Tuesday, 29 May 2012 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
On Thursday, Antigua & Barbuda's Parliament will decide on whether PM Baldwin Spencer has the clout to stay in the driver’s seat or become a dead horse.
The PM is likely to take a powerful bruising. Yet, the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) may not get the votes to dethrone him.
It will take a moral punch plus a political miracle to deliver Spencer into the valley of the shadow of death. Wilmoth Daniel, the only Cabinet colleague with whom the PM has had public disagreements, is unlikely to stage a strike against his own party. If he recruits others - senior and junior ministers - the outcome will change.
To toss Spencer into the fire, at least three members on the government’s bench will have to abstain or surprisingly oppose the PM publicly.
This will require an unbelievable wave of personal courage and political sacrifice.The Debate Bottom Line
Ultimately, Spencer and his colleagues will have to answer: How it is that the people are suffering so much under his regime, when compared to previous administrations alleged to be corrupt, but under whose stewardship, the people thrived and prospered?
Up for pounding are the speeches the government gave justifying apparent misdeeds to taxpayers verses the steps the government took to rectify allegations of corruption.
Spencer’s reputation will slide further downhill if legitimate criticisms aimed at restoring accountability are met with finger-pointing blame. Axe grinding the opposition won’t sweep under the carpet major ethical concerns that the nation wants ventilated. Doing this will only hasten the United Progressive Party (UPP) government’s demise.
While the opposition ALP will be demanding honest answers from the UPP, it is likely that the “I” will show up in the “you”. In some sense, the ALP will have to deal with the perception of the pot calling the kettle black.
Yet, if elected officials on both sides were to humanize the debate, they will chart a course of honest self-reflection. Indeed, they could lift Antigua & Barbuda above its present social and economic predicament an awesome achievement. To transcend partisan politics, leaders would have to flesh out mutual responsibilities that attend public service privilege.
The PM must confront the very ugly circumstances that evoked this No Confidence vote. By embracing the biting sentiments that lampoon his public profile, Spencer can take corrective measures to overcome national pressures, and calm his heartbroken but resolved people.Realities Behind the Debate
My intuitive reading of the national mood suggests that the gap between the PM’s good intention and the people’s perception of his leadership credentials is stark. The majority of the people do not expect local or foreign investments to make it to Antigua, except on the lips of party loyalists. Unfortunately, most loyalists are unable to discern the difference between real life facts and political truth.
Most troubling is that more than 68 percent of the people believe that Spencer has taken the country on the wrong economic and social track. The PM’s job approval rate isn’t any better than the application of his good governance policies.
Keen sensing of the political tea leaf by each constituency indicates that fewer than half of the people are optimistic about the next two years, or confident that Spencer has the right solutions for national advancement. But the PM is still enjoying the leadership popularity he gained in 2004 when compared with Finance Minister and Party Chairman Harold Lovell.
In the areas of honesty and anti-corruption, Spencer has dropped considerably in the people’s mind since he trumpeted his trilogy—transparency, integrity in public office, and freedom of information. Perhaps the weakest asset Spencer brings to table is his ability to grow the economy. Eighty percent of the people think that the government’s tax policies are out of touch with fiscal growth strategies.
And in terms of the global financial fallout, an alarming 79 percent reject the PM’s explanation that this factor is solely responsible for the bitter cycle of financial retraction facing the nation.
Eighty-five percent of the people feel that Spencer has no clear plan for fixing problems inherited from previous administrations. Fifty-eight percent believe that the PM will leave the country with a higher debt burden than when he took office.
As allegations of corruption increase, the majority of the population reports that locking up members of the opposition ALP is political patronizing. Yet, the PM gets high marks for his perceived personal traits. Fifty three percent think that Spencer is mild and capable of enjoying lighter amusements. While 39 percent say that he is ruthless to detractors, only four percent see Spencer as a national unifier with an eye for coalition building. But 14 percent believe that the PM is loyal to key supporters.
Although the xenophobia of the past 28 years (of the ALP administration) still lingers somewhat, it is obvious that no one is buying into it anymore. The most severe threats to Spencer’s longevity are the death of the financial sector under his watch, the spiraling joblessness that is adversely affecting young professionals, and the senseless brutality and crime that are plaguing village communities.
Indigenous intelligence reveals that the PM is pursuing several "showcase projects" that leave skilled local workers underemployed and unemployed, with little room to boost the economy. This means that too many families function without a regular income. Middle income families live from hand-to-mouth. Neither parents nor their children are in good health. And local prostitution is on the rise.Fixing the Challenges
Rather than cheer for the government or the opposition, taxpayers should question all elected and appointed officials, and hold them accountable for the overall health of the nation.
If leaders focus on the problems that we face, and how to fix them, they will find bankable answers:
1) Amplify management effectiveness by fine-tuning macroeconomic structures to economic growth;
2) Devise environmental, social and governance solutions by tailoring global insight, indigenous experience, and strategic advice to address needs within specific timelines;
3) Encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs, support community initiatives, and match young professionals with capital to revitalize the business sector.
A collective commitment to people and innovative ideas will significantly improve the performance scorecards of elected and appointed leaders.
Problem-solving ideas that manage risk, promote cultural values, and drive new perspectives to social and economic well-being can make the crooked straight.
In this context, it is necessary, even if it’s controversial, for the PM to be faced with a "No Confidence" vote. The possibilities for national progress have never been brighter. Therefore, Spencer can use this as a catalyst to transform the nation. I hope he turns it around, from a painful ordeal to something positive!
Dr Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.