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Repairing the system of governance in SVG


Fri Oct 31, 2014

by Maxwell Haywood

Centrality of history

We have completed celebrating our 35th anniversary of Independence; it is critically important for us to make the linkages to our history. The nation’s history is about providing direction for progressive social change. St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has travelled a long and difficult road to political independence in 1979. Eventually, independence was won after 141years of full emancipation from chattel slavery and the indentureship system.{{more}}

The nation’s history calls for us to reflect on SVG’s victories and setbacks then and now to establish a governance order which strengthens the organic link between people and the governance processes of the nation.

In order to address and resolve the historic issue of colonial rule over SVG, during the first decade of this 21st century, St Vincent and the Grenadines made an attempt to repair its system of governance by reforming the constitution which was handed to the nation by Britain in 1979. Unfortunately this effort was defeated. The governance system inherited by SVG was severely flawed and it has been incapable of fully empowering Vincentians to build an inclusive society for all. The system of governance was imposed on the nation, as was done to other Caribbean nations during the periods of native genocide, chattel slavery and colonialism. The nation had no real say in the constitution it inherited at independence. Today, de-colonizing the nation’s constitution is still a requirement for the further advancement of nation-building.

The reparations movement is correct in emphasizing that reparations is not only about monetary or financial reparations. It is also about correcting and repairing the social, political, and environmental damages and wrongs committed against the indigenous and Black populations during centuries of European conquest.

Legacies of colonial rule

SVG and other Caribbean countries came under the influence of the British imposed colonial systems of control, such as the old Representative System; Crown Colony Government, and Internal Self Government. The Colonial Office, the Governors, Legislatures, and the Executive Committees/Councils were united in maintaining colonial control over the indigenous and Black population and later indentured servants from Europe and Asia. These colonial institutions left a trail of gross neglect of human rights in SVG and its Caribbean neighbours. The legacies of these grave violations of human rights are still alive and well.

Imagine it took until 1951 or 113 years after emancipation and apprenticeship in 1838 before Black people were able to vote in SVG. Also, it took until the 1960s, when the nation’s Caribbean neighbours made a clean breakaway from political dependency on Britain. For example, Trinidad and Tobago got its independence in 1962, Guyana in 1966, and Barbados in 1966.

The nation has come a long way in meeting the many challenges without becoming a failed state. Colonial rule left us an extremely bad legacy, which we are still struggling to overcome. Lack of higher education institutions must be attributed to colonial rule. Similarly, up to the beginning of independence, our primary and secondary education institutions were unacceptable for a modern society. All of this must be tied to the education Black people got in the post-emancipation period – an education which was not relevant to the interests of a former enslaved people. The economic, social, and political dehumanization of Black people during chattel slavery required an education that corrected these massive injustices. While SVG has come a long way in developing its education system, there are still major challenges to overcome. Curriculum relevance in the context of the nation’s colonial history is still an outstanding issue.

Furthermore, many Vincentians could still remember the sub-standard nature of the housing stock of the majority of people in SVG at independence time in 1979. And it must have been deplorable during and immediately after chattel slavery ended. The immaculate houses seen throughout SVG today were never the reality until recent times. The bad quality of houses before and after slavery were not fit for hard working people who had worked for free during chattel slavery, and for almost nothing in the post emancipation period. Thirty-five years into independence, we also see and experience a lack of quality health care system – many people have to travel to other countries for medical care services despite the fact that we were under British rule for many years until 1979. Colonial rule, with its enormous wealth created by the labour of Black people, left the nation with one major public hospital with lots of inadequacies.

Toward genuine popular participation

Today, efforts to strengthen the nation’s system of governance must continue along the developmental path, toward fully addressing the gross social neglect committed by colonial rule against Vincentians. In this context, constitutional reform is still vital to the process of repairing the damages done by colonial rule. Constitutional reform should become a priority for the reparations movement. For hundreds of years, Black people were prevented from participating fully in the process of governance in SVG.

Genuine popular participatory democracy is desperately waiting to exhale. Participating in casting votes for a political representative every five years, while vital for democracy, is still inadequate. Accountability, transparency, and equity are components of the governance process that must be constantly enhanced; and participation in public policy making processes, which is another essential component of the governance process, must become more popular and widespread, real, and meaningful. These components are the only major safeguards for sustaining development efforts and gains, and repairing the political damages committed against the indigenous and Black population.