Tuesday, 21 June 2011 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
“Is the government better?” is an exciting and critical question that will decide the winner of the next general elections in Antigua & Barbuda. It invites both an end to the politics of excuses, and a new beginning of public accountability.
The United Progressive Party (UPP) started its tenure in 2004 with a mandate to embrace “good governance, transparency, and integrity in public office".
In 2009, government officials were hard at work explaining that the UPP was “the lesser of two evils.” Not only is the government avoiding an honest scrutiny of its achievements, but today its new theory is: “the opposition is worse.”
This mortifying decline in outlook represents a failure of national reform. It also reflects a psychology that disregards progress, which isn’t a good sign for holding high office or stopping our downward trend in widespread hunger, joblessness, and bruised reputation for international investment.
Ultimately, Michelangelo is right: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and failing short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
By campaigning that the opposition is worse, the UPP is admitting that the government isn’t better.
More than ever, conscientious voters realise that if going back to the opposition is worse, then moving forward with the UPP is even more frightening, futile, and tragic.
When the UPP took on the daunting task of nation-building, it did not demonstrate an understanding of what Joel Baker said:
“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing time. Action with vision is making a positive difference.” Nothing should have mattered more than the desire to link goodwill with good tactics.
But the UPP rejected the idea of harmony, effectiveness, and inclusion for partisan resentment, vindictiveness, and hate. Essentially, it began losing public support, especially when it shifted from inspiring vision to poor performance.
Party leaders did not upgrade visionary energies. They concentrated on good speeches, not good governance. By now, the nation already knows the extent of the incompetence, economic hardship, and missed opportunity caused by massive failures in strategic planning and leadership.
The UPP got itself in this unfortunate position because from the onset, it nurtured an ideology of living in the past. Political miscalculations and project disasters were not seen as teaching moments. They became a series of justifications to resist real change.
For example, some party supporters displayed the guts to probe and describe the mistakes of the previous administrations, but lacked the genius to address leadership challenges with clarity and sustainability.
In the face of doubt, independent voters began to settle for promises that things would get better, which turned out to be more empty hope than tangible forecast. And die-hard supporters did not keep the government accountable to its mandate, and consequently, permitted egregious deceit.
High profile defenders of the government’s policy became scrupulously honest, analytically fearless, and truthfully forthright about some of our current dilemmas, and rightly traced them back to historical events. But they neither offered insights into problem-solving nor provided actionable plans for the future.
Therefore, the UPP relied on a set of fallback priorities: it complained about delays to lock up allegedly corrupt opposition members; it opted for selected but unsustainable school meals and school uniforms programmes and; it did not create livable jobs for parents of struggling students.
When former deputy prime minister Wilmoth Daniel publicly accused Cabinet colleagues of bribery, the regime ignored calls for cleansing. Further, the government outsourced millions of dollars' worth of contracts to foreign companies and experts, but ignored homegrown professionals with credible credentials and cultural capital.
And the UPP diverted critical energies from national development to heading up international conferences, with little economic and diplomatic returns.
In this closed political setting, voices of unreason were more widely accepted over voices that ruminated on economic recovery, the dismantling of our strategic public assets, and escalating criminal activities. Admittedly, party leaders ignored constructive criticism. They demonized social commentators who warned of perils to come, and outlined superb solutions.
No one understands why the UPP did not use its talents in education, law, business, trade union, accounting, finance, sports, communications, leadership, and medicine to produce significant progress. Leaders ended up instead mimicking the missteps of previous governments.
Failing to take ownership of governing the country, the government settled on blaming the world-wide economic recession for its deficient policy. Having displayed few creative ideas of its own, the UPP allowed internal bickering to overshadow the need to address errors, overcome inherited ills, and solve urgent social crises.
If the government continues to operate with the belief that “it’s our time now” – an ideology that changes the logic but keeps the design—it will never rise to higher ground.
From this broad point of view, the UPP has not admitted wrong in order to change course. It has apologized only to repeat odd mistakes, but not to clear up lingering confusion.Rising
Great leaders do not use hard times as an excuse for mediocrity. They see difficulties as opportunities to peak performance. I agree that going with the flow may be necessary at times, but tough circumstances call for going against the grain.
The UPP will never solve the biggest challenges of our times without facing the hard social and economic facts, and telling the plain truth. Seeing the world from the context of the people’s suffering is one way of caring about the causes that matter most to constituents.
A vision built on implementing the best solutions must be ravenously pursued.
But shifting from the politics of blame and fear to the politics of achievement and hope will require clear intellectual direction propelled by a moral awakening. Substantially, the UPP could ignite a new social movement that advances and enriches our country’s commitment to eradicate poverty.
Therefore, the UPP must rebrand itself as a competent and caring government. This demands a revival of excellence on a world class scale. There must be a drive to search for opportunities for progress. Investing in leading from the front, in reshaping the future, and in executing to deliver are priorities that can’t be overlooked.
How to get most elites to stop excusing the government’s failures is a major hurdle. Perhaps it is necessary to get them to distinguish between “what’s possible and what’s acceptable” (Jim Wallis). Perhaps also fear and reluctance to support a new movement for social change have made them pessimistic about the future. But a brighter day demands a robust hope.
Too many in the educated, social advocacy, and faith-based communities have opted out of political conscientiousness. Their attitude is partly responsible for the recent increase of anti-democratic forces expressed in new forms of authoritarianism. I see reflections of this in the government’s frequent interference with the independence of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC).
In fact, former electoral chairman Sir Gerald Watt QC has been brilliantly alerting the nation of instances when the government attempted to forcibly exert its influence on the Commission. Rather than ignore the laws of the land, the UPP should enforce good laws and change dated or bad ones to regain public confidence.
Regardless of source, an appreciation for big ideas should be adopted. I’d like to see ministers of government practice a can-do culture, focus on the urgent needs of children and the elderly, differentiate operational functions more efficiently, and delegate responsibilities to eminently qualified personnel.
In prioritizing job creation, the government should harmonize youthful energy and change initiatives with a culture of empowerment. Mindful that myopic politics plays more on people’s greed-filled appetites than on their interest in national affairs, the young people want to do something about it.
They want to eliminate secrecy in government. They want to reduce unequal opportunity for women in politics. And they want the injustice of leaving out local talent in shaping the nation’s future to end.
As I write this article, I am aware that a lot of rebuilding and cleaning up still remains. Yet I affirm that if the government devotes time and energy to superlative outcomes, it could find common ground for national growth and regional advancement.
But short of atoning for substandard achievements, the unraveling of the UPP administration will end in festering scandal and fuming disappointment. The government must develop a brand of superior performance beyond the partisan propaganda that “the opposition is worse.”
Dr. 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.