Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Political grandstanding won't save us

IT IS LIKE all the tough lessons I have had to learn, I learnt them in the last two weeks.
   I had an informative casual sit down with one of the region's biggest investors in hotels, malls and real estate -- an aging American millionaire with investments in a few islands who strangely has socialist sensibilities.
   And, as the luck of the draw will have it, I ran into a St Lucian technocrat who works as a senior official of the International Monetary Fund -- and through my probing and questioning had another informative two-hour chat about the magnitude of the economic challenges facing all these islands, and how possibly they can get out of it.
   Add that, to the recent comments by St Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony who described the current regional economic situation as a "tragedy of the times."
He said that the  Caribbean is "in the throes of a major crisis like it has never ever experienced before".
   "Make no mistake about it, our region is in the throes of the greatest crisis since independence. The spectre of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination. How our societies crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and high unemployment is the single most important question facing us at this time," he recently said during a lecture series in Barbados.
  With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago where oil and gas revenues keep the economy buoyant, and Guyana with its broad agricultural and mineral base, the economic picture of the majority of Caricom countries is grim. Yet, some governments try to airbrush from the portrait of rising poverty, rising unemployment, rising debt and declining economic growth.
  And there are even more dangers on the horizon -- none more so than with potential changes in the Petrocaribe arrangement next year, with Venezuela amidst its own dire economic headaches.
   While the Venezuelan government has promised to keep Petrocaribe intact, it has quietly cut oil shipments, and may be contemplating pushing up interest rates and modifying repayment terms.
   According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, any such changes could have deep and lasting impacts on small countries accustomed to propping up their economies with the shipments.
  The threat of any change to the Petrocaribe repayment terms is especially frightening for small islands that are heavily reliant on Venezuelan oil, it further reported. Without Petrocaribe shipments, they will be forced to turn to the open market, where they will pay the going rate without the long-term financing option.
  The picture might become clearer at a crucial Petrocaribe meeting in Caracas on December 16.
   Recently I have been studying the Antigua situation -- and they have come through a particularly tough period. Added to the same problems all the other islands shared, they had the Stanford debacle.
  The Baldwin Spencer administration had to have taken some tough and bold decisions -- and after four years of "negative growth" -- they had some real growth for the first time last year. They are expected to see more growth this year as well.
  The stewardship of the economy in recent years under Finance Minister Harold Lovell has come in for high praise from the technical people.
  Of course Antigua is likely to have general elections early next year -- and as we all know from experience, things get distorted ten-fold in an election campaign.
  I witnessed an opposition Antigua Labour Party rally nearly two weeks ago - and while, like in those things it made good theatre -- when you cut off the fluff you come to acknowledge that these things are political grandstanding that have no real solutions.
  Which brought my mind back to Grenada, and the measures that the current government have been forced to take to save the land from virtual total economic collapse.
  We can return to the finger-pointing and the blame-gaming.
  But as in Antigua -- and in all those other islands -- political grandstanding won't save us.
  Imagine in the last month Grenada wasted weeks of debating time on a six percent increase for 15 men and women -- that amounted to under $100 each when you take out the taxes.
   But that's the stories of our lives -- we trade in low political currencies, when there is a higher stake reality that could consume all of us.
  The times are too dire; the challenges are too great for our debate to be that cheap.
  Let's all lift our games!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

With the highest and lowest regards!

THE humorous streak in me stands completely amused with how just a small leadership core of the NDC has gotten into a hissy fit with the publication last week of two internal emails, which graphically explain the continuing problems of this beleaguered party.

  In a classic attempt at diversion -- and poor things, I understand the attempt as amateur as it is -- they have failed to discredit the emails -- instead complaining about everything else under the sun.

  (Truthfully I am not surprised, since Naz, in his eternal cowardice, has outsourced the think-tanking of the party to Jenny Rapier, Kem Jones and Randal Robinson -- people who intellectually won't challenge his assertions).

   Instead of at best trying to address the issues raised in the emails, or at worse lying low on the issue -- they have immaturely and laughably attempted to cuss everyone remotely supportive of any government idea.

  And on that note by the way -- they have not yet offered a coherent alternative to the policies of readjustment the government has proposed.

  Decrying the measures proposed by government is the easy part. Having done that -- what is the alternative plan at development, given the challenges?

  Even while some fret at the current government, the NDC will continue to remain an unattractive option to the mass of people, unless it can offer genuine alternative arguments to a development path, without the default argument that -- well -- Keith is the devil.

  That "devil" got re-elected only a few months ago. 15-nil to boot.

  Maybe people opted to vote for the devil they know, rather than the one they thought they knew. But that's aside.

  In this meandering (lol), my real topic is about the aftermath of "Emailgate." 

  Some of the arguments I have heard lately that have come out in the name of NDC, have had me wondering, how the party of George Brizan and the new NDC of 2003-2008, has sunk so ineffectively low in its articulation of whatever vision it has.

  I listened Glen Noel the other night on the "Beyond the Headlines'' programme, and obviously while I would not necessarily agree on every point he made, I thought he sounded reasonable.

  In fact, I feel that since the general elections he has matured in his political analysis and outlook.

  Obviously he has his party to defend -- and you can't begrudge him his right to opposition.

  But I am having the feeling that he is not having the influence over the party's direction as he might want. And that's understandable. (The Nazim Burke wing never ever fancied him anyhow; though, for their own survival's sake, I am sure they'll have to break bread after February 2).

   While I know they won't listen to Noel, I would have thought that they'd listen to Vincent Roberts though.

  In my limited discussions with Roberts over the months, I find him to have a level of intellectual maturity that should allow him to have something to offer positively.

  The relatively brief discourses I have had with Noel, Roberts and the likes of Lingham Samuel and William Joseph have been thought-provoking, creative, useful and respectful.

  They have given me endless food for thought (and I hope I have given them too), and there is a basis there for balanced intellectual debate that will make all of us better.

  Nobody has all the answers; nor is any of us faultless -- but we can only seek enlightenment in the market place of ideas.

  Which has made me believe that the 'outsourcing' theory I have heard from inside the NDC seems to be credible.

    Maybe the likes of William Joseph and Faye Thompson need to return to the Strategy Committee meetings and assert their influences.

  But in a facetious way -- and frankly for my own political reasons  -- I am actually loving things as they are.

  And if I can judge from the contents of the emails, the penchant for turning people who have a strong alternative views, into enemies, remains.

  I remember those cherished internal debates I used to have in 2003 and 2008 with people such as William Joseph and Stephen Fletcher.

  There were times we got to near blows. But none of us ever took them personally -- and the comradeship always remained.

   But I could never have said that about the core of the NDC that seems to be in control of the party right now.

  And you would have thought that they had learnt.

  At the first convention after the 2008 general election, I remember remarking to a couple of the comrades, that it is not the lack of a coherent policy that will kill the party and government; but lack of internal love and regard.

  It took me no pleasure to say years later that both my sense and analysis have proven me right.

   Whoever has the biggest influence over the party now still has not learnt how to deal with debate and with people with strong dissenting views.

  They have not learnt. And because of where I sit, I say -- thankfully!

  But as Randal and Kem would remind me -- that's none of my business. And they are right.

   Good job, guys!

(PS: In the interest of full disclosure, I should announce I take full pleasure in the current state of affairs of the NDC, because it allows me to feed my ego. It proves what I was saying since 2010 was right -- again!)

(PS2: The current state of things could not happen to some nicer people. Merry Christmas to Naz and Cudjoe (Chris DeRiggs), Jenny and Bernard Isaac. Much love from me, Tricks, Glen, Willie, Gerry, Quarless, Walker, Livington. BTW -- Pedro, Chess, Joe and Glynis send their regards. I saw a couple of them at the Green rally last week).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Clearing the way for February 2

THE opposition National Democratic Congress -- well effectively the Nazim Burke faction -- is holding a retreat this weekend, as the wing plans the February 2 "coronation" of Burke as the leader.
  The party  which said -- conveniently -- during the last election that "no Tillman, no NDC" -- is moving full speed ahead inspite of what Patrick Simmons, or Livingstone Nelson, or Allie Dowden -- or for that matter William Joseph might say; to a post Tillman era dominated exclusively by Burke.
  His forces are hoping for a "negotiated settlement" with Thomas, but are preparing to fight him, if he does not stand down.
  Typical Tillman, he has given no indication as to exactly what he would do. In fact he has at times given conflicting signals.
   There is even real pause in the George Worme camp as to whether Burke's leadership might be a good thing for the NDC.
  He has been making loud noises about that lately. (Well if Worme is fretting: I will wager a strong bet Tillman is too -- for that is his adviser).
   The problem with Worme, Simmons, Dowden, Joseph and the like though -- is that they have no power to stop Burke's march.
  You heard it here first -- whether they or Thomas, like it or not, his team lead by the likes of Jenny Rapier -- have now effectively "harassed" enough people out of positions of influence inside of the party -- that people with a dissenting view have become largely politically impotent.
    The people promoting either Franka Bernadine or Simmons, do not have the numbers to pull it off -- and the Bernadine nor Simmons the political belly to fight for it.
   Truth be told, they'll only accept if literally given on a platter.
   But the people who would have otherwise fight for them, are in no position to do so -- systematically sidelined since the last election by the Naz crew.
  A recently letter sent to Burke by one of those people -- and I will withhold the name for now -- complained that "the NDC is no longer a party that cares about it own. Its companion is ingratitude."
  Now this is not 2010 or 2011 -- this is 2013.
  So what has changed? May I ask?

I am publishing two e-mails of complaint that were sent in recent days to Burke, the effective NDC political leader in waiting.  I am doing so with no editorial comment.
  I do not necessarily agree with every point the authors make -- only that they highlight in a general way some of the points I have been making for NDC for three years.
  And that the problem with NDC was not Peter or Glynis, or even Tillman for that matter -- but that they were more complex than people have argued they were -- and they won't get fixed soon because there is still an absence of genuineness and regard.

One final point -- as one good executive member of NDC asked me the other day -- why do I care about what they do about the leadership.

Well its frankly because of this. NDC is more than just its members. It is not a boy scout club. It is a party that is seeking to run the country -- and so what it does have broader implications for people who are not even members of the party.

But here we go.

email one:

Dear Mr Deputy Political Leader

I am directing this note to you on account of our exchanges on this matter by e-mail over the last few weeks and your leadership in that regard.

You will be aware that an invitation has been issued to me, as a member of the Strategy Committee, to attend a Retreat on Sunday.

Curiously, the invitation does not say what the subject matter of the Retreat is, nor what is the expected role of members of Strat. This is highly unusual !

I do believe that the Retreat may well have  emerged due to very strong representation made by myself (and others) for the Party to begin to address the important matter of its future following the elections.

Please know that I require to have some knowledge and clarity of the focus of the planned Retreat so that I may finalise my own personal planning in relation thereto.

Further, out of an abundance of goodwill for what is in the 'BEST INTEREST' of the NDC, I do hope that the Retreat is not laden with intolerance of divergent views, nor a perceived need to organise things so as to virtually side-line any such views or the holders of any such views.

I wish it to be known by all that I will not lend myself to any process that is packaged to suit any individual player in NDC politics. I am hopeful that the recent lessons of division within the NDC are foremost in everyone's minds and that we are all driven by the 'NDC CAUSE' and not by personal preferences, claims or dreams. The future of the NDC is not to be tied up with the future of individuals, big or small. What is at stake and the work to be done are too important for us to engineer a new round of in-fighting, born of differences of opinion or interests.

The depth of my feeling on this matter is so strong that I would have no difficulty if the invitation to attend is withdrawn. Similarly, if a constructive  response to this e-mail is not received in good time, I would not attend the Retreat, as a first step.

With every good wish


(name omitted)

e-mail 2:


I am taking this unusual approach to clarify my position on this subject as the situation appears to be rapidly deteriorating.
For some time now, I have been aware of all kinds of gossip and conjecture within NDC circles as to why I do not favour Mr Burke as leader of the NDC. There has even been a laughable view that my disfavour is due to “jealousy”! About two months ago, I also faced a threat of physical harm which I described to some of you then as “goon politics”. But when I was reliably informed, on a first-hand basis, of a downright fabrication by Jenny Rapier that I told her I wanted to run in St George North-East, as candidate, I was completely floored. The line has been crossed! I understand that she is a fierce promoter of Mr Burke and I respect her right so to do.
Mrs Rapier would know that she and I have never had any conversation on any subject matter, far less one regarding political ambitions on my part. The truth be told, I have no such ambitions. So to tell people what she has been reportedly saying is a deadly lie.
Let us understand this well. Coming from the same village, I know who Jenny is, but I don’t ‘know’ her. I have known and admired her family for many years and so I am taken aback by the display of a character trait that I would not have associated with her. It is one thing to speculate and to search for explanations about my position, it is quite another to propagate an untruth, and to do so in my name.
Just as an aside, I was the one who stood up to Mr Burke at the Pearls’ elections-eve rally when he was determined that Jenny be removed as the MC, because in his view she was ineffective. He contended that people were calling by phone to ask that she be replaced.  When challenged about the latter he could not maintain that he had actually received any such phone calls. Think of the embarrassment and other consequences that would have caused!  Faye Thompson and I had to locate ourselves in the enclosed area in front of the stage to give encouragement to Jenny to press on.
Resuming, everyone should know that I have no duty to explain why I do not favour Mr Burke as leader. I believe that each person has a right to support whomsoever they wish, without having to explain themselves to others. As far as I know, no one has approached me to explain why they support him. We must all enjoy this right. Nonetheless, I am prepared to openly share my reasons, if that becomes necessary. In all of this, I am driven by what I believe to be the best interests of the NDC.
I consider myself to be a first- generation NDC-ite. I was the first man to be victimised by Mitchell in 1995 on account on my sympathies for the NDC. I have worked as hard as any other, perhaps harder than most, in the NDC’s cause, especially since 2001. So my NDC credentials are impeccable. My brother knows well how many years and in how many ways I have stood with him since he became an MP and as Minister.
What has become bothersome to me is the discovery of behavioural clones of Mitchell, Coard, Peter, Glynis, Arley, Joe, Church, Hood and Chester in today’s NDC. I shudder to think what would happen if some persons had political power at their command.  My humble appeal is that all those who have the best interests of the NDC at heart should seek to influence positive change before another round of ugliness hits the NDC.
The genesis of the current unease is to be found in Mr Burke’s shockingly inexplicable response to a view I expressed in a closed meeting of the PR Committee just after the elections. On that occasion, I said to Burke and Glen that coming out of the campaign they were “raw meat” in people’s eyes and therefore we should find new faces and voices to speak for the NDC, for the time being. That was my honestly held view, containing no malice. In fact, it was a view held by many people at the time, even to this day.
Since then, I appear to have been declared ‘PERSONA NON GRATA’. In fact, this was what informed the spirit of duplicity which surrounded preparations for the party retreat a few months ago. I raised my voice very strongly then because I knew the background and context of what had been planned. Some people thought that my response was harsh and arrogant, which I do not deny. However, they were unaware of the ‘provocation’, its nature and purpose, in the first place. The advice and caution that one should not just listen to what Mitchell says, but pay attention to what he does, applies full-square to Mr Burke himself.
  I am aware that efforts by a well-positioned lady member to have the matter ‘nipped in the bud’ were flatly rebuffed by Mr Burke. I remain disappointed that no other person on the NDC Executive has thought it fit to intervene in this unfortunate situation. This speaks volumes by itself, as apparently the NDC is no longer a party that cares about its own. Its companion is ingratitude. Practising discrimination and the uninformed or biased taking of sides cannot be right.  We seem to be quite ready and willing to make enemies of one another. This cannot be good for the party. Organisational reforms without personal change will not bring success. I urge all those who truly love him to speak with him.
My considered opinion is that if Mr Burke does not re-settle his ego and pride, and if others do not lift a finger to help to resolve this matter, things will not get any better, publicly and internally. Any such development will not be in the best interest of the NDC. If I am entitled to certain rights as an individual and as a member of the Party, then I expect such rights to be respected.
Intolerance and good governance are irreconcilable. Indifference and good governance are also irreconcilable.  

(once again, name omitted).

For what its worth, I just thought those two made interesting reading.

There are some issues there I used to be very familiar with.