By Jerry Edwin
Woe betide the politician who fails to digest the bitter pill of democratic defeat. Hating the electorate that banishes his party’s team to the sidelines of state power ensures irrelevance in public life and the perennial graveyard for such intemperate political positions. Petulantly childish, the NDC continues to swipe at the majority of Grenadians instead of recognizing that its death was self-inflicted. George Brizan’s book should have been titled “NDC Party of Conflict”.
Contrast that with the perspective that in under a fortnight after their unprecedented clean sweep on February 19, Dr K. Claudius Mitchell and his NNP are acting like they’ve been here before. No amateurs these, they seem intent on getting the engine of government running again.
A personal anecdote might be illustrative. In June 2010, after a well-attended public meeting with the citizens and political representatives of Grenada’s Sister Isles in Carriacou, a colleague pleaded for the little island’s famous fish broth from the best kitchen in Harvey Vale. The ferry was leaving soon and the NDC senator, meaning well, paced around perplexed. The current attorney general, Mr Elvin Nimrod, boldly stepped into the street stopped traffic and arranged logistics with the first driver crowning the event when two huge bowls of the prized cuisine met us just as Osprey shoved off.
Mr Nimrod had remarked, “Those fellas always planning but the NNP knows how to execute.”
The new government already has engaged international partners on key national objectives. Good for Grenada that Dr Mitchell is now the most popular CARICOM leader. Outstanding, if he wisely uses the huge chunk of home-based political capital to plot a paradigm shift in the worn and futile road taken by Caribbean political leaders to make their economies less dependent on foreign aid.
Civil society stakeholders and organized Diaspora hometown groups should join the new government with their own ideas, as both Grenada and the English-speaking Caribbean is at a crucial point in its regional development. If our small economies — especially Grenada’s microscopic type — do not offer goods and services, along with an educated and creative society, our debt accumulation will never return positive benefits.
No exaggeration, however, that a distinct air of relief and anticipation has fallen over the mass public since the February 19 election results. And one gets the sense that, as prime minister, Dr Keith Mitchell will govern with a vengeance. No, not that type. Dr Mitchell has hit the ground with an invigorated urgency to act.
Already, a policy adviser has touched on the early stages of a growth agenda and what he has made public is heading where the NDC did not: economic growth and creative national development, withering US and European economic circumstances notwithstanding.
For while former PM Thomas posed with backyard soil turning machines donated by China and announced the arrival of innovation in the agriculture sector without a single demonstration project to boast, the NNP has set sights on encouraging foreign investment among the Diaspora, CARICOM nationals and the international community. In May, the prime minister heads a Caribbean-German conference on the environment to be held in the Northern Caribbean.
The NNP plans to release the former government’s clamp on alien landholding licences. This should not cause alarm. No friend of Grenada would risk investment in our micro-economy without lawful assurance that property rights, if any, are not subject to preferential adverse interests.
The new government should make good on its promise to assist businesses that have experienced a hurricane of economic hurt over the past few years. Unlike their predecessors, they should focus on helping existing businesses rather than dispensing scarce dollars on experimental start-ups. While some assistance should go to start-ups, the bulk of fiscal relief must go to businesses that have the capacity to use existing facilities to boost employment, open new business lines such as back-office services, with the benefit that the below 35 demographic could use their natural awareness and ease with technology and communications platforms to participate in the global electronic economy.
The new minister of agriculture will do well to look beyond traditional farming and gather those engaged in value-added manufacturing in this sector. If attractive, younger Grenadians would readily become involved in an efficient agro-processing sector.
The government should also put in place special dispensations for Diaspora citizens who desire to start businesses as well. From where we are in the Spice Island, it must be ‘all hands on deck’ to get our fledging economy on track.
Before he lost the 2008 election, Dr Mitchell had been the engine behind C2k, the broad-based technology initiative for the Caribbean. There are anxious young people who should be encouraged to resist the urge of out-migration. But there must be something to keep them here. Far from being gullible and unaware as NDC supporters have unwisely labeled their fellow citizens who did not heed their political message, many of our younger citizens will remain and grow Grenada only if we create economic hope for them.
Those of us here who operate businesses heard from the Man On The Street, as did labour leader Chester Humphrey that by January 2010 the NDC’s ship had sailed. Even before that, the Calyposian Scholar presciently pronounced ‘One Term’ for Mr Thomas’s party. That was before Reshuffle First, the Sea Wang World debacle, Reshuffle Second and Third, before Titusgate, the Thomas airport patdown and Facebook exposés.
We knew the end was upon the NDC long before the putsch at the last party convention. That undemocratic bloodletting in St Andrews, spurred on by the Tillman Thomas wing of the NDC, the thousand cuts that preceded it, and the profane glee that followed, was the straw that broke the back of the NDC mule. Taxi drivers, gardeners, bus drivers, Limers, civil servants, students, fish market vendors and everyone else openly reasoned that the NDC set of politicians, bad that they had been in throwing up their hands in the face of global recession; much worse that they could not at minimum act as responsible stewards of the people’s business.
The jubilation of the NDC victors over their perceived internal foes had a bad smell for Grenadians of all political stripes to see the former political leader, a self-described Soldier For Christ, reveling in the public washing of his party’s dirty laundry. Finally, the former ruling party delivered a decisive kick to their own cow that final Sunday at a pre-election rally, which literally rang several octaves below Grenada’s index for decency in politics.
But back to the winners of the people’s confidence.
The country’s majority has accepted the veracity of the NNP’s leading light that he has reflected on the path for the country and will deploy an inclusive approach to lift the country out of its abysmal performance four-and-a-half years past.
Central to Dr Mitchell’s approach must be witless Tillman Thomas’s wise counsel that Grenada’s government be accountable, practice integrity and govern with transparency.
That Dr Mitchell has seamlessly woven his antagonist’s theme into his own rhetoric is remarkable, yet not surprising that this political leader has gone exactly where the Grenadian people are. Those three words are in the mouths of every Grenadian now. And Tillman Thomas must be roundly credited for contributing a critical philosophy of government that must be the goal of current and future actors within the political directorate.
For the words to become entrenched, civil society must publish and make public new desiderata that shape the tone and attitude of the state’s stewards. This is not to suggest that the responsible civil society should be looking over the government’s shoulder, as that would be a hindrance to efficient administration.
With no real opponents in Parliament, parish and village groups, business associations, unions, legal professionals must rake their ranks and find ways to propose and publish draft legislation and public policy. These public initiatives should run the gamut from large government contracts and projects, wise use of aid and grant funds, ensure expert public service hirings and for non-political appointments, best practice in executing public works and other undertakings.
The new leaders at the Botanic Gardens have issued invitations for coordinated dialogue and non-partisan national cooperation, and civil society should accept.
Although it may be said with a strong dose of truth that Mr Thomas’s contribution in government was only three words, they are nonetheless a powerful imperative for political and social conduct in Grenada going forward. The NNP has embraced Mr Thomas’s words and our country can only be the better for it.
Grenadians at home and abroad ache for a government trying to move the country forward, which is less focused on political mudslinging and party intrigue.
Lest we forget in ending, there was another big winner on February 19.
Woe had been intent on delivering a decisive wound and boldly danced at the front door of the former NDC general secretary and was poised to establish a landing. Laid bare by his former political sisters and brothers, Peter David, who was also the former foreign affairs and tourism minister in the former government, refused to contest the February 19 polls and in so doing has reinforced his reputation along with Dr Mitchell as a natural politician.
David and his aides had oiled the dysfunctional NDC machinery after the first NNP sweep in 1999 and he became the most amiable face of the party until he was cast out four months ago along with nine other party stalwarts. Since February 19, David appears to have myriad options for public life again, while his former colleagues are likely to remain in interminable political limbo.
Woe had better take flight from Grenada.
Not because an uneducated electorate has been duped. as the deputy chairman of the NDC quipped less than an hour after the final results were in. On the contrary, it seems from here that a cautiously buoyant team has retaken the field and they’ve started to join Grenada’s long awaited and urgent confrontation with the twin malaise of unemployment and economic hopelessness.