The election of the Labour government to office in Dominica seems to have coincided with an end to attempts at intelligent, pro-active participation by the other parties in the governance of the country. It will be remembered that the
election process was marked by a late release of its party manifesto by the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP), the dubious “release” of its manifesto by the United Workers Party (UWP), and a limited dissemination of its party’s position on a range of topics by the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
Whatever else might be said, one cannot but conclude that the election results indicated, in part, the response by the electorate to this cavalier and even disrespectful approach to informing and consulting with the electorate in such an important decision point in the life of the nation.
No one denies that allegations of vote rigging, unequal access to the public media, selective funding by outside third interests of some of the parties involved, may all have affected the outcome of the election, and if proven true, were also offensive to the democratic process. One can also understand that major allegations of corruption, wanton influence peddling, administrative irregularities and the failure by investigative authorities to pursue the wrong-doers
may now have led to widespread frustration. This combined with the unwillingness of the electorate at large to demand clarifications, answers, correction and punishment as required, may be engendering a view that the situation is beyond redemption.
But it cannot be that voters were expected to make decisions based predominantly on the inflammatory accusations and allegations of wrongdoings by the party in power. Sure, these allegations need to be pursued, and pursued vigorously through the appropriate channels. But the nation’s business of economic development and social change demands a return to the basic principles of governance which were the pillars and planks of the election manifestos by which the parties promised to be guided and asked to be judged.
It is no answer to say, “Well, we did not get elected so we have no means to put our election manifesto into effect!” ‘YES, YOU DO!” Election manifestos provide the template for responding to policies and proposals, such as:
1. What is proposed here is contrary to their promises in their manifesto, and so some explanation is required;
2. What is proposed here is wrong and ill-advised for the following reasons, as outlined in our manifesto ……
3. There is an acceptable alternative way for approaching the problem/opportunity as discussed in our party manifesto.
You, the people of Dominica, be the judge! Accordingly, parties in opposition have the responsibility to continuously assess public policy through the prism of their own philosophies, policies and programs and be judged accordingly.
It is not an acceptable response to say that you do not have sufficient means of holding the government to account because of limitations of human and financial resources. “YES, YOU HAVE !” The responsibility of parties in seeking candidates for election cannot be restricted to having a warm body on the hustings, who will sit in the House, if successful, or who will “go-a-fishing” if they lose.
1. Nomination of candidates by the party should be for the long haul. This affiliation and commitment should continue into the period between elections. The party and its personnel in and out of the House are theoretically part of a “government-in-waiting”, even to the extent of forming a “shadow government”, and they all need to keep abreast of issues, debate their implications and formulate responses from a party stance.
2. It is the responsibility of the party to seek out suitable calibre of persons and to nurture them for appropriate involvement in the business of government;
1. by education in the parliamentary and administrative processes;
2. by providing information, education and opportunities for discussion of current world, regional and national/local issues;
3. by requiring continuous contact with their constituents to identify, discuss and relay issues, proposals and recommendations, upwards and downwards, as they become aware of them;
4. by self-preparation and self-examination both as to personal and financial
5. by consolidating and expanding the party presence at the constituency level;
6. by continuously seeking out and nurturing individuals with a potential for public service in organizational and leadership roles.
It is not acceptable to reply, “We cannot compete with a government in power which has the capability to access the national wealth and the sympathy of foreign donors, diverting these to partisan political purposes!” “YES, YOU CAN!” The experience of President Barack Obama is a shining star and beacon to all who feel so dispossessed. His experience of taking on the powerful financial interests, the power brokers, the influential lobbyists and relying instead on a “peoples’ crusade” is adequate demonstration of what is possible.
1. But it demands commitment, organization, structure and discipline;
2. It requires an extensive directed and informed consultation process such that persons consulted can see themselves, their interests and concerns reflected in the subsequent positions taken.
3. It provides for each person, business and organization to contribute to the coffers and to have their contributions acknowledged, responsibly used and respected, no matter how large or small;
4. It recognizes that support in the form of personal commitment (knocking on doors, canvassing at the face-to-face level, and empathizing with constituents in their every-day life) is even more powerful than cash donations.
So, the business of responsible government and continuous representation is not a temperamental car to be left by the roadside and to be pushed or jump-started only as needed. It requires continual maintenance. Election manifestos also cannot be an irresponsible wish list, put together at random and without deep forethought only to be swept under the rug after elections and dusted off again when the next one is around the corner. It is the standard by which governments
and, yes, opposition parties are to be held to account. Parties which, by default, choose to dance to a “one note samba” or to hang onto the coat-tails of elements in society whatever their interests or agendas, or to be negative to all government proposals, whatever their merit, will continually pay the price in future elections as deservedly they have in the past.
I have no problem with the concept of a party “in opposition”, as others appear to have. In fact, the concept and practice based on the British tradition of a “loyal opposition” are a useful, informative and instructive approach.
1. Opposition parties are called upon to be “loyal” to the integrity and supremacy of the state as enshrined in the constitution;
2. Opposition party members are expected to be “loyal” to the oaths they have taken to serve the country;
3. Opposition parties are required to be “loyal” to the promises they have made to the nation at large in their desire to pursue policies and programs on which they are elected (or to amend such positions and explain the changes to the people.)
4. Opposition members should be “loyal” to themselves and the faces they presented in seeking to serve—honesty, integrity, responsible action, transparency, accountability, or to bear the consequences if they don’t.
These are not unduly onerous and demanding standards for persons who choose public life and service on trust from the people. They apply with equal force to government members and officials as they do to persons in opposition parties. Some have remarked that with the elections now over, the campaigning should stop. Nothing is further from the truth! Such a capitulation would be anathema to democracy. No, the contest of ideas must go on; the struggle for the hearts, minds and support of the people must continue. But this process must always be undertaken responsibly, respectfully and without rancour. It must engage all sectors of society and demand their daily interest and involvement. The voices of all of the people must be heard from all sides, all of thetime.
Years in opposition do not have to be a sentence in the proverbial wilderness. This can be a time for selfexamination, for re-grouping, of recruitment and preparation for assuming the burdens of office, should the people sodecide. And those who would enter the fray should do so with eyes wide open as to what a responsible and effective foray will entail as discussed….twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week, four (4) weeks a month, twelve(12) months a year, five (5) years a legislative mandate. Short cuts are not an option!
Is it an intimidating task? Perhaps! But that’s the way I see it, anyway.