COST OF POLITICS

BrianFrancisAt the time this article hits the streets of St. George’s, I should be relaxing in a rather cool atmosphere somewhere in the clouds over the open seas between Jamaica and Grenada on board a Caribbean Airlines flight.

I would be returning to Grenada, having spent the last nine days in beautiful Jamaica, relaxing a bit; working extremely hard at times; and getting what I consider and will cherish forever a dossier on politics in Grenada and the wider Caribbean.

It is interesting that all of this is happening during a week in which historically Grenada has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of local politics.  But here is the irony:  Despite the events of October 1983, this writer is satisfied that the four-and-a-half years of the Revolution were the most progressive periods in our country since independence!

Say what you want.  Believe whatever is worth the while.  Reach any conclusion. But, when it comes to political events in Grenada and other Caribbean countries since most of them gained political independence from their colonial masters there are probably as much to celebrate as there are to deposit in the dustbins of history.  Pick your choices!

Now, let’s play a little game.  I’ll give you a few statements and then ask a question.  First, he was a hard line Marxist-Leninist!  He was ruthless and brutal during his reign as a top-ranking official within his government! He conspired to have his then political leader defeated in a tightly contested race for the ultimate leader of his party!  He has done more than any of his Cabinet colleagues to reconfigure the socio-economic landscape of his country!

Take your best guess now.  To whom am I referring?  Your answer to that question would in my opinion be a true reflection of what this writer refers to as the cost of politics.

So having reflected a bit on the vast amount of information I have gathered from my research and exchanges here in Jamaica, the current state of affairs in Grenada and other Caribbean countries at the socio-economic level began immediately to engross me.  Take for example the Grenada Revolution, which took place nearly four decades back.

Recall, at around 10:48 a.m. on March 13, 1979, Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, in his famous “A Bright New Dawn” address to the Nation and by extension the entire world, carried live on Radio Free Grenada, said this: “…in closing, let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people…People of Grenada, this Revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grand-children. The benefits of the Revolution will be given to everyone regardless of political opinion or which political party they support.  Let us all unite as one…”




Yes, some of those promises were not kept for whatever reasons. The failure of the Revolutionary government to hold free and fair general elections was probably the most obtrusive faux pas. But like me, don’t those words from Maurice Bishop still excite you?

In my personal case, the excitement mounts as the politics is studied alongside the economics, particularly when the lessons of economic and political history should be clear to all and sundry, allowing decision-makers the luxury of benefiting from past experiences. Yet, how often do we repeat the mistakes of the past?  How frequently do we fail to fully exploit opportunities presented to us from simple observations and recollections of similar issues before?

Take the question of regulation, defined generally.  Isn’t it true that in some scenarios governments in the Caribbean are great at regulating businesses and at times interfering with free markets (case in point: regional travel)? How about bringing proper transparency to the government itself?  These questions are important because unlike the Revolution of March 13, 1979 which brought Bishop into power, the citizens of every Caribbean country today elect the political party of choice to govern the affairs of their respective countries for mostly five-year periods.

But reflect on this: As the USA approaches its Presidential elections next year we continue to hear about the incredible amount of money that goes into the various campaigns, making Obama’s 2012 campaign pale in comparison vis-a-vis the amount of funds raised.

In our little islands, the system does not provide for any reporting or limits on campaign financing. Hence, corporate campaign contributions; for example, may be substantial and impact not only elections’ outcomes but also public policy.

Where are the visionary leaders to make the Caribbean political system clean and transparent? Did the leaders of the Grenada Revolution not have a clear vision of the politics and economics they wanted for the country?  Why don’t we learn from others’ experiences?

Very soon, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as St. Lucia will be going through their elections’ campaigns.  A significant amount of monies is likely to be donated to various political parties and spent in bids to win the majority votes. What if the funds flowing into political parties for use by our politicians as handouts are directed instead towards the development of education and people? If that materialises, wouldn’t our economies and societies look very different?

Trust me, the cost of politics in Grenada and the wider Caribbean is way too lofty.  It is therefore high time we as a people start demanding change to bring that cost down!  We deserve it!  Our countries beg for it!  Our children and grandchildren cry out for it!  We must act now!

(Dr. Brian Francis, a former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies)

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