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Letter: Bingo politics

Dear Sir:

Caribbean politics is degenerating rather rapidly to the detriment of the region and its people. CARICOM seems to be no longer relevant, while the OECS is struggling to keep afloat with the economies of nearly all member states suffering from massive national debt. Due to these massive debts, the Eastern Caribbean dollar is under extreme pressure, resulting in a credit rating agency calling for its devaluation within the next five years.

The incident in The Bahamas, where two MPs were engaged in a physical altercation, should be of grave concern to all and sundry. Regional law makers should lead by example and demonstrate a higher level of discipline than the ordinary man. Is this a case of the region having to look at the possibility of providing secret service protection for the MPs? The entire region should learn from that incident and put the necessary structures in place so that such incidents don’t re-occur anywhere in the region.

Given the recent trend in Caribbean politics, where ruling parties believe that, as a result of the winner take all system, they have total control of the levers of power, incidents like that will only become more acute. Ruling parties and MPs need to show a greater degree of respect and tolerance to the concerns of the opposition. An opposition MP, in my view, has equal responsibility to his/her constituents as that of a MP in government.

Our political system is too biased toward MPs on the government side. Even ministers of government who are not MPs seem to receive more resources and power when compared to that of an opposition MP, who in some cases wins his/her seat by a landslide. The system is fundamentally flawed and must be reformed in the interest of regional development.

In recent times, a new brand of politics seems to be emerging in the English-speaking Caribbean, especially those with weaker economies. This type of politics is what I would like to refer to as ‘Bingo Politics’. Everyone is familiar with the game called bingo. It is played in various formats, with the winner receiving some form of compensation. The word bingo is often used when an assailant receives justice in whatever form that justice may take. The victor would shout, “Bingo.”

As the world economic crisis bites the small economies like that of Grenada, the playing of bingo has dramatically increased island-wide. I don’t know if that is the case in the other Caribbean islands; however, I can assume that is the case based on the shared culture in the region. The lust for quick monies without hard work seems to be the order of the day. Throughout every village and at virtually every social event, bingo is seen as the primary activity for making quick monies. The game is more prevalent among the poor sector of the population; however, the rich too are integrally involved, normally as the major sponsors. In Grenada, a Waggy T-sponsored bingo will attract more patrons than any major national festival.

With the ever increasing importance of bingo as a major source of quick cash, the island’s politicians are getting more and more involved in ‘Bingo Politics’. One of the major political parties and its supporters are major sponsors of bingo and the game is now used as a major generator of economic activity in the country. ‘Bingo Politics’ is so much of a big event that patrons are willing to cross the high seas just to have an opportunity to win some quick cash.

The high level of energy and excitement generated by citizens to get to a bingo event is unbelievable. Some citizens feel stressed out if they are unable to attend a bingo event. If only our government could find a way to tap the energies utilised at bingo activities and channel this energy into productivity then the island’s economic growth would be incredible. Instead the government is using this game to mobilise their supporters and to a lesser extent to generate some economic activity in these difficult economic times.

This is just the lower level ‘bingo politics’ taking place in Grenada. There is a much higher and advanced level of ‘bingo politics’ taking place that is prevalent among the politicians, intellectuals and technocrats, the primary objective acquiring quick cash. These folks are seemingly worse than the drugs lords, who literally risk jail terms for their activities. The probability of these persons going to jail for plundering the resources of the state is zero. .

Whilst the lower level bingo politics is aimed at maintaining economic control over the poor and vulnerable and as a distraction from the major challenges they face in their daily lives, the major actors in the higher level bingo politics are our politicians, MPs and their hawks and cronies. Another major difference between the two levels is that, in level one, the poor and vulnerable are the major supplier of the funds used to pay the jackpot winners, in level two the major source of financing is the national treasury of the country.

There are a few bingo politicians who chose to give up their ministerial portfolio in their own party and government with the hope of winning a bigger jackpot prize in another, which was once their archenemy. This is a manifestation of how powerful ‘bingo politics’ has become in Grenada. So far, it appears that many of them, including the political leader of NUF, seemingly bought the wrong bingo card.

Bingo politics is so widespread in the country it has infiltrated the Spice Mas Co-operation, NIS, National Lottery, CCC, statutory boards, TAWU, MWAG, GIS, and many other major institutions in the country. Even the backbenchers in parliament are beneficiaries of this bingo politics. Even some MPs, as they continue to receive their monthly ‘ jackpots’ and other consolation prices, they are refusing to pay their taxes to the state, without any fear of reprisals. That is how reliable this type of bingo politics is.

Some leaders in the Christian churches have abandoned their congregation to participate in the new brand of politics. They have calculated that the weekly donation made by their followers is way too small if they are to purchase a Humvee. Jaguar or SUV and, as such, winning the jackpot in bingo politics is much more rewarding. The church leaders have also calculated that, in participating in bingo politics, they are guaranteed some free cash as outlined in the 2013 national budget.

Successful business people, retirees and major construction companies are into the quick cash bingo politics. Hard work seems to be a thing of the past. With the right connection and colour of your bingo card, you can become an instant millionaire. Having a tertiary level education isn’t as valuable as before. Bingo players who just know how to match colours can win the jackpot much more easily than someone with a college degree or diploma. Sing the tune of the chief bingo promoter and his cohorts and your jackpot prize is all too certain. The ‘motto’ of this bingo politics is, “To win it you have to grin it.”

The IMF will certainly have to take a hard long look at the local bingo politics and come up with some serious measures to address it, since the economy has been devastated as a result of this popular game . This type of gambling has increased the island’s national debt from $340 million to over $2.3 billion in just over ten years. Grenada and its citizens are struggling as a result and so the IMF will have to come up with a better formula to spur economic growth.

I have developed my own bingo card to assist the government and IMF as they engage in discussions to fix the economy. If only the government can deliver 10% of my bingo card, then the country can play bingo forever. If not, then the government would have no choice but to abandon this game and develop a game of accountability, transparency and good governance as a replacement.

Here is a snapshot of what of my bingo card looks like:

bingo.jpg

Once the new administration can call these numbers accurately then the entire nation can shout “Bingo”, since the entire population would be a jackpot winner and like oil down our national dish bingo will become our national sport.

Unless and until the government accomplish these then the destructive bingo politics which the country is so much consumed by will continue unabated. Our backbenchers are receiving $6,000 as their monthly jackpot and they can just sit home if they so desire or work in the private sector.

The country has no knowledge of the actual jackpot prices of the other ministers of government, including the prime minister, since they are not obligated to declare their jackpot (assets). What is widely anticipated though if that some of these MPs are ‘millionaire jackpot winners’. In the United States, a power bowl winner must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state taxes. In Grenada, an MP who wins a jackpot collects every cent and still engages in tax evasion and fraud. Grenada ‘bingo politics’ is much more powerful and profitable than a career in the United States, hence the reason why some MPs have chosen to give up a career in the US for one in Grenada.

As the jackpot price grows in importance, so too has the diversity of the participants. Our foreign policy is now one that is robust and diverse to include non-traditional countries. Our government is looking to ALBA and President Maduro to invest and provide additional loans to the bingo coffers. Bingo, like heroin, is addictive and the more one wins the more they would lobby for higher jackpot prizes. In so doing, however, one has to be mindful that bingo normally ‘burst ‘ sometimes and, if the participants don’t get the expected monies promised to be delivered by the promoter, then all hell could break loose.

So as the country attempts to move forward towards the much talked about new economy, let’s hope that the powers that be finally come to the realization that a democracy strives best when there is accountability, transparency and good governance. The new economy will fail if it is based on the same old concept as that of the current bingo economy.

Many African countries, including Ghana and Ethiopia, have transformed their politics and are some of the fastest growing economies in the world. The new administration needs to look at what these countries are doing right and emulate it. Time is against us and the failed attitude of the past should not be something of the present. A fourth time around should be the final opportunity to get it right. Failure to do so is a failed life and a lost opportunity.

Leslie Stewart

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