Throughout human civilisation many world leaders have left their mark on history for the good, the bad or the ugly. Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx. Adolph Hitler. Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, Idi Amin, Nelson Mandela, Saddam Hussein, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are just some of the leaders who have influenced world history and events one way or the other.
Right here in our backyard the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul have kept the Cuban Revolution alive in the midst of a long-standing American economic embargo and with the country just 90 miles from the sole superpower in the world. It is only by divine intervention that the Cuban Revolution is still alive. The Cuban people, even while living under a communist system of government, seem to be satisfied with their status as a result of the policies of their government, which include free education and health care. The recent opening up of the system also seems to be contributing to the life of the revolution. The Cuban government understands current world events and trends in allowing the Cuban people a greater degree of democracy and freedom.
While some of these leaders worked to advance democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, others have tried to enslave their citizens and neighbours with the ideology of communism, fascism and dictatorship. Despite the many lessons to be learnt from history there are some present day leaders who are trying to prevent democracy from taking root in their country for selfish political reason and the boosting of their egos.
Our democracy is endangered. Not by communism, North Korea, Ayatollah and the Mullahs of Iran or by Islamic terrorists, but by the democratically elected NNP administration of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell.
Following the February 19 general elections, there was a clarion call by the PM elect for national unity and inclusiveness as the country grappled with a severe economic recession. The tone of the prime minister’s speeches was seen by many as sending the right signal in the absence of an opposition in the lower house of Parliament. His assurance to the populace that there will no discrimination or ‘witch hunt’ against his political opponents, whether real or perceived, was encouraging, given the experience of 1995- 2008. The PM making these pronouncements was the right thing to do, knowing full well that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
After the prime minister’s speech at the swearing ceremony of his new cabinet, it appears that Grenada was entering a new era of politics based on mutual trust, respect for the rule of law and the strengthening of our democratic institutions, including the Royal Grenada Police Force, judiciary and media. The prime minister engaged the various stakeholders including the media, trade unions, NGOs, business community and churches within weeks of taking office, all in an effort to build bridges and break down old untrustworthy barriers. As the PM engaged the various groups, however, one got the feeling that an atmosphere of lingering mistrust and misgiving still existed between the various groups, as no definitive endorsement was given to the prime minister by any of them.
Most of the engagements were inconclusive, with the various stakeholders taking a wait and see attitude.
Whatever gains the prime minister may have made in his quest for national unity and inclusiveness were quickly eroded by the composition of his cabinet, the budget presentation and debates in the upper and lower houses, the May Day celebrations and the subsequent dismissal of scores of government employees.
Within weeks of telling the nation that there will be no victimisation or witch hunt, the Commissioner of Police Willian Thompson was sent on long leave, the head of the FIU Inspector Senneth Joseph was relocated to Northern District, the Cabinet Secretary was replaced and scores of government employees dismissed for no apparent offence on their part, except the perception that they may be sympathetic to the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Dr Mitchell through his charm and mysticism skillfully maneuvered himself into a position of invincibility, whereby not even his one time nemesis Chester Humphrey can criticise his administration for doing anything wrong. The self proclaimed Champion of Workers rights, who fought vehemently and rightfully so for the workers at the National Lottery is all of a sudden on mute as scores of workers are dismissed by the NNP administration. The prime minister is using the ‘carrot and stick’ policy of enticing the union leader and dismissing the workers.
Since the budget debate, with the tone of the debate geared at NDC bashing, the knee-jerk political partisanship in the country has increased to alarming proportions. The presentation by Pastor Garraway was deplorable and unnecessary divisive. It’s like his actions were 180 degrees out of phase with the words of his leader. His attitude is a manifestation of the true nature of the NNP — saying one thing and doing the opposite. In my view this attitude is counterproductive; however, it seems to be working in favour of the party.
Former Finance Minister Hon Nazim Burke in his budget presentation stated that the prime minister is a ‘great masquerader ‘. That may be so; however, he understands that Grenadians love their jouvert and the better you can masquerade the more likely you are to going to get their approval and win the parade, even if you deny them their basic human rights and freedoms. Dr Mitchell understands the philosophy of the Grenadian people and is using their ignorance to his advantage but to the detriment of our democracy.
Given such a large mandate by the people, the prime minister is able to subdue and manipulate our democratic institutions for political reasons. The thinking is that the people have spoken and anybody with a different opinion or view was rejected. The missing element in this debate is that there are thousands of people who voted otherwise, thousands who didn’t vote and thousands who were not eligible to vote.
Those misguided people who believe that these people don’t have a say in the affairs of their country must be delusional. Are you saying that a female who unfortunately happens to be a 17-year-old mother doesn’t have a say in the future of her child and so should stay quiet when her child is denied basic health care? Is that the type of democracy our country needs?
A democracy flourishes when there are strong and independent democratic institutions such as executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the media, the security forces, trade unions, NGOs, political parties, etc. There should be checks and balances among the various branches of government and citizens should have the right to freedom of speech, association and the right to public services, including the right to work. There should be accountability and transparency in government.
In just three months after an election in which one party won all the seats and, notwithstanding the call for unity, our democracy runs the risk of being woefully undermined by the same actors who have called for unity and inclusiveness. Allegations of spying on the activities held by a political party by members of the RGPF will certainly undermine the public trust in this institution. This RGPF under the NDC was given the authority by the former prime minister to operate as an independent institution. However, all this seems to have evaporated into thin air in a wink of an eye and the RGPF is once against perceived to be politically manipulated.
The erosion of our democratic institutions will have far reaching implications for our economic growth and survival, as donor agencies normally tie financial assistance to good governance, accountability and transparency. The allegations that the Republic of Venezuela refused to provide a loan to Grenada because government couldn’t account for funds that that were given for a housing scheme is a case in point and an example of what can happen when there is a lack of transparency and good governance.
Our democracy is endangered because of the policies of our government.
The road that the country is on will lead step by step to an extreme of an autocratic government, a police state, dysfunctional anarchy or mass dissent and demonstration by our people. 2013 is not 1999. Our people have enjoyed a period of very little political interference in their daily lives from 2008 – 2013 and are now less tolerant to any form of political intimidation and abuse of power.
Failure by the NNP administration to deliver the much needed jobs to the people as promised in the election campaign and to jump start the economy has resulted in the government taking the necessary steps to consolidate its power. Leading media personalities and outlets, trade union leadership, in particular the leadership of the powerful TAWU, have been duped and cajoled into supporting the administration.
As a result of this collusion between these institutions our democracy has literally been hijacked.
There is a conspicuously eerie silence coming from some quarters who were very vocal and agitated during the rule of the NDC. This silence is as a result of their disappointment with the ruling party or their complicity with the ruling party in weakening our democratic institutions and by extension our democracy.
Petty squabbles, bilge in the name of party will dissolve our self government. Our leaders are taking the country on a path of self destruction. A government of the people, by the people and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree with civility. If we allow the politicians and their media friends to dictate our discourse, our course will be dictated by dictatorial actions.
Our country has entered way too soon a state of hyper partisan polarisation. Those at the helm of power must support their words by deeds and ensure that, in the spirit of the motto of the French Republic, our people have a period of liberty, equality and fraternity.
The Grenadian people need a relief from economic hardship, suffering, deception, intimidation and disappointment. Our people once again have been taken for a ride on a train that has derailed, with very little chance of meeting its destination to deliver its cargo of jobs, jobs, jobs. Once again, our people are losing trust in the government and our democratic institutions. The integrity and honesty of the prime minister is important to boost morale and motivate the people into working together as a team. Trust and confidence in the government will quickly be eroded when our PM says one thing and does the opposite.
The mysticism and manipulation skills of the prime minister are spinning around the logical minds of those who were clamoring for greater democracy under the NDC. They were up in arms with the prorogation of parliament in 2012; however, since taking office the MPs seem to be afraid of going into the parliament, the same parliament that they were craving to enter in 2012 for fear of not having anything worthwhile to deliver to their constituents. This is a remarkable flip-flop. How can we ever forget the drunken chants of “Mr Burke, open the parliament, open the parliament,” by Arley Gill. Mr Burke no longer is in charge of government business in Parliament and with total control of the nation’s parliament the new administration is afraid to enter our premier democratic landmark.
Democracy is indeed endangered. In retrospect it seems that it may have served the interest of the country best for the parliament to remain closed and Mr Burke manage the economy, because since February 19, with NNP having total control and access to our parliament, the country seems to have entered and be stuck in reverse gear.
With the country in serious economic stagnation, the government needs to improve on the little positive that we as a people enjoyed for the past four and a half years: the right to work without victimisation and discrimination, freedom of speech and association, the independence of the RGPF and judiciary and a period of accountability, transparency and good governance. If government can’t deliver tangible benefits like the much promised jobs to our people, then let’s promote the intangible benefits, with the hope that these will results in long term concrete benefits.
We can’t continue on this path. All of us need to use our knowledge, skills and experience to work together as one people to propel Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique to another level. The prime minister and many senior members of his government will not be in the political arena forever. There will come a time when different players will be on the battle field, but before that day finally comes let’s hope and pray that this leader, having been given a second opportunity to govern our country, does what is right and that is to preserve and maintain our democracy. There is a stark difference in winning a democratic elections and governing a country in a democratic way. NNP is very good at politics, but not good at governance. The kind of legacy Dr Mitchell will leave behind depends on how he governs Grenada for the next five years.