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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Umbrella Nation


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Imagine this. A supporter of a political party wakes up in the middle of the night drenched in dripping, cold sweat. He cannot go back to sleep because he dreamed another party won the next general elections. He decides to write down the details of his dream to warn his party.

In the dream, he sees a woman in a black hat getting off a bench, talking and passing sentence after sentence on the executive members of her party. She is telling them that, firstly and finally, even if there was no corruption in the party, they must admit that the charge had stuck and it must be removed to repair the party. To do this, they must understand why organizations become corrupt. There are similar causes of corruption in any small country. Checks and balance are replaced by bank checks and bank balance. The main cause of corruption in small states is not greed. Greed is universal. If channeled appropriately, greed is good.

Insufficient stimulating and challenging physical and mental work at early and crucial stages of personal and organizational development and the consequent idleness, slackness and lackadaisicalness are the fundamental causes of corruption in small and large developing states. This is true of all political parties and professional organizations, including security forces.

The other problems to solve are basic ones like healthcare, education, jobs, security and food. She tells them that one day she was in a Chinese supermarket and the solution hit her like a kung fu. She admires the thrift of the Chinese. Some of them we regard as recent arrivals have been here for over a decade and have Antiguan children. She recently met a Russian woman who lived here so long, she was proud to have an Antiguan born Russian child.

What about the trip a friend of hers took to England the very day after the 2004 general elections? On the same flight were at least 75 people of Middle Eastern origin. They all had Antiguan and Barbudan passport and spoke little or no English. Antigua and Barbuda is an umbrella nation. So many disparate and desperate people enjoy the shade of its parasol.

In the supermarket, she wonders how many of the so-called “ordinary people” it would take to set up and operate a co-operative supermarket in their community. Politicians must stop promising a rose garden to gain political power. We must empower the people to cultivate their own rose garden and choose and run the services they need. She tells them the party must empower the people at the local level because real freedom is the ability of people to choose wisely and become the authors of their own lives. She has their attention well locked up.

Money is already moving through the community. There is a long, proud, unsung history of box-money co-operatives. The real task is to convince the people that we must either swim together or sink one by one. And when it comes to security, just who is going to be bold enough or crazy to steal from and survive in a community co-operative environment with legal, community watch and citizen patrol? In fact, some of the reformed criminals, and you know how smart they were, will run some of the local businesses, knowing that other reformed criminals like them are watching them like a hawk. And she boasts that she knows the criminals from a previous profession. Security is no longer a problem. There is real, meaningful employment and empowerment. Real checks and balance are in, corruption is out. The community pride is sky high.

She continues to pass sentence. The central economic plan of one party is to make the private sector the engine of growth. But it is extremely difficult to facilitate the status quo private sector and at the same time bring new, grassroots private sectors on board so that businesses in St. John’s city and the various communities can be more reflective of the heterogeneous population mix. These are highly guarded, economic positions. People can get in serious trouble talking about economic reform on radio programmes and suggesting changes without due regard to the sensitive issues of nationality and citizenship.

Should we repeal person income tax? The community based projects and the demonstrable empowering of people will require decentralization of sufficient funds. If, outside of government, our party can get the community to do so much with what the people already have, imagine how much more we can do in power. We do not have to make unrealistic promises if our works go beyond promises.

Then the dream becomes a nightmare. The lady in the black hat tells them to reduce the number of government ministers by half. Who needs so many ministers when local government is so strong? But then it hit the dreamer. This must be a unique, truly reformed political party. The spoils of political victory must include walking away from old arenas and changing the whole course of political tribal war in small states.

Call it a tent or call it a parasol, no political party can do anything fundamentally significant for people without empowering them to form co-operative groups and build on family and other groupings already formed. Only then can we build a tent in our community and enjoy the shade of our parasol.

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