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Level with the people

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Did I hear right? But other people have ‘misheard’ as well, for they too said that they had heard on air that the ULP it was that organized Monday’s Symposium on the Argyle Airport. That was a high-powered affair to which stakeholders and would be stakeholders-local, regional and international-were invited, and attended. Beautiful!{{more}}

So what is wrong with the ULP organizing the symposium? Is it not its right, as a party, one which controls the government of the country, to host such a gathering? Of course, that is its right. The issue is that, was it the most tactical approach, given our current context? Just a few months ago we had a local furore, when a motorcade was organized to Argyle, parading the heavy equipment being used to construct the airport, all bedecked with ULP colours. The debate surrounded the old “party before country” issue and clouded what should have been (and is rightly so) to the credit of the Gonsalves administration in beginning to realize a long-held Vincentian dream.

It raises once more what seems to be a problem of the ULP administration, often spoiling its own notable achievements by its obsession on ‘partyizing’ many national occasions. This administration has many things to its credit but often ends up souring the brew. In so doing it often confuses genuine criticism with the bleating of backward detractors and runs the risk of lumping them all together. For most Vincentians, outside the diehards of the ULP and NDP, it is not the party which is of greatest importance, but the country and its socio-economic well-being.

These are difficult times which are going to get harder, before they ever improve. It is not a time for us to either be gloating at any economic or financial difficulties of the government, not to be minimizing it. Having taken the long-overdue plunge to construct an international airport, it is folly to try to use the current global financial difficulties as an excuse to argue against the construction of the airport. If not now (or yesterday as it should have been), then when? Intelligent ideas of how best to achieve this national goal are certainly far more valuable. That implies disagreement at times, not just with building the airport, but how we go about the task? And those who voice concerns or criticisms in this context must not be dismissed as ‘anti-national detractors’.

Our people are not foolish, and as we lift our levels of education, training and understanding, the national debate will become more intense. It challenges the government to level with us, to let us know exactly where we stand, what difficulties are before us and hence what sacrifices must be made by us all. We cannot brave off each storm with more largesse for in the long run that is unsustainable. The state of the economy and the massive undertaking that is Argyle must be laid clearly before us all, that must be our national conversation.

At the same time there is a sense that the Cabinet as a whole is not up to the tasks required of political leadership. The glaring imbalance as regards the Prime Minister and the rest of his Cabinet needs to be addressed. Ways have to be found to include more of the obvious talent in the land. Ears have to be opened to the voice of the people and changes have to be made to shake up the administration. This is a government with a very ambitious programme but given its make-up, is it biting off more than it can chew?

There are loud rumblings of dissatisfaction, here and there, if not everywhere. Yet, save Dr Gonsalves, where is the rest of the leadership? And even, Dr Gonsalves, in spite of all his obvious brilliance, runs the risk of losing his focus, a focus which the country badly needs. Local government recommendations from the Committee set up to do so are gathering dust. Contractors and people doing business with government are experiencing frustration about the honouring of financial commitments. We can do better if we sit down frankly, forget the obsession about “others” and think of what we can do together. We do not have an economic crisis but if we don’t manage properly, face up our realities, we can engender a crisis of confidence. Are our leaders listening?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.