An extraordinary Caricom Heads of Government meeting took place in St. Lucia recently to look at the need for urgent structural change in the goals, strategies and general direction of Caricom. The UWI, meanwhile, has chosen an assortment of the best social and economic brains available in an attempt to mount an impressive-sounding symposium with a similar intention. Questions like Who are we? Where are we headed? What do we want? How should we adjust our economies in order to survive? How should we go about answering these questions? will be tossed around like intellectual time-bombs. The world has changed, ‘globalisation’ is upon us, and we must re-align and re-structure our societies in order to survive in this brave new world.
It all has a sadly familiar ring.
There has been no mention of the people of the region as a whole nor has anything been said about their participation in or their ideas about all of this. This is a mistake. Remember the ground-breaking West Indian Commission that was launched in 1991? They first went about holding meetings and open discussions with as many of the ordinary people in as many of the territories as they could. It was a commendable attempt to find out what the people of our region actually thought about their lives and how they felt change could bring improvement. The Commission came up with some excellent recommendations, including the freer movement of Caribbean nationals between their territories with the waiving of work permits and passports. They also articulated the people’s wish for changes in governance to make the common citizen more of a participating member in the political process. Today, most of the Commission’s recommendations are still waiting to be implemented. Why? Was the whole exercise merely cosmetic? If we, the ordinary citizens in this region continue having to rely on decisions made by our political directorates without reference to our own wishes and hopes, we will get nowhere.
Participatory Democracy isn’t merely a catch-phrase. It is a necessity if progress is to be possible. But this means that we, ordinary citizens, must also take an interest in what is going on in our countries and our governments; what their decisions could mean in our lives before they are implemented. We must speak up and lobby our parliamentary representatives where necessary. We must, in short, cease to be ‘folded arm’ societies and behave like responsible citizens with a stake in the development of the country as a whole.
When someone riding in a minivan or an expensive private car throws a plastic cup out of the window, he/she is being irresponsible. When we dump our garbage in drains and on parapets and in the trenches, we are performing hostile acts against our own society. The present crime wave could never have reached the alarming scale it now has without our compliance. Small infringements of the law lead to bigger and bigger crimes. Disobeying traffic signs, littering, creating a public nuisance, petty theft, queue-jumping, driving under the influence of alcohol etc. may seem like relatively minor infringements of law and order. But they lead directly to the terrible events of July 3rd and the present spate of shooting, killing and robbery with violence. The seeds of public terror are tiny when first sown. Needless to say, if the state’s law enforcers or lawgivers bend the law even a little, or turn a blind eye to minor offences, they too will have contributed to the horrors we now experience daily. A government is only as capable as its citizens allow it to be. Governments do not ‘run’ a country.
The whole population does that. Governments are the servants and officers of the people elected to carry out those tasks that we would have them do as a result of the collective wishes of all of us.
It is no good looking to any government to solve the problem of crime in our crumbling economy. The government may arrest the wrongdoers and perhaps even put a stop to their actions for a time. They cannot remove the causes. We must all clean up our acts. No one has put it better than Martin Carter:
Like a jig
shakes the loom;
like a web
is spun the pattern.
All are involved!
All are consumed!