Tuesday, 22 February 2011 06:55
By Dr. Isaac newton
From the far corners of the Grand Canyon of Hope I wonder aloud: When will our practice of nation-building take the form of the greater good?
Our government fails partly because we view the process of good governance merely in terms of reducing red-tape bureaucracy, and through chaos-prone, colour-coded politics. We are opposed to engaging in conscientious awakenings that nurse national transformations.
What I have been warning and writing about is coming to fruition. The path to our country’s moral progress and development maturity is at risk. The power of objective dialogue has not yet won the battle against blind political loyalties. If Gandhi’s words are to come true - “we must be the change we wish to see” - our need to create a national vision that advances the cause of justice for the poor; that accents the quality of life for all; and that addresses the roots of socio-political control will be a struggle of ideals.
The impulses that give shape to Antigua & Barbuda being frozen in a dream lived backward involves Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer’s narrow appeal and impact on nation-building. He has failed to provide intellectual and moral direction toward putting the country on the right track. The sum of his indecisions and actions has resulted in a movement that is disregarding the voice of the people with pretenses of listening to them. Unfortunately, Spencer has enacted policies and laws that are crippling the democratic energies of residents and citizens, to the detriment of the soul of the nation.
In these times of austerity, should our leaders be paying attention, doing nothing better, or using their imagination to do something that advances prosperity? Like being trapped in a horror room, we all have become inadvertently hooked on continuing the myth of party superiority in exchange for neglecting the role of cultural values, organic institutions, and qualified men and women needed for national growth.
For example, look at how millions of taxpayers’ dollars are leaving the country and ending up in foreign hands while local talent is starving at home. Clearly, there are no recovery programmes to suggest that the Minister of Finance Harold Lovell does not enjoy looking at the economy with his eyes closed. Either he likes the dark, or prefers being in the dark. But I can’t see how he benefits from getting it half-right. He is concerned with repaying debt, but not with expanding the productive bowels of the economy.
I admit that most of the fireballs pelted at the minister do not put forward better alternatives. Nonetheless, the minister has not shown a willingness to adopt available indigenous talents. His actions are filled with fuzzy thinking. Lovell has stubbornly refused practical insights to cost containment. He has arrogantly distance himself from opening bottlenecks and tilting infrastructure to take advantage of the next wave of innovation. He has recklessly turned away from strategies to enable the market by supporting conditions for growth. Perhaps it may take a near-death experience to wake the minister up. Handling Corruption
In Antigua & Barbuda, politicians and a handful of supporters benefit from hidden and open corruption, without any fear of consequences. How did our political leaders get to behave badly in public office as a matter of principle? Isn’t it true that those who benefit from corruption, directly and indirect, are responsible for it?
Collective responsibility requires that all those who held, and now hold public office, must be made to repay the debt of malfeasance through a reliable process of making restitution for public transgressions. Otherwise, our chatter about morality in public office will continue to ring hollow.
Pay attention to our self-sacrificing ancestors. What do we need to do to reduce corruption and mediocrity? We have normalized them to serve talk-politics and self-interest.
For sure, we can no longer pretend that we don’t know the intricacies of how corruption is a nice way of disguising our greed. It is the mainstay of creating instant millions for some while relegating others to permanent poverty. Today, the equivalent of proud mediocrity could be found in rationalisations of blame and blame back. Our attitudes have subjugated the nation to sub-par leadership standards and learnt helplessness by the masses.
But this seductive denial rests on some dubious assumptions. We assumed that corruption and mediocrity are superficial political problems. They are expressions of broader cultural values and personal needs.
So, we trimmed ourselves down to the ground to the point that we accept the trilogy of corruption, crime, and incompetence. They are part of the water we drink and the beaches we swim in. Now, disillusionment has joined the gang. Our challenge is not to condemn one form of political glitch while implicitly embracing another.
The obvious path to consider as an alternative is to answer: What role should each of us play in turning this mess around? How responsible are we to advance structures, behaviours and mindsets that are tantamount to our national progress? Can we have an honest public discussion without making shameful excuses for our political leaders and ourselves?Scrutinizing the Government
What the good people in the Middle East are doing proves that change comes when people are willing to sacrifice limbs, lives, and personal comfort to rid society of social malady and ethical disease.
Yet, in Antigua & Barbuda, we are so afraid of speaking the truth for the sake of justice and the common good. With all of the storm and stir over how poorly previous administrations have managed the affairs of the state, the United Progressive Party (UPP), after being at helm for over seven years, has not demonstrated any inkling of good governance based on coalition leadership.
The alarming lack of capacity, competence, clarity, coherence, credibility, and confidence evidenced in countless planned missteps and calculated errors is catastrophic.
It is ethically unacceptable that the UPP’s style of leadership has boiled down to a string of empty excuses. These excuses have become a dead-beat horse of blaming others without adding substantial value to the developmental challenges facing the nation. In this setting, yearly themes promoting "family and unity" haven’t done much to consolidate community initiatives or improve family life in the midst of dilapidated villages.
Besides the singular drumbeat that the government “is still cleaning up the mess,” the UPP has not been successful at delivering at least 10 percent of its projected promises. It fusses over balancing the challenges of the continuity of government with the expectations of the people. The fact that good governance is meted out in the practicalities of "all governments inherit" is cast aside. Yes, the past may be a guide to the future, but the past is not the future. The government’s shortcoming is that it did not try its own hand at provoking fresh thinking about the past or at providing new insights into the future.
What has sadly occurred is an image of a prime minister who has already been retired by history, and whose performance illustrates that the statute of limitations on his administrative credentials has expired. Who dares speak such a truth to Spencer without being shut out from participating in the advancement of Antigua & Barbuda?
In part, the PM gets away with poor leadership because of the absence of moral critique coming from the religious community. There are ugly allegations of corruption, yet the religious community has not lifted a voice of condemnation or created conditions to reinforce the need for integrity in public office. Added to this mystique is the lack of a social movement where people are animated with national pride to fight for the common good. Mulling it Over
Over 75 percent of citizens and residents have chosen to remain strategically silent as the government continues its legacy of poor performance riddled with allegations of wrongdoing. Frequently, there is passionate rhetoric and toothless legislation, both of which highlight principles of transparency, anti-corruption, and freedom of information in words. But we undermine them in practice.
Positive community action that drives advocacy groups and non-for-profit organisations to radical change should be pursued. By building on the foundations of personal responsibility and political transformation, conscientious voices should be protecting the poor. Too many enlightened elites don’t show empathy for the plight of women, for homelessness, for joblessness, for the elderly, for children, and for those who are being victimized.
I think we should reserve our bow of authenticity for the grain, as one of the smallest hopes of life. In the abundance of rain or not, the grain lives. Its power and beauty is in its capacity to grow. Similarly, if we make the democratic commitment to be good public stewards of our inherited independence, we could create ecological models and economic solutions tied to cultural renewal that will become an unstoppable engine of sustainable development.
The call is for Antiguans & Barbudans to use their fertile imaginations to make government work in the interest of collective betterment. Clearly, the moment is ripe to rid ourselves of fear and fury. I admit that the way forward is intricate, but conquerable. Together we must apply people-driven courage and leadership integrity to rescue the nation.
Still, it may take the religious community to capture tipping points that force political leaders to practice good governance. Faith-based organisations should become a moral force for political renewal in these islands, and therefore, they must operate above political preferences to facilitate this process.
Perhaps our moral leaders are ready to provide a contrary, positive, principled, and sane voice to the mess that we have come to enjoy. The path to greatness is a journey. Be resolved to take it like a young girl in love.
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.