He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ – Luke 5:36-39 (NIV)
After thirty years of independence, we are now at a crossroads. Given the state of affairs and the political tensions that have been swarming in our midst, it is now time to take stock, to see from where we have come and to where we want to go. From the onset, I have to confess that I am partisan to the PRINCIPLES of the UNITY construct, of political parties putting aside their political differences, and working together to find solutions to the common threats that have divided the very fabric of our society, be it social, economic or political. I have heard those with vested interests opining that this is a “construct of convenience” and also a “hypocritical farce,” but I realize that the same can be said of the grouping of those individuals who enunciate those same sentiments.
Although there is potential for better days ahead if this UNITY construct succeeds, there are real challenges that have to be faced and dealt with head on if it is to become more credible and be a force to be reckoned with in the political arena.
What is being heralded in our midst can simply be described as a paradigm shift, which according to the Oxford dictionary, is “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions”. I hope to show in this article that in order to embrace this paradigm shift and make it become viable, to succeed and be sustainable, we all need a new mindset and new rules of governance in our Federation; hence the need to pour new wine into new wineskins. The new mindset shifts power from the politicians and puts it squarely in the hands of the people, and the new rules of governance in all of its glory are designed so that if there is any advantage to be gained, it is for the people and not the politicians.
Looking back, we have to appreciate that as a Federation, we are blessed but at the same time we have made several blunders along the way. Although these blunders can be construed in a negative light, I choose to approach them positively as lessons learnt. As our forefathers have struggled to make our Federation a better place, we should express our gratitude by being good stewards of those gains. One of the contributing factors to the political quagmire we have found ourselves in today has been the “asset-rich” land-for-debt swap that caused two ministers to break rank with their leader and snubbing the “collective responsibility of cabinet.” We were told that the debt was at an unsustainable level and the excuse given was that this debt was amassed due to external and internal shocks, such as the global financial downturn, unsustainable sugar industry and hurricanes. Although this superficial justification seems reasonable to the masses, on deeper reflection, we should recognize that the unsustainable debt was a symptom of gross executive irresponsibility and negligence. Why? Because if we do not hold our leaders responsible for their miscalculations, they will always blame it on the rain, when they fail to prepare or save for a rainy day!
We are also blessed in the that we have one of the oldest and most successful Citizenship by Investment Programmes in the world, and likewise, the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF). Under the IMF structural adjustment programme, it is the SIDF that is funding much of the fiscal activity that is occurring in our midst. Given the increase in electricity rates, the cost of living and the cost of doing business are higher, and are posing major challenges to vulnerable individuals and companies, respectively. It boggles my mind why SIDF funds have not been used to finance the mobilisation and construction of the geothermal project in Nevis, which would have greatly benefited the people of the Federation. Imagine what would have happened to the cost of living, the cost of doing business, the competitive advantage and multiplier effect of attracting further local and foreign investments in the Federation? How better could one have helped diversify the economy after the closure of the sugar industry?
We are also blessed in that we have a lot of fertile lands in the Federation, but I was shocked to learn recently that 80% of our food is imported! Why is this land not developed and our farmers not given incentives to cultivate the land to help feed our people with healthier food, so that most of the income stays within the communities? There would be further multiplier effects such as more employment, more community engagements, and most of all healthier families and communities. We have to get it clear in our minds that there is difference between servitude and service, where servitude occurs when our efforts basically enrich our “masters”, but service occurs when our efforts enrich our family and communities. Much work needs to be done in dealing with the mental block that is inhibiting our people from coming together and working together for the greater good.
We are also blessed in that we have many bright, passionate and charismatic leaders in our Federation. However, what we have seen over the years is that this smartness is being used to win elections, rather than win the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of the present generation. But who could blame them if our politically tribalistic mindset and rules of governance place more power in their hands than the people they serve? And in a winner-takes-all, first-past-the post system, how is this serving the best interest of the people? What is happening right now in the Federation should not have come as a surprise to anyone, as sooner or later, such brinkmanship was fated to occur. It is a moot point at this juncture whether this was by accident or design. All that can be said, is that such a mindset and rules of governance are unhealthy, as it fosters without impunity the use of public funds, in all of its machinations, for private gains, be it individual or party.
I can readily understand why many people would be skeptical that the UNITY construct is viable. If we perceive the UNITY construct as one of convenience for power hungry men with the same tribalistic mindset, we would be pouring old wine in old wineskins and our country would be no better off. How can we trust our present and future leaders when they purport to have our best interest at heart, and when they have the audacity to tell us they will be pouring new wine into new wineskins?
The way forward requires that we now ask ourselves these questions. How can we help our leaders distill good wine, by helping change the modus operandi of the political discourse and debate, from one based less on hatred and fear, to one based more on love, caring and sharing? How can we help distill better wine where we capitalize less on the sweat, blood and tears of our ancestors and the next generation, and capitalize more on the sweat, blood and tears of the present generation? Finally, how can we distill the best wine, where we stop trying to justify a wrong with another wrong, where we stop deluding ourselves that our actions are inconsequential, and start believing that the wisdom and strength of our nation lies with its people and not the politicians?
We can all help remove any doubt of the sincerity and veracity of the claims of the UNITY construct, by becoming more informed, more politically mature, and using our skills to help the politicians understand, that the power lies not with them, but with us. As Ghandi instructs us, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr admonishes us, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” I see politicians as doctors of constituencies, being diagnosticians and practitioners in preventing, treating, and rehabilitating many of the social, economic and political woes of our societies. And just like medical doctors, they should take that responsibility seriously in fostering partnerships and alliances that are in the best interest of their communities. They should see themselves as catalysts of change, that speed up the rate at which these maladies are solved and our individual and collective rights are protected, but at the same time, they are not consumed in the process. If they get burnt out in their tenure, it is because we have added to and not subtracted from their burden, and if they use the public wealth for private gains, it is because we have given them a free pass and not held them accountable. It goes without saying that they should be compassionate, and confident in their potential and the potential of their communities. They should also surround themselves with competent technical advisers, and be of sound character as they would be called upon to act as ambassadors on our behalf in local, regional and international matters.
We should not be afraid to challenge our politicians to rise to the occasion, to put country above self, to discuss not only their vision but also their concerns with us, and to show them how they can partner with us in helping us make life better for our families, and our communities. Gone should be those days when lots of monies are squandered to encourage unsuspecting citizens to become politicians to put Party above Country. Gone should be those days when monies are wasted to buy votes by encouraging citizens to put Party above Self. Gone should be those days when enormous sums of monies are syphoned off to pay lawyers who put the interests of the government above those of its citizens.
That is money that could have been better used to help develop the infrastructure, be it physical, mental, social and spiritual, that would help us develop the requisite skills to serve our communities better, as we shift away from a culture fermented in political tribalism to one now distilled in national unity.
I am very excited and most definitely ready to embrace this paradigm shift! What about you????