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The campaign and beyond

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On Sunday and Monday last, this country was subjected to extremely heavy rainfall, perhaps the heaviest we have experienced for a long time. At times like this our vulnerability is exposed, for given our topography landslides become the order of the day and there were many reports of these, including those in Bequia where two deaths occurred when campers were covered by a landslide. A recurring factor with these heavy rains is damage to our water supply.

I wonder how many Vincentians, on such occasions reflect on the implications for the country of the Cross Country Road. One can only imagine and think about the consequences given the steepness of most of the land in the interior. I looked back at my copy of the Environmental Cataloguing Study and wondered about our sanity and general state of mind. {{more}}The report states, “Because of its steep topography and the high degree of weathering of the pyroclastics, slope instability in the form of landslides and slumps is a major problem in St.Vincent. In fact, unstable slopes tend to be the rule rather than the exception.” Although it is suggested that appropriate designs and mitigation strategies can allow some sites subjected to slope instability to be available for development the identification of the huge challenges and the calls for further surveys in themselves speak volumes. Indeed, the report also notes that, “preliminary indications were to the effect ‘that the project is being developed in difficult terrain and in soil conditions requiring further investigation and analysis.”

Even before the rains the issue of the condition of the roads in settled areas was one that has been very much talked about, with the government seeking in the vicinity of $24 million to attend to this. One can only speculate about the huge costs of clearing landslides and repairing roads in our mountainous interior. Are we looking at this? From where are we getting the money? On the matter of the water, let us recall what the study says: “St. Vincent’s wellbeing and economic prosperity depend on a safe, clean and secure water supply. Depending on its alignment, design and construction, a cross- country road could have major adverse economic impacts on the generation of hydro- power and the production of water. A major challenge would therefore be to ensure that the integrity of the forests and watersheds and their ability to produce dependable supplies of water are not compromised. The same holds true for the continued generation of dependable sources of hydro-electricity.”

The subject of the Cross Country road is one of the issues on the agenda as we prepare for the December 7 general election. The government is already committed to this project but seems to have blinded itself to the enormous difficulties, possible costs, major challenges involved and the need for real debate. This forces me to look again at the issue of governance. While election discussions/debates tend to focus on short term and practical measures like the establishment of an airport, a cross- country road and other such tangible projects, there are broader and longer term issues, governance being an important one. Governance is often left undefined so that it is sometimes used as just another word for government. But governance is a process that involves how decisions are made, accountability and the relationship between governments and civil society. One of the criticisms often made about a democracy is that in our part of the woods it amounts in reality to five minutes being spent in a polling booth. The reality is that elections do not by extension translate into democracy. This is one of the misconceptions that have arisen with America’s view of democracy. The Americans equate democracy with elections and in so doing provide some legitimacy for some of the more dictatorial regimes in different parts of the world. In Iraq, they tried to clothe their protégés with some degree of legitimacy and in so doing hoped to convince the rest of the world that they were about bringing democracy.

With this in mind I must compliment the Constitutional Review Committee for the focus it has been putting on civil society. There are areas in their recommendations about civil society that perhaps need to be looked at in more detail bearing in mind the social dynamics within the society. This is where theory does not necessarily match reality and certain accommodations have to be made. The issue of governance is one that should not be left to the politicians but must be placed high on the agenda of civil society for the more power that is put in the hands of civil society the less is the control exercised by governments. While one understands the need to deal with bread and butter issues that feature so highly in developing countries it has to be borne in mind that the issue of governance is not a remote matter. The more active and more involved the people of the country are in matters of government, in matters of decision making, the more likely it will be that key issues affecting them will be addressed.

Our election campaign is still too preoccupied with personalities and with mudslinging at the expense of real issues that affect the people and the country. As I suggested before, two matters that need debating in the country are ones relating to leadership and development. Where these two matters are concerned we are still steeped in the traditional modes and are simply continuing with the legacies of a colonial past, not in keeping with the new dispensation that accompanied independence but, admittedly, still in the process of formation. The nature of development is a key one for countries such as ours. Arising from the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1997 the need to put people at the centre of development was emphasized. This is an issue that has been highlighted by the Human Development Report put out by the United Nations Development Programme. In this context it is a much more important guide to development in the way it is defined here than the focus on per capita income. As we begin to pay more attention to governance, the issue of leadership will have to be refined. These are obviously not short-term matters but involved is a redefinition of development, looking at its manner and nature. I am not suggesting that these are issues which can be or should be the focus of election campaigns but at least the campaign platforms and the manifestoes of the parties should give us a clue as to how they are moving on issues of governance, involving that of leadership and on the matter of development and by extension the eradication of poverty.

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