Last Tuesday was a sad day for the people of Antigua, Grenada and the rest of the Caribbean. For the 4th time in less than a decade, the political class led our people over a cliff on an issue that is so basic, so vital to our forward development that future generations will look back and scratch their heads at our stupidity.
Sometime as elementary as adopting our own court should be as elementary as learning to walk. Sadly, the political class, 6 decades since we started the march towards political independence in the Caribbean has not yet learn to think. Well at least think about the nation, the people, about anything but their own political advancement, electoral advantage, their personal place in history.
And please, all of us with any sense of decency must stop repeating the trope that the people have spoken. Issues like a decision to end colonial bondage and move toward independence, a court of law are natural and healthy as bathing. So when people go to the polls and vote to remain part of a system despite the incessant call of those who organized it as part of their colonial adventure of conquest, to depart, we know that something is wrong with our leaders.
National leaders are to suppose to lead the people and nation. Leaders are required to lift us up rather than pull us down and hold us back. Leaders are expected to do the ‘intellectual heavy lifting’ for the population, especially their supporters who look up to them for guidance and direction. So often these so called leaders fail our people and then with a straight face declare that the people have spoken. Nonsense!
Have we yet learned about sacrifice and compromise? Do we know what it means to stand with determined selflessness? Ebenezer Joshua, cocksure of blind loyalty among his supporters declared that if he put up a broom stick as a candidate the people will vote for it. During the last elections, a lady I canvassed for a vote told me not to bother talking to her because even if ‘Ralph put up a lizard as candidate she will be vote the star.’ Joshua was king in the 1950s and 60s and the lady who will vote however she is directed by her political leader is still alive.
We can be certain that the vast majority of those who voted yes to the acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice in Antigua and Grenada did so primarily because Gaston Browne and Keith Mitchell either led or were perceived to have led the campaign for Grenada and Antigua to move away from the Privy Council. Similarly, those who voted No took their cue from opposition leaders. The same thing happened in 2009 when we squandered our chance to vastly improve our constitution. Leaders with an eye to elections and politics, personal aggrandisement and egos, larger than the countries they rule, stood in the way of meaningful change.
Therefore, we are impatient with the talk that the people have spoken. We must all refrain from those banal excuses and admit that our leaders are failures. They continuously confuse and conflate what’s good for them with what is best for the nation and people.
UWI Professor Tennyson Joseph spoke for all of us when he said ‘The Caribbean faces a historical problem with referenda, due to the hijacking of our politics by party politics. Unless the 2 or 3 parties can coalesce around a common issue, all our referenda will be split along party lines. This is particularly difficult where two thirds majorities are required. Unless our parties mature enough to rise above scoring cheap political points and make common cause around large issues like the CCJ, removing colonial relics like the queen as head of state, we will continue to experience the sad cases of seeing serious issues hijacked by petty politics and voters being misguided by petty leaders during referenda.’
Gaston Browne and Keith Mitchell won handsomely in recent elections. Yet they could not mobilize sufficient support to reach the steep 67 percent threshold required for the passage of the referendum. In 2009, the opposition in SVG was able to block the passage of the revised constitution. Yet, a year later the NDP, high on the referendum success, went down to their third consecutive defeat in national elections.
Where do we go from here? For centuries the Privy Council was the highest court in the colonial Caribbean. It is still with us even though the march to independence began in 1962 when Jamaica and Trinidad blazed the freedom trail. Why then do leaders argue that the opposition is asking for more time or more discussion and education and claim they can’t wait, they must go forward now? Seriously, what is the haste? Why not wait another year and try to hammer out a compromise?
Let us go back to our constitutional effort in 2009. Our leaders proposed a constitution that strengthened the role opposition leader, made the government more accountable, reduced the powers of the prime minister, made provisions for a human rights protection and an ombudsman, offered more rights to Vincentians living abroad, possibility to move away from the queen as head of state and for our own final court. Yet we threw that all away. It is true that the opposition played obstructionist politics, but it is equally true that the governing party was too consumed with its own power to compromise for the greater good.
What if it had given in to opposition demands to change the wording in the preamble regarding the primacy of God as well as taken on the opposition idea about compensation for private property compulsorily acquired by government? What if it had declared that to free the constitutional process of all notions of electoral calculation the referendum will be held after the 2010 elections?
Some other foolish, anti national idea might have been raised as an excuse. However, some issues are so important and fundamental to our advancement, that politics has no right to be in the mix. But the ego is the devil. Last Tuesday our political class failed us once again.

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