OUR CARIBBEAN: Mottley’s unique call to PM Stuart
THE OPPOSITION Leader of Barbados, Mia Mottley, issued a most unusual, if not unique political call in the country’s post-independence governance politics last week. She wants Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s governing Democratic Party (DLP) and her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to “put heads together” for a “Joint Think-Tank” on the nation’s ‘economic advancement’.
At the time of writing, there was no indication whether Mottley, a former Attorney General and Deputy Prime Minister, intends to also formally write Prime Minister Stuart to officially request dialogue on this issue of national importance – an initiative that preceded yesterday’s presentation of the country’s 2016 national budget.
Mottley’s dialogue effort could well prove to be a creative, pace-setting political development given Caricom governments’ traditional distaste for structured dialogue when it comes to Government/Opposition engagement to address specific issues of national/regional concern .
Not just Barbados, but Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other governments of the 15-member Caribbean Community currently in its 43rd year of existence have acquired a notorious reputation in contempt for structured dialogue between a Head of Government and the parliamentary Opposition Leader. In this regard, Jamaica could well stand as a welcome exception.
It so happens that for all the negative images it has had to cope with in relation to gun crimes and political violence, in addition to controversies over fiscal management and economic development, it remains the SOLE Caricom state that, from the late 1990s, has a record in favouring government /opposition dialogue.
This development was largely influenced and sustained by the leadership politics of then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson (now in retirement) and subsequently pursued by his successor, Portia Simpson-Miller, the country’s first-ever woman prime minister and current leader of the opposition People’s National Party.
Current Prime Minister and leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party, Andrew Holness, whose administration has a mere one-seat majority in parliament, had previously demonstrated in an earlier short-lived government his own interest in structured government/opposition dialogue on matters of national importance.
Since his governing JLP secured a one-seat majority in the 65-member House of epresentatives at last February’s general election, he has, understandably, been quite focused on keeping “ship Jamaica” out of troubled political waters.
Incidentally, PM Holness is currently one of a trio of CARICOM leaders heading a government with a one seat majority. His companions are Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in St Vincent and the Grenadines and President David Granger in Guyana.
Nevertheless, whatever the varying political circumstances for governance, the harsh reality is the absence of structured government/opposition dialogue in the national interest remains a most disappointing factor in our political culture, and consequently, reflects prevailing cynicism over official calls for ‘national/regional unity’ on a range of issues.
It has become the norm for Heads of Government to leave for scheduled CARICOM meetings without any consideration for a consultation with the parliamentary Opposition Leader or to subsequently engage him/her on the outcomes of such an event and major issues on which non-partisan national support would be necessary.
This political leadership deficiency may well help to explain some of the prevailing depressing ignorance and cynicism about Caricom.
Let it be noted that the leadership of the region’s vital private sector has an obligation to share the blame for prevailing deficiencies.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.