By Dwyer Astaphan
Silly season, slurs, suspicion and political tribalism are linked to the fact that many of us have abandoned our sense of reason and our civility; and in the process, it is corroding the fabric and even the soul of what St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister religiously describes as “our Caribbean civilization”.
This political tribalism and its Siamese twin-the abandonment of reason and civility– become worse during elections. So, for us, ‘the silly season’ is not just an election-time thing when people might be sillier and less reasonable and comported than usual. Instead, our silly season is a year-round, month-to-month, week-to-week, and day-to-day thing.
Every day we cast slurs at each other, every day we accuse each other of one dastardly thing or another, and every day we hurl suspicion and abuse at each other; whether face to face, on our devices, on social media, on the radio. Lies become truth, and truth becomes lies. We believe what and who we want to believe, and we come to conclusions, without taking the time to objectively assess and analyze what or who is before us. And by operating like this, we do ourselves and our country no favours.
And it is the political leaders and their surrogates and operatives who take the lead in this process of corroding the fabric and the soul of our already vulnerable little countries.
They lead, and we follow. All too often without question, and without regard to the integrity of our intellects and character. It seems that we, both the leaders and the followers are conditioned this way. They seem happy to fool us and we seem all-too-willing to be fooled and to celebrate our degradation.
At any given time, one Caribbean country or another is in election mode. Right now, that country is the breathtakingly beautiful island of Dominica. And the silly season, the slurs and the suspicion are in full flight, indeed, on steroids.
But I know a little. I first visited in 1956, when I was 8 years old. I went to school there briefly. I visited regularly during the Summer as a boy. I made lots of friends there. I have lots of families there. I also married a lady born on that island.
Dominica holds a special place in my heart. Special memories. But, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim to be an expert on Dominican politics and affairs. However, having a bit of political, governmental and other experience under my belt, it’s my guess, that there is no small island in CARICOM that is more difficult to administer than Dominica, given its topography, its layout, and the extensive damage and loss it has suffered over the years from weather events.
Election time should be a time of when the celebration of democracy is highlighted by free choices, clear, enlightened, independent-thinking voters, robust, passionate but respectful discussion and debate of the issues, tolerance of each other regardless of whether you agree or disagree, all under the umbrella of that most wonderful of mottos which we in St Kitts and Nevis have: ‘Country Above Self’. And, necessarily, Country Above Party.
Let’s hope that the next generation of voters will take Dominica and the rest of our islands to that level where, by at last showing some self-respect and respect for each other, we can earn the respect of the world. Meanwhile, what do we have? Quarrels between leaders and these quarrels trickle down to their respective followers, as the tribalism is reinforced.
Quarrels, not debates – slurs and suspicion, but little effort to say a kind word or to ascertain fact from fiction. Now I must tell you that I have no horse in the race in the Dominica election, so what follows needs to be examined in that context. I’ll try and tend to call it as I see it.
Some months ago, an allegation that EC$1.2 billion was missing from the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program went viral. I’m not hearing much about it nowadays.
Has it now become a non-issue? If so, then on what basis had it been raised?
Had the person who raised it researched and done the calculus properly, or had he or she thought that it would be an easy thing to score political points with, because the sound of a large sum of money like $1.2 billion would be enough to ‘convince’ people that a wrong had been committed?
Was this a genuine act to inform and challenge, or was it intended to get votes?
Even if the latter is the case, which would be unfortunate, this matter also tells us that the more information governments share, the more they explain, the less will be the slurs and the suspicion. Government of, for and by the people cannot exist if a government does not relentlessly disseminate, and explain to the people what it is doing, and help the people to better understand what’s going on.
Meanwhile, on this same CBI money matter, I heard an explanation voiced by a female with an English accent providing an explanation, and, without knowing any more than the little that I do know, I found her explanation to be plausible and logical. And after giving the breakdown on the number of applications submitted and the number of passports issued, she seemed to reconcile that with the funds received by the government.
The feminine went on to explain how [government] funds from the CBI program were being channelled: housing, agriculture, education, infrastructure, etc. By the way, I saw pictures of some of the homes, and they look quite nice. I hear that several hundred are done.
Dominica’s CBI program seems to be doing very well, and the government there (mind you, I cannot speak to what I don’t know), seems to have the right approach by focusing funds on specific projects on a prioritized basis.
As they’re in their extra silly season, there’s also the story that a certain gentleman is alleged to be a benefactor of the opposition, United Workers Party (UWP) but that party’s leader claims he doesn’t know the gentleman. Isn’t there an easy way to establish the truth of this, and have the matter put to bed, one way or the other?
Political parties the world over have benefactors, and in many, if not most cases, those benefactors want something in return and if their party gets into power, they are likely to get their quid pro quo.
This is how too much of the politics is in everything in this region of ours.
A banquet between the money people and the politicians, with the ordinary folks getting the crumbs. Some benefactors even give to both parties, especially if the election seems to be a close one. What is the benefactor seeking in return? And if a deal is done between the party, through its leader, and the benefactor, does that deal compromise the politician’s integrity and do damage to the public interest? Is the deal legal? Is it ethical?
So, in this case, has it been established that the opposition leader knows Terry Baron and/or Chris HP, whoever those two persons are? And if he knows them, so what? But if he knows them and he says that he doesn’t, then why would he deny knowing them?
Or maybe he really and truly doesn’t know them. That said, I’ll offer this proposition. There are certainly key players in the CBI industry. It is to be expected that they will be interested in the political goings-on in all of the countries in which they are, or in which they wish to be invested, and that means that we can fairly presume that those high-ranking CBI players would know, or know of, and would ordinarily want to ensure access, or would already have access, to every political leader in CBI countries, both in government and opposition.
And that probability would apply if Terry Baron and Chris HP are CBI executives. It would also apply to other types of investors, such as developers, manufacturers, etc., who are interested in a particular place to do business. They will do their research and they will want to get to know the major political players on the ground. And they will make their choices accordingly.
And in the exercise of those choices, money often plays a part. Money for the campaign, or an event, or some other cause. And in exchange, the investor gets his or her quid pro quo.
Now the quid pro quo may be perfectly honourable. The investor might want efficient, dynamic, corruption-free leadership and good governance generally. Or he or she might want something else. So, choices are involved. And the right thing for the politician to do is to act in the best interests of the country.