Tuesday, 26 February 2013 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
The firing of Senators Collin Derrick and Anthony Stuart, and the resignation of Senators David Messiah and Malaka Parker by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, in reaction to their voting against the highly controversial Citizen by Investment Programme (CIP) Bill, represents a case of sublime courage, calculated risk, and attractive ironies.
Examining the temper of the country where general elections are constitutionally due in March of 2014, the task of mobilizing voters is foremost. It is the broader implications of the die both being cast and loaded which activist voices have failed to probe or chosen to brush aside.
Since dissent is a driving force for social and political improvement, the PM defended his stance on the premise that collective responsibility is a justifiable means to protect the government from anarchy. Although he recognised the right of individual freedom to interpose whenever extraordinary circumstances warrant a preference for the common good, Spencer rightly argued that the government cannot be left to the mercy of any group of persons to stifle its operational duties.
The problem is as complicated as it is obvious. The assumption of the risk of the abuse of power must equally be presumed on the part of the Upper House Senate as well as the Executive Cabinet. To a fair-minded person, both the Senate and the Cabinet must be prepared to preserve itself in the uncomfortable conflict between the extension of executive powers and usurpations of legislative powers.
Frankly, there are no easy answers in balancing cooperative obedience with individual autonomy, because at the practical level, policy and politics are intertwined. Yet, the more freedom of conscience is respected, the greater the possibility that what is right will be guaranteed, and the higher the chances that life in community will flourish based on genuine personhood.
Sublime Courage... Perhaps the senators chose their conscience over rigid conformity. Perhaps also they had an inkling that they were placed on the choking block so that prized replacements could get national visibility. In a countermove, the senators’ disapproval was simply a desperate attempt to flip expediency into integrity, which has had the effect of evoking public tears, gratitude, and salute. The senators could have indeed awakened to the sentiments of social justice, the dangers of prime ministerial abuse of power, and commitment to personal freedom. They defied the odds, took an ethical stance, and sacrificed their political careers for higher ideals.
Calculated Risk... An intuitive look, however, at 70 per cent of the population would reveal that the people and the PM are 3,000 miles apart on the merits of the CIP Bill to national development. The speed with which the bill is being pushed through and the economic and social logic offered couldn’t be more suspect. But action quiets anxiety. I am doubtful that the PM is reducing the senatorial appointment bar to sing in chorus grovel, without thoughtful consideration of the total loss of confidence in his decision-making competence.
What is inferred as a fatal blow to the PM’s leadership credentials maybe a calculated move to advance the fortunes of his government’s chances of gaining votes on Election Day. With the prospect of a national voter-registration drive on the way, and targeted constituency boundary changes floating in the air, the PM isn’t convinced that the opposition is capable of bringing pressure on him or making his tenure more painful. I suspect Spencer sees the Antigua Labour Party as gloating under the illusion of “an inevitable win” while leaving unaddressed what it has defined as “fringe disunity,” without deciphering the dangers of a little leak sinking a big ship.
The real meaning behind the CIP Bill debate is a foretaste of what is coming. The PM might have concluded that his position is worth the price of appearing to be a decisive leader. He also gets scoring points for opening up the floodgate so that the dispute between a draconian policy and gratuitous program will go pointless and stale. Why? Because favour-seeking NGOs paired with biased media alliances are too united in partisan agendas to objectively educate the choices of the masses. Together they are prepared to defend tailored greed, not advocate for national good!
Attractive Ironies... Not all public uproars are to the taste of those who desire evidence of progress. Implicit ironies abound! What is the likelihood that concerns over prime-ministerial abuse of power will now garner public support for a radical change in our Westminster system of governance, which could result in better checks and balances of a more representative government?
How does one explain that even after 30 years of independence, and so much technological information and global connections, we still depend so heavily on lacklustre politicians and like-minded officials, to determine our scope of development, quality of life, and social ideals?
How does one defend that with different party colours at the helm of government, poverty widens for the masses? And homegrown talent is still seen as inferior to foreign skills, while politicians continue to get away with brash corruption and amazing mediocrity?
Only when we remove self-righteous blinders, engage in deep questioning about social justice and economic empowerment for all, and begin to define the success of our nation by the agony and anguish of the powerless, will our collective compassion yield a more achieving country. I believe we can generate the courage to care, the resilience to resist elite overreach, and the foresight to develop a more enlightened and prosperous society.
The PM may eventually get the CIP Bill passed in the midst of criticisms of maddening mistakes. Disenchanted by the hope of accomplishing anything significant in the current climate of divide and rule, I can’t imagine coalition action built on reasonable demands and patriotic fervour to overcome the turmoil in public opinion. And, I don’t think the people will settle down to a re-ordering of normalcy that chooses the right moral vocabulary to create economic, cultural, and social synergy beyond the CIP Bill.
Clearly, the nation is not quite ready to make sincere love of neighbour and the suppression of authoritarian tendencies central to burden-sharing, co-participation, and social justice. The PM knows that popular discontent won’t necessarily give the opposition new momentum and unity. But the opposition could rally political activism, if it convinces the people that it has a meaningful action plan.
Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.