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This week’s musings

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I was attracted to a caption on the front page of the News of last week. The accompanying story read: “Dr, Slater for ULP Leadership?”. I was particularly interested in the article because of the rumours that have been circulating to the effect that Dr. Slater will not be contesting the next election. I paid particular attention to the remarks of our Prime Minister as quoted by the News. According to the newspaper, Dr. Gonsalves described Dr. Slater as “the man I wanted to succeed me, going into the next elections.”{{more}} Something seemed to have happened, because he appeared to be fiddling with the past tense. Dr. Gonsalves was careful with what he said. Dr. Slater is not the person he wants to replace him but rather the person he wanted to replace him. In the past! I am not sure if the rumours about Dr. Slater’s exit from formal politics is correct. If it is correct, is it based on a decision he has made or was it made by the party? If it was based on his own deliberate judgement, then to have known before that he was the Prime Minister’s favoured son in Cabinet might have influenced him in another direction. If it was a decision made by those with higher political clout, then that is a horse of a different colour. But this then fits into a pattern. A few years ago, when Dr. Thompson was being demoted, he was described as ‘arguably the brightest man in Cabinet’. I had foolishly assumed that this was an indication of things to come for Dr. Thompson. But then the job requires a set of political skills and it “is either you born with it, or you develop them, not everybody has these.” What was highlighted about Dr. Slater was his “brilliance, integrity, grasp of policy and commitment to this country.” Based on the Prime Minister’s own words, Dr. Thompson would have qualified on the first quality, ‘brilliance’. We are now left to ask about the other qualities – integrity and commitment to this country. I am assuming that all members of government are committed to this country. The Government has over the years complimented itself on its integrity, so I am not sure what separates the favourite sons and daughters. What is clear, however, is that accolades appear to be a parting gift.

All of this praise being showered on Dr. Slater has come at a time when he is being severely criticised for the state of the hospital and of medical services. I am sorry for Dr. Slater because the problems at the hospital should not all be laid on his shoulders. He obviously depends on what is provided to his Ministry by the Minister of Finance. This should reflect the priority which the government sets on the health sector and not be the sole initiative of the embattled Minister. I have listened to recent discussions on radio about the state of the hospital, the absence of drugs and other necessities and about the service. I got the impression, based on comments by some persons, that someone had suggested that the government had been spending a lot of money on education and that there was not enough to go around. This led to the old issue of which was first, the chicken or the egg? There is no doubt that health is the most critical area of the life of anyone. Without proper health there is no production and every other aspect of life is affected, including education.

This brings me to another matter. If we all take off our political goggles and look carefully at what is happening around us, we might be alarmed at the state of things. I know from experience that many parents are unable to provide basic meals for their children at school. For the person in the country who might have to send their children outside of their areas of residence, particularly those attending secondary schools, they have not only to meet the cost of meals but also transportation. This is a more serious issue than I ever imagined, and I say this without contradiction because I have come across and spoken to a number of parents, particularly single parents, about this. Some of us spend our lives glamourising what is happening in this country and refuse to face up to the harsh realities. There are enormous challenges, facing not only this country, but other countries in the region and other developing countries. When I look at this country, two things stand out. First, the continuing polarisation and deep divisions which spell danger for any effort to undertake any major national projects. Then there is the matter of prioritisation. We have to set priorities and realise that despite all the pompous talk we are a poor developing country. It is good to dream, but we must not be carried away by our dreams. I still continue to have issue with our talk about a Cross Country Road, amidst the serious challenges we have just surviving. We are talking about a tunnel running under Cane Garden. Come on, let’s be real and concentrate on meeting certain basic needs of our people, including meeting basic health care.

We are into the Silly Season awaiting the announcement of the date of the next general elections. At this time some of us get mad and some get carried away with dreams and doing silly things. The problem for those in government is that the cake continues to be small and cannot be shared equitably, so the tendency is to make sure those key supporters on whom you depend when the election bell is wrung could get a slice of the cake. Better late than never. When I read the newspapers and see mention made of the firing from their jobs of people at the Owia Recreation Centre and at the Langley Park School, I wonder about the logic of some of these things at this time. But there is obvious method in the madness.

Senior Magistrate Donald Browne’s Pontification

Amidst all of this reflection on the state of things, especially listening to comments on the talk shows, Senior Magistrate Donald Browne comes to the rescue. The Senior Magistrate has expressed disgust with all those black men that appear before him. An obviously genuine concern, no doubt! Who are these black men? Are they people who are unemployed? Are they overwhelmingly young people? We need to know about these black people. But Mr. Browne took a different angle. He said that St.Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of all types of ethnicities but it is only black men who are appearing before him. There is really no secret here because we are overwhelmingly a country of black people, and so one expects that the majority of persons appearing before the Court would be black people. Mr. Browne does not stop at this. He calls for a banning of cutlasses. In his view, there are too many crimes committed with the use of cutlasses. If I remember correctly, he promised to speak to the Commissioner about this. Well, I am not sure what is the intention. We are still an agricultural country and the cutlass is probably the most common tool used. I believe that there are certain regulations relating to how cutlasses should be carried, but I am not sure you can go further than this. In any event the problem is deeper than this and so if it is not the cutlass it will be something else.

We have become a violent country. The way we try to settle quarrels is by threats and in cases going further and taking the lives of our perceived enemies. It is a problem that runs deep in the society and has to be tackled at a number of different levels. The political divisions in the country only help to complicate this issue and prevent the formation of a united front to tackle this and other problems.

 Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator  and historian.

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