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Independent thoughts

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In place of an Independence Message, I had planned to do a piece making some comments on Independence. For personal reasons, my column didn’t appear then, but it is not too late to raise some issues, so here goes.{{more}}

As has become customary, the Prime Minister’s address was the highlight of the Independence celebrations. This year more so than most, since his address contained details of a number of salary and wage benefits to the working people. With cost of living skyrocketing throughout the region as a result of both local and external factors, to the degree that several CARICOM Prime Ministers have made it top priority in speech, if not in action, such benefits would no doubt be most welcome by those who are to receive them. It has been some time now that the public sector unions have been pressing government for salary increases and implementation of the reclassification exercise. All have come in one blow. To boot, the government has continued its practice of a Christmas “broth-ah,” sticking to its commitment to the annual end-of-year bonus. P.M. Gonsalves must be a real Santa Claus, showing that his sack is as deep as his girth is wide.

It would be interesting to hear the economists among us analyze the package as to whether it will fuel inflation, though I suppose that we must await the Budget, in which the P.M. has promised more tax relief, to get a more accurate assessment. One can debate however whether in the context of the back-pay, salary increases and reclassification benefits, the Christmas bonus could have been forgone this year.

All this brings me to a couple questions. Should the Independence Address become a Mini-Budget or Pre-Budget presentation? Or should it be more inspirational, nation-building, visionary, and conceptual in nature? I speak here in general terms though of course in the context of the most recent address. One of the most stirring addresses I recall for Independence was Dr. Gonsalves first Independence Address in 2001, tracing our historical development. It may be just a personal preference of mine, but I would prefer to let the Budget and Parliament deal with the dollars and cents and to hear greater focus in the Independence address on the critical intangibles – our historical and social development, values, mores, aspirations etc.

In fact our whole approach to Independence celebrates need re-examination. This writer has in previous years lamented the fact that military parade continues to be the centre of official celebrations on Independence Day. Have your military parade if you choose, but what about a Grand National Day cultural rally? Some years ago Dominicans made “me head raise” in Roseau on their National Day. What, with the natural dress, rally bringing together village performers, schools etc. A true outpouring of Dominican creole culture. We still lack a national dress (whatever became of that committee charged with that responsibility?) We need to feel our Independence. It says something about our local business sector that it is the business migrant community which promotes more the selling of national flags, T-shirts in national colours, bandanas etc. Can we make a valiant effort collectively to put our Independence festivities on a more national note? Even politics is in it.

Our media too, the radio stations in particular, can make a more significant contribution towards forging that national consciousness and national pride. Is not our pan an integral part of our national identity? Why can’t we find some time for it, for enjoying what is our, celebrating our Vincie-ness. The Department of Culture and Minister Baptiste make some efforts but it is time for us all, irrespective of politics, to come abroad on such an occasion.

Finally, and our media can again play a role here, information on and appraisal of the march to independence is necessary. For instance, the title of “Father of the Nation” is being heaped on the late Robert Milton Cato, our first Prime Minister. No doubt he has his place in our history but “Father of the Nation” suggests one who fought for and championed independence. My humble recollection of our past 50 years does not square with that. At Independence too we must not only correct historical wrongs but avoid committing them.

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