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Budget risks being clouded by social controversy

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Another chapter in our political history will be forged next week when the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure are put before Parliament by the new Minister of Finance,Camillo Gonsalves.It is not new, in that, except for the new Finance Minister actually succeeding his father, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance since 2001, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, we have had a separation of those two vital governmental functions before, when Arnhim Eustace was appointed by then Prime Minister (PM) Sir James Mitchell to head the Finance Ministry in 1998.

Eustace had been wooed home by then Prime Minister Mitchell, becoming first fiscal advisor to the Mitchell administration, before being appointed Finance Minister upon being elected to Parliament in 1998. He went on later to succeed Sir James as Prime Minister. Many people here in SVG view the appointment of Camillo Gonsalves as following the same path to succession as travelled by the hapless Eustace, who went all the way to become Prime Minister in 2000. The younger Gonsalves is widely tipped to take over from his father as leader of the ULP and PM when Gonsalves finally leaves those posts, as he has promised to do.

The Prime Minister had often indicated his impending political departure, in some form or shape, but had, for one reason or another, not yet taken the plunge. It had therefore raised public hopes for a new era when he relinquished the Finance portfolio, coming to the end of 2017. While naturally, given the bloodline issues, the choice as successor in the Finance Ministry was met with scepticism in some quarters, at least it was a move in the right direction, raising hopes of a new era. The Opposition has not been able to do that at the top levels, their “new” infusions hardly being from a younger generation.

But lo and behold! Just as we thought that our country and its political leadership were heading in a new direction, up came the old bugbear. The new heir-apparent has become embroiled in a most unpleasant social and political controversy, which certainly does nothing to enhance his image. Given the problems his father encountered, albeit in very different circumstances, and the determination of some political opponents to get them both “by any means necessary”, it is important for his political future that he should not be involved, or perceived to be so involved, in any such situation.

The influence of social media and the talk-show circuit will not help and all one can say to him and any other political aspirants, is to be very circumspect in their connections, however tenuous they might be and however innocent they are. The public can be adoring one day and very unforgiving the next. Those who seek to profit from uncomfortable circumstances may well find themselves in even more difficult ones the next day.

The pity is that the controversy has already distracted from any objective scrutiny of how Camillo Gonsalves will perform in his first attempt at presenting a Budget. In fact, reading between the lines, it would not surprise me if the Opposition were not only to instigate protests when he does so, but also, if they would be led by the in-house extremists to boycott the presentation entirely.

So, as we look to a new era, the old politics seems likely to cloud our assessment. Whether it is Camillo Gonsalves, Saboto Caesar, Israel Bruce or any other younger contender, our politics and economics desperately need new approaches. This is no excuse for them to feel that they can do as they please in their personal lives; political figures will always have to face public scrutiny and will have to bear the consequences for any mistakes on their part.

But our country needs to spend time in serious reflection and discussion on serious issues. We have a multitude of environmental, economic, political and social issues confronting us. Our political leaders and those in the media need to hone in on these, and encourage and promote more serious discussion, rather than seek cheap political mileage.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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