While it may appear at times that we are joined more by conflict than positive commonalities, there is no doubt that in the Caribbean region we need to work together if the lot of our people is to be improved.
Similarly, while many Caribbean people may have more than reasonable justification for not having much faith in the regional integration movement, given its clear weaknesses over the past two decades, there is no doubt that we would all be worse off without CARICOM.
In simple language, we can achieve a lot more together than we can individually.
That’s why all Caribbean people should make it their business to keep constantly aware of what is happening in each other’s country. We in Barbados may not be able to vote in Trinidad, but we should never appear disinterested in, for example, next January’s elections for a new Tobago House of Assembly. After all, if nothing else, at least discussions about flying fish should hold some importance to us.
And how can we separate, by way of example, the plight of so many Barbadian CLICO and British American Insurance policyholders from the impact the state of these two companies and those who managed them have had on the people of St. Vincent, St. Lucia and the other member nations of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
Then there are the occasions and events that don’t directly touch us like the previously mention issues, but which from an education perspective, ought to stir our interest. Today’s issue of the Jamaica Observer newspaper carries one such story that fits this category.
We believe Bajans should give it some thought because to a large extent it equates with our current pre-general elections state, which in a matter of weeks or months will leave either the Barbados Labour Party or the Democratic Labour Party as a loser at the polls.
In the Observer story, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, speaking at his Jamaica Labour Party’s 69th annual conference, the first since the JLP lost the elections to Portia Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party, declared that campaigning by his party for the 2016 general elections had officially begun.
“We don’t intend to start campaigning a year before election is due,” Holness said. “The political campaign starts now.”
We are not unmindful of the need of a political party, particularly after an election loss, to start to put its house in order from early. After all, in a region where election dates are set by the party in power, an opposition leader who does not keep his party in a constant state of readiness can only be described as foolhardy.
But what is the primary purpose of a political party? Is it winning elections? Can a party consumed daily by the thought of winning the next election be in the best place to serve its country? And this is relevant whether that party is in opposition or government.
When a political party is thinking only about election how can the electorate trust its judgements, it pronouncement, especially when it is perceived that the party’s interest trumps the national interest? We are not suggesting this will be the case with Holness and his JLP, but will an opposition party in perpetual election mode not feel obligated to oppose for the sake of opposing?
Political parties in our Caribbean islands have much in common, and when an election is approaching an aware electorate can most often distinguish the fluff of electioneering from the serious.
But imagine a BLP and DLP in constant campaign mode. Citizens would have no choice but to question the sincerity of statements from ministers; to question whether a contract was awarded to the company with the best quote or the one that promised the “best return on investment” in the campaign; whether a social policy was really for the benefit of the recipients or simple vote buying; whether when the Opposition said a piece of legislation was not in the best interest of the country they really meant not in the best interest of the party — and the list could go on and on.
No matter how we stretch it, massage it, twist it, turn it, we can’t seem to decrease our discomfort with this concept of five-year election campaigns. It just seems to be more party-centred than nation-centred.