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Exchange for Change – Part 1


Fri, Oct 5, 2012

by Adaiah J. Providence-Culzac
International Economy and Trade Major
Zhejiang University, China

Change has become a watchword, a mantra and even an ideology in comtemporary politics. Made popular by US President Barack Obama in his 2008 election campaign, political parties, interest groups and organizations have all seized the chance to portray themselves as the ‘oracle’ of this change. Of course, change did not start with President Obama, but our collective societies have all undergone changes through managed and uncontrolled processes.{{more}} Change is not a political word, but may be more generally associated with the field of management science; however, there is no doubt of its new ideological position.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, we are no strangers to the idea of ‘political change’. Governments have come and gone. We remember the spirited campaign run by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) in 2000-01 that infused within the masses the concept of change that lighted dreams, fuelled hopes and released a spirit of flight. Today, around the shops and on the sidewalks, on radio and at the workplace, in the barber-shops and at round tables, ‘change’ is once more being widely used. However, this change is not ‘change’ but mainly an ‘exchange’.

Did change occur in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the last 10 years? Of course, Yes. Are we satisfied with this level of ‘change’? Maybe no. Is this the change we believed in? Again maybe no.

The masses were moved with a refreshing ideological leader in Dr Ralph Gonsalves with uncomparable oratory skills, finesse and diplomacy. We were enthralled with leadership that included Hon. Vincent Beache, Hon. Rene Baptiste and Hon. Girlyn Miguel, among others, who truly were the only ‘dream team’ that the ULP has amassed. The call of change was not found in pockets of society, but throughout the whole country; it was the poor and the rich, the working class and those without work, big business owners and trade unions, students and teachers. Change was not a ‘call for a change of government’ but a call for ‘ a change in the way of government’.

Today, we do not have to look very far to realize that our change was an ‘exchange’. It was not a change that met our expectations. We exchanged a group of politicians who were tired, with a fresh group. We dressed up a new set of permanent secretaries and board members, diplomats and senior civil servants in an exchange for those who did not embrace the people’s cry. We splashed fresh paint on buildings, paved old roads and re-named and twinked institutions, organizations and committees. We traded yellow barbs for red ones and exchanged one ideology for the other. With two successive 12-3 mandates, constitutional reform still failed, public sector reform stalled, introduction of local government disbanded, welfare programmes broken, major economic industries unproductive.

Currently, there are many topics increasing the political thermometer, from Canada’s new visa regime, the issue of Venezuela, drugs and the use of the DPP’s discretionary power vs public interest test, economic planning and unemployment, agriculture, crime, political corruption and the list continues. A daily tune in to the radio talk shows is enough to give you the impression that the ‘sky is falling’. As such, in yet another abuse of the word ‘change’, the New Democratic Party (NDP) is calling for a reset in St Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, the NDP is asking Vincentians for an ‘exchange’; a trading of the present administration for an entity that is of equal or less value of it. Should Vincentians embrace this exchange?

Putting lipstick on a pig does not make it lady. In the 2012 US elections, Americans have to ask themselves if President Obama has delivered on his promise of bringing change to Washington. They will ask themselves and judge whether he had stood up to special interests, fixed a broken political system that is too rigid and ideological between blue democrats and red republicans, they will ponder whether the middle class has grown or whether his policies have hurt the poor, has America balanced its national interest while respecting and balancing new emerging global powers, and is there today a better America for every man, woman, boy and girl. These questions will not be judged fairly according to the political camp one may find him/herself in, but the election results will provide us with an opportunity to assess whether Americans really wanted change or just an exchange vis-a-vis President Obama’s signature legislative action Health Care Reform.

Above all else, the economic stimulus package, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, protected status to immigrants, tough financial and lobbying regulations etc, it would be the bold and audacious health care legislative action that may define his presidency when the history books are written. President Obama spent considerable political capital on this issue that he believed in and which will actually ‘change’ the way health care is thought about in America for generations.

At home, we can agree that the education revolution and the building of an international airport at Argyle are audacious hallmarks of the ULP administration. This is change. The government continues to spend political and financial captial on these two projects in an effort to transform (a word associated with change and not exchange) the social and physical landscape of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I wished that more was done. I wished that waste was less, political corruption less rampant. I dreamt that the ULP administration of 2001 would have been more ambitious, forceful and dedicated. I wanted a change that challenged our ‘Vincentian ideals’, that created a much better post-colonial society that broke down failed systems, institutions and structures. In the end, to be honest, the life of the administration has been one of exchange rather than change, but in the areas noted above, we have seen that the ULP can be an agent of change. So, what is the problem?

‘We nah easy atall!’ Quickly approaching 33 years of independence, our democracy has still not matured and developed into one that would embrace real change. Public sector reform is not a simple exercise in St Vincent, Local government will be another poisoned well of political diatribe, Integrity legislation would be used as a tool for a political witchhunt and the list goes on. A snapshot of what passed for debate in the constitutional reform exercise is enough to be somewhat ‘sympathetic’ to the 2001- 2010 ULP administrations. The gloves are already off in the parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines, so any chance of further cooperation, beyond what is absolutely necessary, will only be decided by a subsequent election.

So, while we huff and puff, pulling down governments and putting them up, the question we should be asking ourselves is really, ‘whether we are going to exchange the government’ at the next general elections. There are those going around calling for change, but ‘what’s in a name?’.