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Running out of options

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As Guyana grapples with its post-elections constitutional problem related to the convening of the new Parliament, there is one aspect of the new situation deserving the attention of all Caribbean people.

This is the clear call for any new government to be based on the principle of inclusiveness, thus beginning to address the critical problems caused by Guyana’s political/racial divide. The call was manifested in unmistakeable voting patterns by sections of the electorate crossing the artificial divide once thought to be sacrosanct. {{more}}It was echoed by post-election summations of international observers urging the new administration to cross party and racial lines. Both major political leaders have been forced to respond positively, at least in word, and one awaits developments to see if deeds will match the verbal commitments of the re-elected President Jagdeo to include political opponents and civil society in the new government.

The matter is one of vital political necessity for Guyana. This is a nation with a proud history of a united anti-colonial struggle, by people of African, Indian, Portuguese and Amerindian heritage in the fifties. Unfortunately the intervention of US and British imperialism led to a split in this solid phalanx, on racial lines, from which Guyana has not recovered until today. The potentially richest country in the CARICOM bloc ranks only above Haiti on the poverty scale. Clearly, the problems are so grave as to require a radical departure from the typical Westminster Parliamentary approach.

It is not just a Guyanese problem. Its immediate CARICOM neighbour to the north, Trinidad and Tobago, faces the same predicament with its traditional parties being also race-based. It too must come to grips with this sad legacy if its people are to make progress. While the rest of us are more fortunate, being spared the racial divisions, the divisiveness is no less present nor damaging. In Dominica as in Jamaica, in St. Kitts as in St. Lucia, in Antigua and here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we all face the consequences of winner-take-it-all, antagonistic party divisions.

While we beat up on each other on flimsy political pretences, what are our fundamental problems? Only this week, one of our chief regional trade negotiators was throwing up his hands in despair at the Caribbean’s failure to make progress in international trade negotiations in spite of its best efforts. Dr. Patrick Antoine of Grenada warned us that the region is suffering from “fatigue” in these negotiations and going nowhere. Other regional negotiators and even the doyenne of the Caribbean Trade Ministerial team, Barbados’ Dame Billy Miller, have voiced similar frustrations. Increasingly the region is being marginalized as the most rapacious forces of international finance capital further spread their tentacles, enmeshing and crushing all before them.

In the face of all this we continue to feel that our biggest problems are with each other, that the Compton-Anthony divide in St. Lucia, or Dominica’s DLP-UWP battle are really the THE ISSUES. SVG is right up there with them for everything here is being painted in red or yellow. In such situations it is not policies or programmes which count first, it is PARTY, It is not a person’s ability or committedness which are the major issues, but party affiliation. So incompetents can get a free-ride, provided they are on the right side, while persons with so much to contribute, if they are on the “other side”, are left out. Exclusiveness is the order of the day, throughout the region, even when we need “all hands on deck.” Can we afford this?

The downside is lack of national consensus on tackling our fundamental problems. Take the case of energy. The repercussions are being felt in electricity as in transport. All are affected and the root causes are external. But we cannot shed our political blinkers and so be able to view the situation as threatening us all, thus requiring solutions national in scope. The Parliamentary Opposition has in its ranks persons with some familiarity with VINLEC’s problems, but our SYSTEM in such that their contributions must be relegated to attacks on the Government’s handling of the situation. I am not blaming one side or the other, just pointing out new politics of antagonism reduces us to meaningless posturing at a time when we need intelligence and unison. Even the stand-off between the mini-bus drivers (NOBA) and Government is not immune from partisan contamination. The government’s concern to “protect the poor and working people” is certainly commendable but NOBA also has genuine concerns and grievances, not just now. And we must not allow the red herrings of service defects to deflect us away from the fundamental problem. Nor must we allow political differences to drive the sides further apart. It is not beyond our capacity to find solutions but we must be willing to listen, to compromise, to place national interest above all else.

The same can be said of current political “hot potatoes” – sale of Crown Land in Bequia, the Buccament project and the controversial Produce and Commodities Bill.

Like everything else it is becoming increasingly difficult for the public to decipher between genuine concerns and partisan political agenda. As always, all kinds of views are being promoted, many with only negative connotations-leading us all nowhere. Each of these issues must be dealt with on merit, with maturity and with consideration for what policies would best advance the interests of the people of a two-by- two embattled nation. We are fast running out of options, for survival, never mind progress. We cannot afford the luxury of useless political strife.

That is why the Guyana example was my starting point. Inclusiveness is now an imperative. The free-riders, opportunists and ne’er-do-wells must be off-loaded. It makes the Constitutional Review exercise all the more relevant, and urgent.

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