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Own de government


Prime Minister Gonsalves has pre-empted my title for this article, something in my pipeline since the ULP came up with the excellent slogan of “Own de Campaign”. He has called on his supporters to “own de government”, a call I now take the liberty to extend to the rest of the population.{{more}}

Before I get into it, though, let me offer my heartiest congratulations to “De Comrade” and his team as well as to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and his party for their hard-won gains. It must be particularly heartening for former Senators Major St. Clair Leacock and Daniel Cummings to at last achieve election after close losses in 2005. Sister Girlyn Miguel must also get salutations on being elevated to the position of first-ever female Deputy Prime Minister. I have special words of congratulations and best wishes for the dynamic ULP duo of Saboto Caesar and Cec McKie. They must know that expectations for them are quite high indeed, given their people orientation and background.

Now, how do we “own de government”? It is one thing to say so, another to actually implement measures to ensure that it is done. It must begin with some consensus on what does this mean, nationally as well as at community level. That ought to be the first step in that direction. A massive public consciousness-raising and empowerment campaign must be on the cards for that is a prerequisite if people are to develop the confidence and sense of responsibility to “own de government”. We have become accustomed to being owned by the political class and it will take a major revolution to turn that around.

The Draft Constitution rejected in last year’s referendum contained some useful mechanisms for empowering the populace, although it did not go far enough. Politically, it will take some time before any government is bold enough to put forward constitutional change, but that does not mean that in the meantime nothing can be done. Several practical steps can be taken in that direction to make it easier for our people to have a greater say in governance of our own affairs. Public education, on civic and political matters must be top of the agenda.

The recent elections and the referendum before it exposed all sorts of backward ideas which have no place in a forward-looking progressive world, much more in a small country struggling to achieve social and economic development. The saddest part of the campaign is the degree to which NDP supporters were misled by persons who know better, but for all kinds of selfish reasons preferred to say otherwise. These charlatans and their propaganda can best be handled by the provision of public education – on politics, on economics, on social responsibility etc. The ignorance so crassly displayed in the campaign must be beaten back decisively. Those persons must be brought into the national fold.

Where the government is concerned, owning it calls for greater ACCOUNTABILITY. Ministers and Parliamentary representatives must be made accountable to the people they represent and in whose name they make decisions. After the 2005 elections, Dr. Gonsalves promised that this reporting process would be followed. We have not even got a report on how the reports are going. This is unacceptable if we are to talk of “owning government”. So a system of regular reports to constituents must be instituted if we are serious, and those in breach held accountable and liable to sanctions as a result.

“Owning” the government also implies a much stronger role for civil society, especially for the organizations of the working people. Some progress has been made under Dr. Gonsalves’ watch and with some push from civil society organizations, but we have much further to go in this regard. That responsibility does not fall on the shoulders of the Prime Minister alone, we all must play our part. Just as we were “charged up” enough to participate in the political campaign, so, too, must we undertake responsibility to engage in public discussions on crucial issues. You take a matter like the passing of legislation in Parliament. The government has adopted the praiseworthy practice of publishing bills for public comment. But we hardly make a comment, save if some politician raises some controversy. We talk every day on the radio, but ne’er a word about laws which will govern us. In order to “own” the government, we must have some say in the legislative process.

There are two other elements to be considered in this “owning’ business, the public service and the governing party. If people are to feel as true “owners” of the government, the institutions of public governance need to become people-friendly. That includes the Police Force and the Public Service. These are not easy tasks and will take some doing. The other aspect is the party aspect. How can members be facilitated in their bid to “own” the party? ULp-ites must not just be cannon fodder to be mobilized for campaigning, now they must take on the task of nation-building. That involves the responsibility to take initiatives to form community groups where there are none, to help to strengthen existing ones and to bridge the gap at community level between ULP and NDP supporters. The latter have just as much right to participate in “owning” the government. They are citizens and taxpayers, too.

So let us start this conversation about owning the government in earnest!

P.S. I would hope that the PM would again grab the opportunity to include some capable individuals from outside his candidate flock for consideration as Senators.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.