A broader approach needed
In the presentation of the 2019 Budget, finance minister Camillo Gonsalves announced an initiative on the part of his government to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our country reclaiming its independence. It is called Renewal @ 40 and was described as “a wide-ranging and multifaceted programme of reflection and re-invention,” ranging from cultural to infrastructural activities.
While in principle one can have no quarrel with any programme to celebrate an occasion like our 40th anniversary, or at the sprucing up of our physical environment, we cannot help but wonder whether there should not have been a much more ambitious venture which is far more all-encompassing and inclusive than that proposed.
History is always a useful guide and any time we talk of our Independence celebrations, it is important to learn from our past. Our Independence in 1979 came in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption of La Soufriere in April of that year and the tremendous interruption to our economy and well-being of our people. From the beginning, the approach of the then Government tended to be very narrow. Calls for an all-party approach and the involvement of all political parties and social sectors in the rehabilitation efforts were rejected.
The result was that we went into Independence on a very divided basis, even to the extent where some opposition parties attempted to derail the process. Independence came with general elections less than two months away and while the governing Labour party was able to ride the Independence train to victory in those elections, it was to prove a proverbial pyrrhic victory. The Union Island rebellion and tremendous industrial and social turmoil foreshadowed the defeat of the “triumphalists” of 1979 in the 1984 elections.
We need to learn these lessons and to recognize that while Renewal @ 40, is a useful initiative, our 40th anniversary of independence deserves much more. It is not enough to limit ourselves to some “Special Unit” co-ordinating such activities. We are already well into the new year and with foresight should long have set up a broad-based National Independence Committee to spearhead the activities and to involve all sectors of our people, including of course, the political opposition.
We cannot afford a bureaucratic approach, nor one perceived as having a partisan flavour, whether intended or not. The renewal must be aimed at the heart of our society, at embracing all our people and their ideas as to how our nation can progress. Even the Nine Mornings Committee ensured that there was broad community involvement.
Take a look at our annual independence activities and note the reluctance of many, for whatever reason to participate fully. Many elements of the business sector seem indifferent for instance. How can we reach out to these sectors, and facilitate the involvement of sporting and cultural organisations as partners in the effort? Already in Parliament we had a call for a special honouring of our national footballers for the success in the midst of adversity in the Caribbean Football Union competition. We also had outstanding cultural performances by our artistes in the historic Carifesta of that year.
Let us try to bring it all together and unite our people, irrespective of their respective persuasions in this grand effort. Please revisit the concept and INVOLVE THE PEOPLE.