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ULP celebrates 18 –year term. Where do we go from here?

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CONGRATULATIONS TO the Unity Labour Party government which last week crossed the 18-year milestone in government, the longest such unbroken stretch in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. In so doing it broke the 17-year plus record of the Sir James Mitchell’s New Democratic Party administration.

While historic in its own right, perhaps it is good for our country that such a record-holder should not be a person who has personally called for foreign military invasion of the region, first of Grenada in 1983 and currently against Venezuela in 2019.

On balance the Ralph Gonsalves administration has reason to feel that it has done a reasonable job over those years, certainly by comparison with its predecessors in government. However, while overall its record may be on the positive side so far, at the end of the road it will only be as good as the legacy it leaves whenever it demits, or is forced to demit, office. The tragedy of many politicians and political parties which have started out on a progressive note is that they all too often undo the good works in their latter days.

Our local history from George McIntosh, through Ebeneezer Joshua, Milton Cato, to James Mitchell would bear out this fact.

Except for extreme detractors who ridiculously insist that the ULP government is “the worst-ever” in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines, there is no denial that our country has made considerable progress over the past 18 years. One can debate to what degree should the Gonsalves regime be credited for this, but undoubtedly it must take a good deal of credit.

One can also legitimately question whether more progress could have been achieved and to what extent the ULP government has not quite met expectations, but the SVG of today is a far cry from that of two decades ago. By the 1998-2001 period the NDP had obviously lost its way and sense of direction leading to the chaos of the Year 2000.

This has happened in the face of overwhelming challenges. The economy has still not fully recovered from the effects of the banana fallout on a monocrop economy, but enforced though it might be, we have been making headway, not enough mind you, in diversification. There is the lingering negative impact of the global economic crisis of 2008, from which we have not fully recovered.

In addition, if we did not believe in climate change and its disastrous effects, the several storms, and drought, with which the country and government has had to cope, gave us a brutal reminder of reality.

Politically, just as he was bold enough economically to go for what he called “counter-cyclical measures” to stave off economic paralysis, PM Gonssalves displayed the courage lacking in many of his regional counterparts to spearhead much-needed constitutional reform.

One can make all sorts of conclusions in hindsight, but there is no doubting the fact that the constitutional reform process leading up to the ill-fated 2009 referendum was a very ambitious, perhaps even over-ambitious, undertaking.

In the long run, the rootand- branch reform failed, as did the attempt at local government reform as well. Undoubtedly mistakes were made for which the government must take some blame, but the process itself was revolutionary in its approach. No other government in the region attempting constitutional reform embarked on such a democratic and inclusive path. It was partisan political folly and gross opportunism which brought about the defeat in the referendum. Indeed it was the ULP’s failure, (to this day) to tackle this problem of political partisanship which came to haunt its chances at success in this regard.

There were other positive steps in governance too. For instance, whereas in the past, except for the Budget Debate, the proceedings of Parliament were not broadcast live, that has become standard practice today. Additionally, the Prime Minister has made it a habit to hold regular press conferences, though the length of each exercise and the form itself, have been the subject of criticism by many persons, including local journalists. But it is a far cry from the past, a welcome opening.

The ULP came to power on the crest of an anti-government wave, initiated by trade unions and civil society organisations against a government which seemed not only to have lost its way, but seemed also totally out of touch with, and insensitive to public opinion. It was the only political force in a position to capitalize on widespread public dissatisfaction then. To this day, however, there are all too many, the opposition in particular, who do not seem to understand the dynamics of that situation and, simplistically attribute the ULP’s 2001 political success to the so-called “road-block revolution”.

Failure to understand the dynamics, particularly the convergence of the interests of civil society and the political forces in opposition to the NDP, continues to contribute to political errors on both sides to this day.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

● Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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