SHANTAL MUNRO-KNIGHT: PM’s words on target
“I think the time has come for us to say exactly how we feel about some of these things, very respectfully of course. I do not think we can continue to meet for photo opportunities, when in fact the people of the Caribbean are looking on, expecting concrete results from (such) encounters.” – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart prior to the Caribbean summit with President Obama of the United States.
As soon as I read these reported comments by the Prime Minister, I was immediately struck by how much they correctly conveyed the sentiments of the people of the region. For a Prime Minister that is perceived as being out of touch with the public, in one statement he managed to redeem himself by summing up the collective frustrations of the Caribbean populace. I do not think that the public in Barbados or in any other Caribbean countries had any grand expectations about the visit of President Obama to be honest but I do believe that the sentiments aptly described the feelings of the people about the performance of our own leaders generally.
I wondered if the Prime Minister and his counterparts reflected on these words and the extent to which they themselves as leaders should also be held accountable when they meet behind closed doors either in their individual countries or as regional heads.
I actually think that these words are so profound that I have a few ideas for how they could be recorded for posterity. First, I believe that they should be framed and suspended from the ceiling of the CARICOM Secretariat so that whenever our leaders and technocrats come through those doors they will be the first thing they see. At the bottom just for emphasis I would add in bold: “In sum, do not waste the people’s time”.
Secondly, I would ensure that there is a portable version which would follow around CARICOM leaders at every conference and retreat (I would actually suggest paying someone to do this). Moreover, a town crier should be hired to recite these words prior to every news conference which is held to announce the outcomes of heads of government meetings. I would hope that once whatever is to be pronounced does not equate to concrete results, someone would say, “Hold, we need to go back to the drawing board”.
On the home front I would again have these words framed so that members of our Parliament and Cabinet could see them every time they meet. I also believe that they would make for an interesting conversation starter if they were laid out on the table between the teachers’ unions and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
I actually think that if we could get some of our key leaders across the region to catch the sentiments conveyed by the prime minister, and to actually live up to the idea that people are tired of the pomp and pageantry of public office and want concrete results that we would be on our way to solving some of the most pressing problems facing the Caribbean and here at home.
Importantly, given that the sentiments were conveyed specifically in the context of President Obama’s visit it would be interesting to find out if the regional leaders felt that encounter was more than a photo opportunity and actually delivered “concrete results”. From the various news reports it would seem that the main outcomes of the meeting were some money promised here and there for initiatives that were of distinct interest to the American president. If you follow his politics and “soft” foreign policy initiatives then you would know that none of the announced was particularly new or distinct. Clearly he achieved his agenda. It would be interesting to find out if our leaders achieved theirs.
Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator
at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]