Elections – Grenada’s Political Safety Valve

Elections in Grenada act like a safety valve through which the people vent their frustrations. How effective the venting is not so much a matter of the system’s design; but, as with a city sewer, it is the toxicity and viscosity of the sludge that is discharged or trapped in the system.

In Grenada the sludge is economic hardship, the source of the people’s frustration. It is a bilious composite of intergenerational poverty, unemployment and hopelessness. And for the politicians, despite their seemingly confident on-stage persona, it is always the feeling of helplessness.

The voters took to the polls last February and cast their ballots, but with little optimism about their economic prospect. They had even greater skepticism about the government’s ability to improve it. To the younger voters, the act of voting was a desperate attempt to escape the clutches of what they thought to be, certain poverty. To others, it was a mix of civic responsibility and West Indian heartiness.

When viewed in the context of Caribbean politics the voters’ attitude is understandable. An election is like a carnival, a frolic event that runs not just for a day or two but an entire season. It is a season of festivity – of singing, of drum beating, of verbal sparring and flag waving. It is also the season when politicians and calypsonians alike, take to the stage, make rash promises, revel in the limelight, and await the results.

When it came – the results – the decision was: out with the incumbent NDC and, in with the Dr. Mitchell-led NNP, the party of promised deliverance.

Be mindful of the realities of the post-celebration landscape, this much the Mighty Wizard warns with his, “When de carnival over” lyrics. As Dr. Mitchell goes about attempting to deliver on his promises, he is no doubt discovering that the contours in the economic landscape are deeper and more treacherous than they were five years ago.

Grenada is stuck in a quagmire of indebtedness and rising unemployment, its economy blown about by the winds of the great global recession. And as in the other Caribbean islands, there are little prospects of a quick fix.

Our Caribbean’s own Nobel Laureate, the Trinidad born, V.S. Naipaul, leaves us with no hope. “The small islands of the Caribbean,” he wrote, “will remain islands, impoverished and unskilled. ….. They may get less corrupt or less innocent politicians; they will not get less helpless ones.”

Less helpless ones! Naipaul is a dramatist and great literary stylist, the best “living writer of the English prose”. But a sage of Caribbean economic destiny he is not. The economic history, (the past performance of a country’s economy) does not imply its destiny.

Grenada is not doomed to a permanent state of economic destitution. Its economy can be managed, can be improved, but with prudence and under the right set of circumstances – under optimal control.

For optimal control there must be the presence of a strong, counterbalancing, and at times, combative voice to the party’s in power. On this requirement the voters dropped the ball. They left us with a virtual one-party state, with no opposition in the House of Representative (the spending authority, and law-making body in Parliament).

This lopsided composition of the government does however provide Dr. Mitchell with a ready opportunity to prove Mr. Naipaul wrong.

Dr. Mitchell is the sole captain and purser (Minister of Finance) of Grenada’s ship of state. There are no cross currents or countervailing winds to drag him off-course. He could be dismissive – as he must – of Naipaul’s prognostications, but not of the warnings of this other Nobel Laureate in Economics, the father of Developmental Economics, St Lucia’s (now deceased) Dr. Arthur Lewis.

Of the requirements for the “maintenance of good government” Dr. Lewis said, “In a small island of 50,000 or 100,000 people, dominated by a single political party, it is very difficult to prevent political abuse. Everybody depends on the government for something, however small, so most are reluctant to offend it… This is true even if the political leaders are absolutely honest. In cases where they are also corrupt, and playing with the public funds, the situation becomes intolerable. “

We have in Dr. Lewis a strong and highly qualified advocate for an opposing voice in government. His concerns were about unrestrained political power in Caribbean politics, and its tendency to inflame the rapacious appetites in politicians.

So relevant was his statement then, to the economic situation in Grenada today, that one would think this former UWI Chancellor was speaking directly to Dr. Mitchell and lecturing him on the merits of tolerant and non-abusive leadership.

But here’s the catch: Except from one or two high profile NDC Party officials, Grenada’s opposing voice is nowhere else to be heard, silent almost.

Genesis 3:9 comes to mind: “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, where art thou?” Given the NDC’s silence, Adam either is “in the garden hiding”, or is summoning the troops to begin the much awaited campaign in defense of the people’s interest.

Nearing seventy, and blessed with incredible good political fortunes, Dr. Mitchell owes his country this much: acceptance of the contrary voice. The tendency toward groupthink, the ‘yes-man’ syndrome, has been the downfall of too many politicians.

To escape that syndrome he must wrestle with the temptation to silence opposing viewpoints, to humiliate and seek revenge. In accordance with the Hippocratic Oath that bids restraint and ethical conduct upon medical doctors, Dr. Mitchell must vow, as the oath demands, to “first, do no harm”.


A True Patriot



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