In Search of People’s Party

A disturbing trend is emerging throughout the Caribbean region. The once tried and proven progressive ‘people’s parties’ are slowly but surely becoming things of the past; an endangered species. Credit the demise of once vibrant labour-oriented political parties to the new breed of regional politicians. They rise to power on waves of popular support and promises that “better days are coming!” Drunk on slogans that excite passions while ignoring real-world economic realities, they pretend to have custom-made answers and quick fixes for every problem. They hijack the ‘people’s parties’ with false ideological notions and talk of ‘New Labour’ and a self-centered concept of public service.
So complete has been the transformation that today’s leaders no longer view public service as other than just another job attached to a salary, the only difference being an unwritten answer-to-no-one clause in the contract. While campaigning they preach transparency and accountability but no sooner have they been elected than they abandon such pledges in the best interests of secret cabals.  They quickly make all matters relating to the people’s business as classified. Deals purportedly struck in the people’s best interests remain for years unknown to the people, and quite often to their Cabinets. People’s parties are supposed to keep the people involved and informed.
I watched in appalled silence last November the imposition of a fifteen percent Value Added Tax (VAT) in the land of my birth, St. Lucia—a vulnerable and passive nation that had only recently reelected the once revered people’s party. The government claimed it had made provisions to cushion the blow to the less fortunate in the society but even persons who are considered to be middle income earners question why a Labour Party government is not more concerned about the impact that such a punishing tax hike would have on their bottom line and the country’s economic progress. Of course that is a reasonable request when one considers that peoples’ parties, by ideological persuasion, must first and foremost take into account the burden of its fiscal policies on those who are at the bottom of the so-called food chain.
In opposition, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony seemed to share that concern. His road to Damascus via VAT seemed finally proved very short. Not only was VAT no longer horrible tax policy, it had overnight become a convenient cash cow to fill the Consolidated fund to overflowing. In the interest of shared sacrifice, the people were told, they had to contribute as never before in taxes, poor and not so poor alike.  Why would a ‘people’s party’ offer the labour unions a zero percent wage and salaries increase for the next three years following a massive tax hike? Whatever happened to “compassionate” Labour? Local calypsonians ought to ask this question during the upcoming carnival season. But we may already know the answer, since we have been told that it is now ‘De Doctors’ Party!’
Also, consider Jamaica’s Portia Simpson Miller. Her People’s National Party came to office about a year ago on a massive wave of popular support.  Like their counterpart in St. Lucia she too promised ‘Better Days Are Coming!’ One year later, the people recognize they have been shafted. While the government imposed punishing and debilitating taxes across the board, even taxing patties, the poor man’s main sustenance, and called on all to make sacrifices for the national good, it handsomely rewarded government ministers with brand new vehicles and pay increases. Then, to add insult to injury, Mrs. Miller advised that government ministers should not be expected to live life less high on the hog than they were accustomed to prior to entering public service. By this insensitive and uncompassionate statement, the prime minister threw out of the concept of public service was all about until fairly recently. She could not care less about those struggling at the bottom. While encouraging her ministerial colleagues to ride in luxury and style, she had not word for the masses who must pay increased bus fares or walked till they dropped!
Clearly, political power has desensitized ‘Mama Portia’ to the plight of the poor. Her somersault is complete with her callous and reckless disregard for the basic principles of leadership and people’s accountability. This once grassroots champion has now cast her lot on the side of materialism, if not ministerial greed.  Even more mind-boggling is the fact that the decision to purchase those luxury SUVs came in the midst of very delicate financial negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Mama Portia has bastardized Manley’s party and nailed it to the cross of consumerism.
For fear you may think the new year with its cliff hangers has me in a tailspin, permit me to disagree. You may have been too drunk on their euphoria of the last election to observe the wolves in their customized sheep clothing but trust me, I never went to sleep. The mask is fast slipping off the wolf face of our predatory leaders. Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolution to do all in my power to encourage the emergence of a party of the people, for the people—not a hideout for wolves!

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