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The ULP – A brief critical look

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The forthcoming elections are really about two things, giving a grade to the ULP after 4 years and 8 months and assessing the extent to which the NDP might have reinvented itself and the nature, stature and relevance of its leadership for these times. These are matters worthy of our consideration for elections are serious business although we do not often treat them so. We will be called upon to make perhaps the most important decision we will have to make for some time. I repeat what I have been saying regularly, that our country is definitely at the crossroads and our mission is to follow one of these roads.{{more}}

With the CSME around the corner and with the WTO steadfast in the pursuit of its neo-liberal agenda we can expect increasing challenges of the kind never before experienced. We are also given the task of entrusting a party and leader with the reins of government at these critical times. The ULP is the party that is definitely under the microscope having held the reins of government for the last four and a half years. It is difficult to do any proper assessment in an article of this kind. What I intend to do is simply to pull out some things that have left an impression on me and which to me describe their term of office.

In trying to assess the party’s tenure of office we have obviously to take into account the short time span on which we are making our assessment and the external factors over which they would have had no control. Taking those into account, particularly their short term of office, we are compelled to focus largely on their style, direction, and in fact their method of governance. It must be remembered nevertheless, that this is an exercise that happens every five years. The external challenges centred to a large extent on the fallout from 9/11, the plight of the banana industry, the economic slow down and the growing impact of globalisation. Are we satisfied with their approach to these issues? This is the question that we always have to keep in mind since these matters are not ones that can be solved overnight. But are we convinced they did what they could in the space they still controlled? A number of things stand out that bring little credit to the party and in fact helped to shape people’s impressions. Perhaps the one that is most obvious is the total control of the government by the Prime Minister. It appears sometimes as if his was the only voice that could have been heard. The other Ministers of government paled into insignificance, something that is reinforced by the fact that election posters of the candidates in all the constituencies have to be buttressed by that of the Prime Minister. It is certainly not a case of first among equals for there are no equals. It is a naked one- man show. It was even easy to come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister had little faith in his Ministers making his task now more difficult in selling them again to the public.

The taped conversation between Frank Da Silva and the Prime Minister that Frank had been playing with a great deal of regularity highlights the nature of his engagement with senior public servants, something that has been for a long time a topic of conversation among public servants. This is a sad state of affairs for it conveys the impression that there is a lack of respect for senior public servants many of whom have put in a lot of work and have devoted time and energy to their tasks. It is certainly not a way to inspire those with whom he works for they must be wondering what else is said and to whom. It is truly amazing that the PM was able to open up himself in the manner he did to someone who is obviously not his best friend. The government brought a great deal of discredit to itself by the manner in which in the last four months it hurriedly went about trying to pull a number of things out of thin air in an effort to look good. This can be seen particularly with the international airport, a major project that requires a lot more consultation and groundwork. It was not difficult to jump to the conclusion that what was being sold to the country were half baked projects geared more towards December 7 than anything else. It was as if the goal of the last four months was to accomplish what had not been done in four years.

Along with this goes what I call the government’s ‘hurry hurry’ approach, as if everything had to be done yesterday. Any serious project has to be properly planned, bearing in mind our limited human resources and the need for engaging stakeholders. Were the people of Argyle taken into the confidence of the Prime Minister and consulted before the plans were finalised (if they are indeed finalised) or did they hear the news like all of us? This really is nothing new for many public servants claim that it is normal to first hear things that should involve them on television or from some public address. The government’s handling of the economy was done in a very slap dash manner, or so it seemed to me. We have had a rapid increase in the national debt, the borrowings apparently done for projects that cannot be considered productive. We have had during the last four years to throw ourselves at the mercy of the Taiwanese who have been involved in the financing of an unusual number of projects. Understandably serious challenges existed but one did not get the impression that there was a realistic understanding of those challenges and of the working of the global economy. There was to a large extent more rhetoric than action, as can be seen even with the approach to tourism. The integrity legislation that was promised has never seen the light of day, a major disappointment given the many allegations that are being made about corruption and the kind of emphasis the party had put on it when in opposition.

There is much more that can be said and needs to be said but one cannot give the impression that all was bad even though many of the positive programmes and policies were tainted by the way they were approached and handled, very often attempting to make a political statement with them. It is also true too that many of the policies were policies either started by the NDP or had been the brainchild of the NDP. There is nothing wrong with this since that party was ousted from government before its full term was completed and would have had things in the pipeline. One does not expect a new government to abandon plans that were already in the pipeline unless they had serious objections to them. The government has to be commended for the emphasis it had put on education. My big problem has always related to the way they went about doing what they wanted to do. The mechanisms that were essential to the achievement of their goals were never put in place and now teachers, parents and students are beginning to feel the effect of this kind of approach. The attention given to the review of the constitution is worthy of note but the grading for this will have to take place when the government’s reaction to the proposals is known. Housing for lower income people, again a worthwhile project has been riddled with flaws. A lot of these could have been avoided if more time was spent planning and consulting. Many things were done with an eye on the books and with little attention to the possible implications.

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