms “allegiance to a foreign power”.
A white British citizen or even a Pakistani Taliban, with a minimum of one year of residence, becomes eligible to be elected to parliament and lead SVG. They do not have to renounce their British or Pakistani citizenship. Their right to be elected and serve flows from their countries belonging to the British Commonwealth.
Most Vincentians living abroad have a connection to the homeland. They listen to local radio stations rather than those in the cities where they reside. They, like most immigrants, yearn to return home even if they never do. Their decision to acquire citizenship in a foreign land is mainly for transactional convenience rather than a desire to disconnect from home.
The brain drain accounts for over 70% of skilled and trained personnel. Over the last 20 years, many acquired scholarships allowed for training in many fields. Many left as the nation cannot absorb all of them.
The clause in our constitution that prohibits political participation by those who acquire citizenship in a foreign land is not a deeply entrenched clause. That is to say, a vote by a simple majority in Parliament will allow us to change and correct this disservice to ourselves. Unfortunately, for narrow political reasons, we deter nationals living abroad with abundant skills and training from offering themselves.
Over the years, Milton Cato, Grafton Isaacs, Vincent Beache, Glen Beache, “Scumbo” John, Camillo Gonsalves, Godwin Friday, Fitz Bramble and yours truly have offered our service to the nation. Some of us were either born abroad or acquired citizenship in foreign lands. Many of those listed have served or continue to serve the country credibly. Yet our parliamentarians, intent on making this critically important issue into “a political football”, refuse to do the right thing.
We cannot depend heavily on our diaspora for remittances, estimated to be tens of millions of dollars annually, disaster relief and other assistance and then deliberately lock them out of national political service. Something is radically wrong with this reality. We ought to change it to make better use of this vital asset.
Another area that needs attention and change is how we transition from one government to the other following an election. Serious consideration should be given to a U.S.-type transition. We do not need more than two months, as is the case in the United States, but surely no prime minister should have to scramble to remove his personal belongings from an official residence. A one-week grace period should become the practice.
The current policy where the loser must get out of town before the sun rises has to end. There is a grace that must come with the office of the prime minister. Courtesy must be extended even after he demits office. The security needs of all former prime ministers and members of parliament should be assessed and addressed as need be. No long-standing elected member of the state apparatus should be left without a basic care package, a driver, medical care, etc.
Our politics’ tribal, hyper-partisan nature prevents us from moving in this direction. Those in opposition and their supporters may argue strongly against these developments, especially if the sitting government proposes them. Many of us remember all too well the arguments against what was dubbed “Mitchell’s greedy bill”. Much of what was argued against then has since been implemented with less fanfare.
What needs to be done is for many of these issues to be developed in legislative committees that win bi-partisan support. Another idea is to create a democratic good governance committee that is democratic and representative of society. This committee should be charged with the responsibility to observe our seascape and landscape to suggest ways in which we can make our democracy better and more caring.
The prophet Micah implores us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. If we take his teachings to heart, we will come to the appreciation that policy should inform our politics and not the other way around.
A much better SVG awaits us. All we have to do is try just a little harder.
*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].