Sunday, 29 July 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Going into the 2004 general elections the United Progressive Party had a number of slogans or catchy phrases that helped sweep it into office with an overwhelming mandate.
“Government in the Sunshine”, and “What is Right will Remain Right - What is Wrong will be Made Right” are two that seemed forever etched into the collective consciousness of the Antigua & Barbuda electorate.
UPP leader Baldwin Spencer was passionate and animated each time he repeated those two slogans. Using all his tremendous political skills, Spencer not only was able to get the people to believe in him, but to believe that a government under his stewardship would embody the meaning of these slogans and that they would become his modus operandi in running a government – in other words, his guiding principles.
The 2004 election campaign seems nothing but a distant memory, because ‘government in the sunshine’ has as its underlying concept an open government that is transparent and responsive to legitimate concerns of the citizenry. So too is the second mostly widely used slogan of the UPP, ‘what is right will remain right, and what is wrong will be made right’.
Today, many people are strongly of the view that for the UPP government, these slogans were very good sounding words, and just that: words - nothing more, nothing less.
A case in point of this practice where the UPP says one thing and does the complete opposite is the current sitting of the House of Representatives. Meetings of the House are important! But sometimes the agenda of a particular meeting makes it even more significant and therefore elevates it to one above the ordinary, the mundane.
Such is the current meeting of the House of Representatives that opened on Friday, and which will continue on Monday July 30. The meeting is taking place in the heart of the Carnival celebrations when the attention of the nation is otherwise pre-occupied with ‘jam and wine’, when matters of state inevitably take a backseat.
One of the things the UPP promised prior to its 2004 elections victory was that there would be regular meetings of parliament to discuss the people’s business. The party felt, and rightly so, that meetings of parliament were haphazard and that too often the time between meetings pushed the envelope of what was constitutionally required.
Eight and a half years into its governance of the country, the UPP has not changed a thing with respect to meetings of parliament. Most meetings are just able to fall within the constitutional allowance of ninety days. So it was under the ALP, so it is under the UPP. What was wrong has not been made right; instead the party seems stuck in a mode of repeating the mistakes of the ALP, the ones about which it made the loudest complaints.
But the meeting of parliament in the midst of the Carnival celebrations is most vexing, even because of the subject matters listed for debate. The Order Paper lists, among other things: Amendments to the Banking Act, and the Antigua & Barbuda Sales Tax (later withdrawn), the appointment of five members of the House of Representatives (three from government, two from the opposition) to take part in the inaugural meeting of the OECS Assembly here in Antigua, the confirmation of the appointment of Alister Thomas as Information Commissioner, and debate on the appointment and terms of reference for the Boundaries Commission.
These are critical issues of concern to the people of Antigua & Barbuda and ought not to be done in a clandestine or stealth manner. But this is essentially the effect of holding such debate in the midst of carnival.
It is tantamount to the government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer saying to the people of Antigua & Barbuda: “My government and I have something to hide, so as you ‘jam an wine’ and as you debate over who will win Panorama or the Party Monarch or the Calypso Monarch, or when you are giddy with all the rum and fun of Lion’s and Red Hot Flames, we will ‘jam’ you with a crucial meeting of parliament.”
Inside Politics raised this point with Alister Thomas when news of his appointment came to hand, and it was drawn to his attention that parliament will clash with Carnival; to which he sheepishly replied: “Like V.C. (Bird) used to do.” Thomas had to be reminded that the UPP promised that ‘what is right will remain right and what is wrong will be made right’. At this, he crawled back into his shell - figuratively of course!
Truth be told, past ALP Administrations have held meetings of parliament during Carnival, and Spencer was outstanding in his criticism of the practice. He has often vowed that thus would not be how a government under his leadership would behave.
It has been suggested that the measure of a man is not what he says but how he acts, what he does.
The Boundaries Commission was set up, and according to information coming to hand it has completed its report. Sources close to the Commission even suggest that there has not been any real discussion at the level of the Commission. These sources allege that the radical changes proposed for the constituencies on Antigua were presented to the Commission via the chairman as a ‘fait accompli’, and that the Commission is merely rubber-stamping the work of someone else.
Now, if any of this is true, then this cannot be right; this goes against the spirit and intent of the Commission in the first place.
Then to add insult to injury, the meeting of the House of Representatives that among other things seeks to backdate the very appointment of the Commission and correct such glaring omissions as a terms of reference tells a long tale of someone just ‘up to no good’.
The unfortunate fact is that too many people are caught up in the carnival festivities to even pay attention to what is happening in the country. But alas! Some of us have dedicated ourselves to ensure, in whatever way possible, that underhand deeds are brought into the full glare of the sunshine! After all, this is ‘Government in the Sunshine’!
It should be noted that Carnival is not unlike an eclipse; it too, is short-lived. Soon, yet soon, the sun returns in all its glory. Just ask King Obstinate.
A word to the wise is sufficient!