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National intiatives call for national concensus

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This week two important initiatives were launched. On Monday there was the official initial step in a process leading up to the formulation of a National Development Plan for St. Vincent and the Grenadines which should take up to the year 2020. One day later comes the press launch of the Calendar of Activities for 2007, drawn up by the National Committee established for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Though different in nature both events have a similar, and by now familiar cross-cutting theme requiring the active participation of all sectors of our population if the outcomes are to be successful.{{more}}

The attempt to fashion a National Development Plan is by no means a first in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Indeed the last such effort was made just over a decade ago. What is new in this case is the approach towards drawing up the Plan. Whereas in the past it was mainly a technocratic exercise, this one is promised on the active participation of the broad cross section of organized civil society. In this regard while naturally, the Ministry of Finance and Planning will have the responsibility of preparing the plan, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) has the responsibility of driving the process, mobilizing the private and non-governmental sectors and soliciting and facilitating their input.

It is a departure from standard practice, not just in SVG but in most of the Caribbean as well, a departure which is fraught with serious challenges. That these are foreseen was reflected in the opening address of Director of Planning, Laura Anthony-Browne who warned all that we are sailing into hitherto unchartered waters which would require not only all hands on deck, but new and creative approaches to the tasks ahead. In the case of the public sector it would take some mental and psychological re-adjustment on the part of senior public servants in accommodating and facilitating the involvement of non-public sector entities in what has traditionally been their domain. But adjust they must if we are to succeed. The private and non-governmental sectors must also get their act together. Too often we complain, justly so in most cases, about not even enough space being provided for these sectors in formulating national policies and plans. Even when it seems as though space is available, it is sometimes limited leading persons who do not comprehend the process to conclude that it is a case of “rubber-stamping”. Yet we ourselves often fail to take advantage of real opportunities provided and do not proceed both to fully occupy spaces and if needed seek to expand them. Common ownership requires national responsibility and both the private and non-governmental sectors must shoulder theirs in this regard.

A similar all-sector, non-partisan path is also being mapped out for the Bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Not only this but increasingly, the demands of these rapidly changing times make it an urgent necessity, and not just in relation to the above-mentioned activities. While never forsaking the independence and autonomy, of the various sectors, while vigorously upholding the principle of a democratic multi-party and multi-sector stage, and while ensuring freedom of thought, expression and association, it is nevertheless palpably clear that we need to forge national consensus on key issues. We expand a lot of our precious energies as a people in racuous debate on minor issues or chasing red herrings but are seemingly unresponsive or hesitant when confronted with major challenges of natural proportions.

Worse, over the year we have allowed political partisanship to sink to such a level that even if one disagrees with government policy or action on one matter, it is considered almost treacherous to participate in any national venture. Cross-sectoral participation is equated with “selling out to government” in this child-like thinking. As a result each national initiative is greeted with skepticism and suspicion at best, while at worst, scorn and derision is the response.

We will get nowhere as a people with such an outlook. National consensus on major issues affecting all our people is not incompatible with our integrity and independence of mind. That is all the more reason why the constitutional reform process needs to be kept alive and treated with urgency. It is a pity that both sides of the House, and many outside, could not see the usefulness of maintaining the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) even in a truncated form to ensure momentum and continuity in the process. The CRC Chairman was even unfairly and unkindly accused of wanting to carry on “lordship of this fiefdom” with selfish motives being imputed. This is a scurrilous attack on one who has sacrificed a great deal to get the process on stream. Criticize his methods, if you so desire, but please respect national commitment and sacrifice when it is manifested. We have to get these destructive and divisive notions out of our body politics, we have to lift ourselves so that we can recognize where our national interest as a people lie as distinct from those of smaller groups or sectors and act accordingly.

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