Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The high cost of arrogance

HAVING listened to the professionals at GARFIN - the Grenada Authority for the Regulation of Financial Institutions - about the ongoing debate on the Insurance Amendment Bill that was defeated in the Grenada parliament last week, I think there were some important areas of clarification.

· The referred to $500,000 is not an additional sum required to be paid by insurance companies, but is a sum already paid by them under existing regulatory procedures. The real debate is over the interests accrued by such deposits. Under the proposed amendment GARFIN will now use the interests earned to help fund its operations.

· The 500,000 deposit is only for Life Underwrites. The referred to levy of 1% on premiums is for general insurance companies. Companies don’t pay both.

· Companies can decide to absorb the cost of that levy or pass it on to their policyholders. It is a business call they will have to make in a competitive arena. That levy will also be used to fund the operations of GARFIN.

Critics of the politics of the amendment will argue that the amendment does not strengthen regulations per se, just help better fund GARFIN.

I beg to differ with that line of argument though. A better funded GARFIN will in and of itself, help to strengthen regulation.

Having listened to all the arguments, the amendment as proposed by and large should be supported – and hopefully the opposition in parliament and the two government backbenchers will eventually come around to that view.

The defeat of the bill might have been really partly as a result of some political grandstanding.

But we cannot divorce the extremely toxic political environment in which that bill – and no doubt many others to come – will be debated and voted on.

And this brings me to a point that I thought Arley Gill, the Public Relations Officer of the National Democratic Congress, made well the other day.

The defeat of the bill was also partly due to government arrogance – an attitude it can’t afford given that it is a minority administration.

The nation’s business is too sacred for Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and Leader of Government Business Nazim Burke to run the affairs in parliament with the same arrogance with which they have destroyed their own party.

Gill was quoted as saying that government “must do a better job at managing the affairs of the House of Representatives.”

He complained that leader of government business Finance Minister Nazim Burke had failed to reach out to the backbenchers.

He declared: “The government cannot throw stones at the backbenchers and then expect automatic support.” (Give Glen Noel’s recent “throw one stone” analogy, Gill’s comments were appropriate – pun and all – even if maybe it was not intended).

How is it that government backbenchers are not routinely briefed on government’s legislative agenda?

In the best political climate this should happen, if only out of courtesy and respect. In a poisonous atmosphere, an even extra effort must be made.

It is all well and good for Prime Minister Thomas to bash his “rebel” MPs for their lack of support.

And while I don’t expect him to criticize publicly the management of the process by his leader of government business – I hope he would have had a quiet chat with him that says: you must do better next time.

Let the lesson be learnt. Ignoring your MPs has far worse consequences, than ignoring your party’s executive.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Celebrating division, while a nation bleeds

Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas on Sunday continued his lap of honor in his grand colorful celebration of division.

Seriously, I never thought so many people would have come out to cheer on a train wreck.

Having lost the majority of his MPs along the way, the Prime Minister leads a triumphant, belligerent band of appointed senators, whose very political relevancy depends on a leader that has become the joke of the Caribbean and a potential losing candidate of St Patrick’s East.

Simply put, Sunday was an expensive partially state-sponsored NDC executive-angering “Prime Minister’s rally” which “endorsed” an “NDC” candidate; a spectacle sanctioned by the Prime Minister and NDC political leader even though the last ruling of the executive at which he was present, was for a hold to be put on endorsements until the party – somehow, miraculously – gets its divided house in order.

The Prime Minister, a self-declared man of faith, obviously has no patience for miracles.

As with his mantra of accountability and good governance, he speaks a good game, with not enough action to show for what he has grabbed as his claim to fame.

Some of us, who love a train wreck, watch with amusement – maybe actually bemusement – at the biggest power grab in Grenadian history since 1983.

I wrote in November 2010 (though I said it privately a year earlier), to the chagrin of even some people who are acknowledging it now, that the Prime Minister is embarking on a hijack of democracy.

Back then, some accused me of hyperbole; others of even sour grapes.

In a stuttering defense of his democratic credentials back then, Prime Minister Thomas decided the best defense was to tell a bold face lie about the accuser – rather than give a genuine commitment that “the people’s voices will (indeed) be heard.”

Since then, this has been the hallmark of his “good governance” agenda – demonize anyone who dares ask a question; belittle and slander his critics.

Now I see they have turned on Glynis Roberts and Michael Lett – members of their cabinet – even though they still need them to prop up the tottering government. (And these people who now want to question the characters of Roberts and Lett have so little virtues of their own, that in less serious times it will be a standard joke).

The level of vitriol and deceit, hypocrisy and spite – makes whatever level of vice and bad-mindedness witnessed under various governments since independence looks like child’s play.

And as the Prime Minister and his hangers-on continue to fight for political survival, the nation continues to pay a dear price – with hotels facing closure, unemployment rising, poverty spreading; and hopelessness and anger taking root in rural Grenada.

In any other serious democracy, save a few dysfunctional Asian and African countries, a leader who had any statesman’s yearning, would have called a general election and humbly let the people decide – having done the best for his nation – win, lose or draw.

But this has little to do about the nation, Grenada; and we are dealing with anything but statesmen.

How do you call an election early, when some say only a few months to go before they are qualified for a parliamentarian’s pension and favor a delayed national poll?

Or all the other excuses you hear – that have anything but to do with the well-being of a rudderless nation.

Sometimes I tell frustrated Grenadians who speak to me, that hold on – a year is not a long time (since that’s the limit to which this can be stretched).

But seriously, how can I tell that to the man whose business is facing imminent closure? How can I tell that to the youth who has not worked in years and looking for – at least – hope? Or to the CCC worker, who now lost his house because he defaulted on his mortgage?

Does a nation have to wait until the Prime Minister settles his own political scores?

Well, with free bus, free beer and free food – we might all join the celebration of division.

The suicide caravan is coming near you soon. It’s the only show in town!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Taking the fight to Denzil Douglas?

The announcement by Lindsay Grant this week that he is stepping down as leader of the People’s Action Movement in St Kitts at the end of September puts the party in transition midway to the next general elections.

PAM made significant gains in the last general elections, but was never able to close the deal on the incumbent St Kitts Nevis Labour Party, and on Denzil Douglas in particular, who appeared at his most vulnerable then.

In the last general elections, Douglas’ team outspent and out-organized PAM, but crucially, they worked the electoral system under a suspect “reconfirmation” process to their advantage.

Serious concerns remains about that whole electoral process in St Kitts and Nevis – where the corrupting influence of money is severe and the blatant use of overseas registration and voting, obscene.

There's an ambiguity in the law that allows overseas nationals who are not usually resident in St. Kitts and Nevis, to register to vote wherever they can ague they have links to, while residents technically 'should' be registered where they live. This essentially creates a two-tiered system.

From my own experience, the Kittian electoral process it is the most flawed in the entire CARICOM region and is too open to machinations.

There was no way PAM was going to close the gap sufficiently on Labour if it was unwilling to play rules that challenge ethics – registering a lot of people in areas where they don’t really reside.

And in a place where the numbers we are dealing with are relatively small – 20 voters here, and another 20 there can make a very significant difference.

Whatever you think of Dougie, he is a serious and fearless political bull-dog, and maybe PAM needed to fight fire with a fire that Grant, by his nature did not have.

In political terms, Grant is very much a gentleman, which in some jurisdictions in the Eastern Caribbean might be an asset, but in the rough and tumble of St Kitts and Nevis, where political tribalism is at a very high level, might not be so.

Grant’s leadership style was cautious – and at times too overtly so.

There are two instances from the last campaign that the party might have lost the opportunity to turn the tide on Douglas -- a night of a protest stand-in on the steps of government headquarters and another time when a PAM meeting was stoned in Old Road and Deputy Leader Eugene Hamilton was injured in the face.

In the aftermath of both, PAM chose caution over militancy – a retreat rather than an in-your-face escalation.

On the steps of government headquarters, when the security forces were called in and demanded that the protesters leave, maybe they should have stood their ground. Dared them to arrest 100 people if they were willing, included the PAM leadership.

If that happened, it would have had, in my view, a real potential to change the trajectory of the campaign and put the Douglas administration on the defensive.

In the stoning incident, it was never used properly to bring national and regional attention to the challenge of an election campaign there.

Beating Douglas called for a boldness and a daring that was not in Grant’s nature.

In a country where the opposition cannot even get a paid commercial – to even announce a meeting –on state radio or the lone TV monopoly – it is clear situations like these call for some unorthodox tactics.

The challenge for Douglas in the upcoming electoral cycle might now be bigger – from both external and internal forces.

Eugene Hamilton and Shawn Richards have both indicated their intention to contest the PAM leadership.

What is clear that any of these two will bring a bolder more daring kind of leadership that will no doubt take the fight even more to Douglas.

But even before that, Douglas might have to be concerned about the rumblings in his own party.

There is a significant section, though it maybe has not reached critical mass, within the Labour Party which is beginning to believe that it is time he goes.

Dwyer Astaphan, his former National Security Minister, has since left – and has been a most vocal critic.

Douglas’ ice-cold relationship with his Deputy Sam Condor – who once was barred by his own government from using the state media for a clarification address – has been well documented.

Watchers there however say Senior Minister and Labour Party Chairman Timothy Harris has genuine leadership potential – and is maybe the man that will save Labour in the long run.

Douglas of course is not going anywhere soon – though in the long term one suspects he covets Nigel Carty to be his eventual successor.

Carty however doesn’t seem to have gained any serious internal party traction.

But in watching Hamilton and Richards from his right, and Condor and Harris from his left – Douglas will have his political minds full in the next two years.

But either of those could under-estimate him at their own peril.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Of hate and fear, and in search of a share of the 75%

SOMETIMES when we hang out in certain circles too long, we can quickly get disconnected from the real world of real people with real problems.

In this Grenada debate there are three classes -- the chattering class of St George's (of which sometimes I unwittingly become a member); the cyber hawks of mainly expatriates; and the real people out there in Munich and Mt Horne, with whom I had the pleasure to spend quality time a few days ago.

Having been to these places lately -- I am satisfied the people's agenda and concerns are so radically different to the chatter we have created over the period.

I am clear in my mind, that the people out there, are:

(a) Absolutely confused about what is going on, and the diminishing amount sympathetic to NDC is asking the question, "Why can't they work this out?"

(b) By and large they don't think this government has done a great job. In fact in asking a lot of explanations about what is going down, it ended in expressions like these:

Man I don't really care, you know, about them fellas. You know how long I ain't work?


They (are) alright. I voted for NDC, and I ain't voting again. I ain't even bother to register. The little pension I had they take it.

In a pasture where four teams of "young voters" were playing windball matches, I did not come across one person who said they were voting for NDC or this current administration next time around.

Four years ago, these same guys were the core of NDC support in the area.

It was almost evenly split between those who had changed allegiance, and those who could not bother to participate in the process. In fact most of the latter ones had not even registered.

They frankly felt the current political situation is a sad joke that's pinching them in the pocket.

Which brings me to another point someone raised to me -- which until then I was too busy to give it -- or anything about this Grenada situation -- serious thought.

One guy on the edge of a windball game and cookout asked me -- the Prime Minister said they had accomplished 75% of their manifesto; what are those achievements -- because I ain't feel it.

My response was 'good question' -- and starting to think hard -- I quickly came up with the free school books' programme -- and then I very soon tapered out.

This sent me the next day looking at that NDC election manifesto of 2008 to refresh myself (even though I should have known the details from adam).

Either the Prime Minister does not have a clue, or was just deliberately trying to mislead, or just read what they gave him without thinking -- or all of the above -- when he made that 75 % accomplishment claim.

Maybe his math might be fuzzy, or was a weakling in school when it came to calculating fractions and percentages.

Having read the manifesto, I would still like a detailed explanation of where that 75% came from -- and an itemizing of exactly what are the details.

Being around politics, I understand hyperbole and the science of stretching the truth.

Having known all the people who made utterances at the last rally too well -- I however refuse to believe they were deliberately telling a series of lies. (Accuse me of living in denial if you will).

Fuzzy mathematical calculation was not the only offering on the infamous July 8, 2012.

It was a good day for the New National Party.

For a moment I thought Keith Mitchell and Tillman Thomas were playing tag team on the population.

They were both bashing NDC -- and nobody raised a voice in its defense.

The Prime Minister's argument for having the Gouyave rally was that his team can report to the people on the plans and progress of the government.

Other than throwing that "seventy five percent" surprise on us, there was little about that.

According to Glen Noel -- the biggest achievement of this government is that he has the ability to "throw one stone" and all his enemies -- real and perceived -- scattered.

Just this example shows how much trouble we are in; as is the Prime Minister's weekly manifesto of "infantile hate" that is published by his surrogates on his willing behalf and wink-eyed approval.

It's enough to declare a state of emergency when you realize that these people who write these drivel are the main advisors of the Prime Minister. (How do you pin-down sand-minded brains to an intellectual debate? It is still one of the mysteries of this world).

You see why I am getting worried that 16 cabinet members with such dumb advisors -- can make decisions for 100, 000 Grenadians?

(Naz, I think I'll take my chances with the 40 executive members deciding for 1,000 members -- at least the ratio is smaller).

But seriously, those Epistles of St Thomas are an indictment not just on this government -- but on we the people that prop it up in our name.

When people question their record, they revert to childish name calling such as "that wretch from Miami" and that "red nastiness" or that "midget from Canada."

Serious, guys -- these are your best shot?

Whatever you think of me -- the people of Munich and Mt Horne (and I am sure many other places) still have a question they'd like answered: When will we feel the benefit of the seventy five percent?

If July 8th, 2012 was the time for the government to account, then the record is clear: hate and fear.

Hate Peter David, because he is fresh enough to ask tough questions about working people, and who has become -- as you put it -- a "rebel'' for feeling their pain and the lack of empathy from a government that champions good governance but practices bad politics.

Hate Hamlet Mark, because he vex. (You all saying that quiet so. Seriously, I am fricking vex)

Fear the revolution boys -- never mind Naz and Glen sitting on the platform.

Fear Jonah, because he is about to come back.

This government has sold the people hate and fear -- and now that is what it reaps.

The people of Munich and Mt Horne (and many places in between) hate their conditions and fear their increasing pauperization.

And they are thinking about something like change. But they don't want to call it by that name -- because we have all given change a bad name.