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Making sure that we ‘win’

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General Elections 2005 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are now history. The ballots have been cast and counted and the decision making phase is now over, if not yet the celebrations. As we move into the thanksgiving weekend it is right and proper for us to focus our minds on the way forward, especially as we can expect a quite rocky path over the next five years. It is time therefore to sober up.

The victors will still be rejoicing the “WE WIN” and no group of people would have contributed more to the victory than our working people. It is they who provided both parties with their battering rams as they hammered away at the gates of their opponents, they who became the cannon fodder in the pitched political battles, they who formed the solid bedrock of support which made the campaigns of both NDP and ULP credible ones. {{more}} But now it’s all over, shouldn’t we reflect, ask ourselves who has really won? Over whom or what? What did “we win”? How to ensure that “we” reap the fruits of victory?

These fundamental questions are essential to our progress and development, for given the political, economic, trading and social environment facing us, 2006-2010 will present us with an array of challenges that will test our mettle if we survive. To be sure, we cannot continue with our old ways, depending on THE GOVERNMENT or THE PRIME MINISTER to find solutions to all our problems. No doctor has a plaster for every sore. “We” will have to become part of the solution or else remain part of the problem.

The pity is that, in spite of its high points, the election campaign has not really placed us as a whole on a much higher, more discerning political plane. Too many people made choices as a result of flawed judgment, or inaccurate information. So one of our biggest challenges is that of lifting the consciousness of our people as a whole, of getting them to understand the real world we live in and our true state as a small, underdeveloped and very vulnerable nation. Our exposure to remittances, barrels, trade preferences and aid have left us all feeling very complacent. As the independence Schools Debate brought out, the reality is that we are living above our means. We have a similar lifestyle and consumption pattern to people in developed countries without having the means to sustain it. A rude awakening lies ahead.

So the new government must address this or it will find itself in deep trouble before too long. That is why political education, economic and trade literacy, awareness of social responsibility must be placed firmly on the agenda. We cannot go forward, cannot progress unless we have an enlightened, informed citizenry. That will make the government “new”, we simply cannot afford more of the old.

Nor can we afford the political tribalism which has characterized our country up until elections. After the 2001 elections, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves had proclaimed the slogan of “TOGETHER NOW” but not even his own party seemed convinced of its necessity and it too soon slipped back into the partnership which has plagued us for half a century now. It is madness for us to shut out half of our society on political grounds. Thus we must let the “new” government know that we want a NEW APPROACH to governance. There will always be the tendency to reward those who have contributed to the political victory, but should it be at the expense of country or to the detriment of our development? So when the various Boards, Committees and mechanisms of governance are chosen, priority must be given to COMPETENCE, and to dedication to the task ahead. That is hard for party supporters and financiers to swallow but it is high time that we bite that bullet and put SVG first. Jobs and appointments must be made on merit, not on partisan support.

Similarly it is critical that we send this message in Parliament and even in allocating responsibilities to Ministers. The Speaker of the House for instance, ought to be non-partisan, it does not help when one sees the Speaker on party political platforms. Nation building is ensuring the active participation of broad sectors. So why should a Senate post become the preserve of party members. Is it not time to take the bold step, even before we have a new Constitution, of having civil society representation in the House of Assembly, bringing in the voices of the leading economic and social sectors?

Then again there is the misconception of parliamentary representation. Voters in the constituencies vote for people to represent their interest. The Prime Minister appoints ministers. But people we vote for seem to soon forget that they are our REPRESENTATIVES first and foremost, ministerial responsibilities and political affiliation come afterwards. We simply have to insist that our MPs always remember this and honour it; if they feel they are great it is because WE have made them so. What better way to keep them in check than to have constitutional reform committing them to have to report periodically to their constituents and giving the ultimate power to recall to electors.

We desperately need a new governance, a system of politics which can guard against political discrimination, which will facilitate national healing and unifying the nation. The election is over and we all have to live with the new dispensation. Grateful as the politicians smay be to the persons that voted for them, those who did not are still Vincentians with equal rights to jobs, opportunities and natural benefits. We must all insist on this, insist on maximizing our potential and in placing SVG way above and beyond any Pee.

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