OFF CENTRE: Who, really, am I voting for?

Sherwyn Walters,

Added 05 February 2013

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Likely minister of something? Economics guru (or at least somebody whose party has one)? Divider of the spoils of victory? Or fair and passionate representative of the good causes of constituents? Builder of genuine community? Pursuer of better constituency governance? Advocate and zealous co-architect of a better social fabric? These aren’t playfully asked questions. They touch central issues in the shaping and execution of our democracy. At the end of this season of bottling dew and character assassination and lies, damn lies and statistics and all manner of things that should not be spoken in decent company (or any company, really) and bombast and microphone earnestness, what should it mean to be the Member of Parliament for my constituency? For sure, it shouldn’t mean that you and others will “rule” the country with a focus on parliamentary domineering. Or on ministerial management – as important as that is. Or on a welfaristic interpretation of your role in relation to constituents. Or on dispensing largesse to your supporters. As we are a nation and a democracy, you should be fervently pursuing genuine representation, better frames of constituency governance (especially the involvement of the people as controllers of that local space), authentic building of community and the development of the social fabric. Surely, democratic nationhood is elementally about those things. Yes, I know you and your party have tackled specific areas (finance, tourism and the like) – and it is essential that we get effective performance in those areas – but all these cast the people merely in the role of receivers rather than crafters, with the politicians being the only craftsmen of our fate (which I am sure is not the intent contemplated by our National Anthem). We cannot treat Barbados as if it has already fashioned a sophisticated enough democracy in which there are clear, potent, undoubtedly operative avenues for the people to truly impact governance beyond voting. Don’ get tie up! We are crying out for means of democratically influencing not only the national sphere but the local sphere as well. Where in other places there are means for determinative people participation in shaping the governance of boroughs, counties, cities and so on, we simply have central government. And we must remember that constituency councils do not substitute for real governance at the local level. They narrow the people and the constituency space down to a set of physical needs (which should be attended to, mind you). But those councils are not structures for the genuine advancement of people’s democratic stake. They may even be seen as part of a welfare bent that has burgeoned out of control in Barbados, birthing a “who you know” pragmatism that has reached dangerous levels and has seen an erosion of fairness and self-reliance, while spawning an ever-growing partisanship. A latter-day dependence on “massa” is encouraged, with “massa” being the politician. It furthers, too, the Barbadian politician’s seeming interpretation of citizens as simply a bunch of put-upon, self-pitying mendicants. So despite a heritage of resourcefulness and make-do and coping, the politicians are majoring on making us out to be mere salt-sucking, oh-poor-me’s waiting on their deliverance. Concerning nurturing a strong sense of community, politicians have, to me, made mock-sport at it, unsuccessfully, untenably placing on football tournaments and street fairs and such the unbearable weight of profoundly building community. How are those things tending us towards our responsibilities to one another, building up pervasive communal conviction about worthy values? On the closely related deep matter of seriously strengthening our social fabric, there is no real divide between our two major parties. They are both failures. One side says, “Barbados is more than an economy – it is a society”, but even its supposed implementation of that are grounded in an economics orientation (free secondary and tertiary education, free transportation for students, free summer camps, extended employment benefits). The other side, seeing no need to downplay the “economy” aspect, has still executed very consequential social programmes (like the Tenantries Freehold Purchase Act and enshrining positive changes relating to the status of women and children) over the years, so can’t justifiably be accused of not having a similar “society” focus. Both, however, are guilty of short-sighted ideas of society. They have apparently not understood that the notion of a society has to do fundamentally with things like communityness, genuine people participation in governance, and, critically, social discipline. Of the latter, it is a sorry fact that our (sometimes) economic ascendancy and our (sometimes) remarkable social provisions have been paralleled by a perilous descent into social irresponsibility of various kinds, unbridled by the same people who brag about their “society” programmes. These should be front-burner concerns of anyone who wants to be a Member of Parliament. • Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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