Although generally well received, last week’s lead story entitled The Role of Government is to Empower the Citizen to Lead Development evidently was precisely what some would prefer had never been written. This category of reader tends to skulk around in undertaker accouterments, ready to bury anything remotely critical of their favorite political party. At the heart of the earlier mentioned story were statements by one of the UWI’s favorite sons, especially revered in some quarters for his 2015 book Britain’s Black Debt: Slavery and Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide.
The following is taken from a glowing review by Martha Biondi: “If there are weaknesses in Britain’s Black Debt, it’s perhaps that Beckles’ understandable stress on the victimization of the descendants of enslaved Africans leaves little room for appreciating the rich history of their political resistance and cultural resilience. ‘The spiritual and cultural destructiveness of these actions have damaged the domestic culture of black people to this day,’ he argues, pointing in particular to ‘negative family values.’ In many respects, this study stands as a corrective to the popular focus on recuperating cultural and political ‘agency’ in African disapora historiography.”
But enough of Beckles, save for his warning to the Saint Lucia Labour Party at its 2005 conference of delegates in Vieux Fort: “Any political party that promotes internal conflict, that generates unnecessary division among the citizens, is a party that turns its energies against the society—and it should be banished from the society. We are looking for leaders who are not vindictive, who are not partisan, who will stand above those issues and mobilize every good for social development. My recommendation always will be: let us look into our society and find the things that bind us; find the groups that we can cohere, and learn how to suppress conflict. Key to all of this is education.”
Yes, we’re back to that word again: education. In the prologue to his work in progress entitled How To Run A Government, Jimmy Fletcher (for whom no introduction is necessary!) acknowledges “the rapid advances in technology and the pervasive reach of social media and global information have caused Caribbean societies and citizens to become increasingly influenced and shaped by external cultures and attitudes.” Which left me wondering: Is that really true? Are we only now becoming what in typical fashion V.S. Naipaul described as “mimic men?”
Still quoting from Dr. Fletcher’s prologue: “Economic conditions have been negatively affected by an erosion and in some instances, loss of preferential access to traditional markets for primary commodities, a lingering global recession and rising national debt profiles as governments scramble to provide services and upgrade infrastructure to match more sophisticated expectations of electorates that have been seduced into believing anything and everything is possible with a change in administration.”
Does anything in the immediately above suggest we are today less reliant than before on our former slave masters? Why did our banana industry depend for its existence on “preferential access” to markets? Was there no way around that?
How much has changed since the WTO brought its Cyclops foot down on successful banana production in our region by declaring preferential treatment illegal? As for the seduction that Fletcher holds responsible for our deluded state, who were (are?) the seducers? Were any on them seated near the podium from which Hilary Beckles delivered his earlier cited 2005 address?
Still more revelations from the prologue of How To Run A Government: “The social fabric of the societies has been stretched to fraying point by an anachronistic education system that does not prepare young graduates for the world into which they emerge, by the increasing cost of health care to populations that have become more sedentary and more prone to the negative impact of chronic non-communicable diseases, and by worrying crime levels that are worsened by the pernicious influences of drug cultures.”
Additionally: “The onus has remained largely on the government to solve the problems of the country and successive political leaders and parties have perpetuated the belief that most of the difficulties facing the country have been brought on by poor governance of the opposing party during its term in office and can be solved simply by a change of administration. There is little magnanimity in the political landscape of these countries and rarely is there a coming together of forces and efforts across the political divide to address the fundamental problems of the country.”
Again Beckles comes to mind: “No political party can see itself as responsible for all the solutions and all the answers to a country’s problems . . . We are looking for leaders who will stand above the issues and mobilize every good for social development.”
Was Beckles, when he spoke these words back in 2005, thinking of leaders as in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr? Did he have in mind George Odlum before he turned from educator to office aspirant? Did Beckles deliberately avoid speaking of politicians when he said what was needed were “leaders who are not vindictive, not partisan, who will stand above the issues and mobilize every good for social development?”
His audience notwithstanding, was Beckles actually saying, as did Sir Dwight Venner in effect several months before his passing shortly before last Christmas, that the main problem confronting these islands has less to do with their economies than with their leadership?
Dr. Fletcher introduces himself to his future readers thus: “I have been lucky to see government operate from several different angles.” First he was a public officer, “fresh from completing my first graduate studies and full of ideas on how I could cause real change in my new ministry.” Alas he resigned his position after four years—“in frustration at what appeared to be the unwillingness of the senior management of the ministry to change a model that was not producing results and was wasting human and financial resources.”
He returned three years later to the public service, this time as the permanent secretary at the ministry that had driven him near round the bend with frustration. He now had the opportunity to “appreciate the extent of the power that a permanent secretary, the administrative head of the ministry, wielded to make the changes in the operations of the ministry.”
He moved on after four years to the position of cabinet secretary with the opportunity “to witness in operation the real locus of decision making in government—the Cabinet of Ministers.” In a way, Fletcher writes, “this perspective provided sharper focus. I got to see the interplay between the work of the permanent secretary and the thinking of the politicians who had been mandated with the constitutional responsibility to provide policy direction to that work.”
Be sure to read more from Dr. James Fletcher’s work in progress—How To Run A Government—in our next issue. I promise your eyes will be opened, perhaps wider than is comfortable!