Choosing St George to slay political dragon?
Traditionally, August is a vacation month in the Caribbean, the âAugust holidaysâ we used to say, before we borrowed âsummerâ. However, in politics, there are hardly any holidays â National Hero candidate, Ebenezer Joshua, for instance, had chosen August 1974, and a government agricultural exhibition, to signal his departure from the Alliance with Sir James Mitchell. August is no quieter than other months where politics in the Caribbean is concerned.
This current August, the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in particular, and health care in general, were political talking points, even to the extent of a picket of the institution, which seems to have fizzled out after genuine concerns were stretched to ridiculous levels. So, we move on, and the next step is, not the hospital named in honour of our first Prime Minister, but the electoral constituency that he represented for more than two decades, East St George, as well as its neighbouring West St George, to boot.
The issue is the choice of candidates by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) for the next general elections. Perhaps the party has been inspired by the fable of St George who was reputed to have slain a dragon, but whatever the reason, two choices for the neighbouring constituencies were in the news this week. One is local radio announcer/DJ Colin âHitmanâ Graham, who, the party announced, had topped a constituency poll as candidate to replace perennial candidate Dr Linton Lewis in the East St George constituency. The other, yet to be confirmed, is the candidacy of barrister Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, for West St George, apparently to succeed Dr Jules Ferdinand, who was unsuccessful in 2015.
Predictably, the possible new candidacies have aroused public comment, including by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves. Unfortunately, some of the public comment has degenerated into a non-issue of whether Graham has the ârightâ academic qualifications to be a candidate. This was, however, laid to rest by barrister PR Campbell QC, the chair of the now defunct Constitutional Review Commission. It is a pity that we get so distracted by non-issues, for our Constitution sets out the barest minimum qualifications for electoral candidacy.
What is far more important is the character, record of service and achievements of those wishing to contest, and their proven commitment to country and people, in addition to other personal attributes, honesty among them. It is in this light that prospective candidates should be judged. One hopes that the discussion proceeds along these lines. Those St George spaces will take some watching!
BELIZE DECRIMINALIZES MINIMAL GANJA POSSESSION
While the debate on decriminalizing the possession/use of small quantities of marijuana continues throughout the Caribbean, Belize has followed Jamaica in taking an initiative in this direction. This week, its Parliament approved an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 103, making the possession of 10 grammes or less, really an insignificant amount, not a criminal offence. Two years ago, Jamaica had passed such legislation, in relation to up to 60 grammes (two ounces).
The initiatives by both northern Caribbean states demonstrate a more enlightened approach to the issue, and, as the Belizean Foreign Minister who piloted the Bill stated, the attempt to redress injustices, particularly against the poor. It must be noted that, contrary to the propaganda, neither country has legalized marijuana. Both still recognize the delicate health and social issues involved, but are realistic enough to recognize that it is foolish and unjust to make criminals out of persons for possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use.
The reality is that while most Caribbean governments are still rooted in fear about the political and international implications of an enlightened approach to the marijuana issue, it has become not just a social issue, but a potential economic boom for this region. The USA, Canada and several European countries have already modernized their approach and are reaping the economic benefits from the legalization of medical marijuana. We remain trapped by backward arguments, and continuing to expend precious resources persecuting people for marijuana. When will we wake up?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.