Contribution to the ‘No Confidence Motion’ debate by Honourable Michael A. Church, Member of Parliament for the Constituency of St. John
Mr. Speaker, I consider it both a pleasure and a duty to join my voice in the conversation with regards to the amended ‘no confidence motion’ tabled before this Honourable House today.
Mr. Speaker, today we have reason to celebrate the products that have been made available to us as a result of the stage that democracy has reached in its evolution in this country. We have, as a democracy, institutions, practices and conventions that, if used purposefully, will ensure our dignity as a people and will contribute to our forward march through the maturing process that we are going through as a young independent nation. Therefore, Today, we should not lament the opportunity afforded us to utilize one such institution to test the maturity of our democratic conventions and practices.
We should endeavour, though, to encourage sensible debate in recognition of the need for us, from time to time, to demonstrate how well we monitor the performance of our leaders, our ability to evaluate their performances and subsequently our willingness to make recommendations for the effective discharge of their responsibilities.
Once the correct approach is adopted and followed it would be the robustness of the arguments, the strength of reason and logic and the preponderance of facts nothing and their relevance to the arguments that should prevail – nothing else notwithstanding the temptation of the proverbial politically flavoured fruit of convenience and partisanship.
It is therefore incumbent on all of us to resist the temptation to subscribe to the gang psychology syndrome that is being encouraged in the public domain and subscribe to the highest level of objectivity and argumentation. Many of you, my parliamentary colleagues, no doubt are inwardly hungering to occupy the position I now hold if only for today. But, while you can’t; I encourage you to endeavour to attain a level of objectivity and dispassion that would allow all of us to live with the dictates of our consciences; no matter what happens when the debate is concluded.
Of course, it requires a certain kind of detachment to which I spoke during my contribution to the 2011 Annual Budget Debate.
And, while my approach and stance did land me in serious trouble with some of the narrow-minded, subjective and partisan politicians of the party to which I once held membership. I remained steadfast in the correctness of the principle of objectivity and in the knowledge that the spiritual liberation that comes with it never arrives too late.
So, once again, I can speak candidly to this weighty matter occupying our minds today; this time, with no affection for any party, no allegiance to any political grouping; I am only required to be brutally protective of the nation that educated me.
And, I will do so with integrity – an integrity not defined by me or any other person but an integrity that consumes one when it is present because it translates into a universal appeal that makes each one of us accepting of each other’s responsibility to present our positions, as divergent as they maybe, without spewing rancour at one another.
I have faith that as Honourable Members of the House of Parliament that we are “… surely capable of detached judgements even of [our] own ideologies, practices and institutions.” (Ludwig Wittengenstein) Today, the demonstration of that capacity cannot be merely notional but it must be real.
We must not depart this House today being accused of burying our heads in the sand when confronted by political perils and difficulties. Rather, it is in those moments when we must see everything exactly as everything is.
Mr. Speaker, my contribution to the debate will take the following form: – First, I shall offer a very brief retrospective and hopefully reflective view of the impact of Government’s economic planning approach and its impact on economic growth and national development.
Soon thereafter, I shall offer a viewpoint in the form of a running conversation of some major events which have relevance to the question being debated. I shall then proceed to make my conclusions that in effect would embody by submissions.
Over the last almost four years we as parliamentarians and more importantly the Grenadian people have been privy to a body of political information and a suite of extensive and compelling political experiences that have deposited us exactly at the critical juncture at which we currently find ourselves, as a parliament and as a nation. We must now analyse the journey, interpret the experiences and the extent to which it has enriched, or conversely, impoverished our lives, as a people.
But, whatever our conclusions, there are only two options available and we can only choose one or the other. We do not have the luxury of eating our cake now and still having it for later.
We can choose to be indifferent and fiddle while the proverbial Rome burns or we can accept the chalice of gall, go to the cross and endure the crucifixion because the resurrection of our nation would be glorious and triumphant.
As far as I am concerned, Mr. Speaker, in my political world, the first position is not a viable option and we should not have been confronted with it if the Government had paid heed to the sober advice which I offered during the debate of the 2011 Budget. At that time, I said,
“It matters not to me, even if my Government continues to regard me as a political outcast …I will function …to offer some sober perspectives on the budget and in the process table …recommendations that hopefully would improve my Government’s ability to deliver on our 2011 promise of “Working together for Economic Recovery, Job Creation and Social Protection” and, at the same time, hopefully extend our longevity in office.”
As it turned out, Mr. Speaker, our performance in 2011 was not at all impressive. The under-performance of the Government with regards to the implementation of the 2011 capital budget which was supposed to be the development motor in the annual budget was very noticeable and disappointing.
So, the 2011 budgetary period came to an end and Government was not able to present the 2012 Budget until early March of 2012.
This time Government’s emphasis was on the optics and the false sense of progress it was supposed to evoke rather than the response to a very challenging period that nonetheless contained real opportunities for growth and national development.
A billion dollar expenditure package was presented with no clear financing plan. There was jubilation in some quarters that history was made and for the first time Grenada had progressed so much that it enjoyed a billion dollar budget.
The hollowness of the budget was captured in the observation that a significant proportion of the local revenue was to be raised from local borrowings via the issuance of treasury bills in the approximate sum of $119.7 million.
This posed serious implications for growth in the Grenadian economy and the welfare of the nation’s people to which I pointed during my contribution to the March 2012 Budget Debate.
In fact, I called for a deeper analysis and consideration by Government when I warned:
“It must be noted that the local revenue is to be obtained through the issuing of Treasury Bills on the Regional Government Securities Market. And, the immediate question that comes to mind is – Can the government, given its fragile fiscal situation, persuade persons in the region to have the confidence to invest $119.7 million of their money in Government of Grenada Treasury Bills? Moreover, can the Government really raise that amount of money from a small competitive market in which only seven other countries are involved and do so in less than nine months? Also, even if the government can raise that money, does it have the absorptive capacity to implement such a large capital programme in any one year?”
I raised these issues to highlight what appeared to be an emphasis on political optics as a substitute for serious effort to forge economic growth and national development. But, what do we have to show?
With five months to go before the Government official close off time for spending we have the Japanese –funded Fisheries Facilities at Gouyave locked down and the fishing community denied of its use. We have the almost completed Grand Roy Pre-School closed down and the little kids from my constituency being denied its use.
We have the Harlem Heights Community Road completed but the refusal of Government to recognise the efforts of the Member of Parliament in achieving that milestone. We have the non-implementation of the Japanese funded small water project from which St. John is to benefit – a project that was approved more than eighteen months ago. We have the whole community of Shanty Town still awaiting positive and tangible responses from Government since the April 2011 floods.
We have the family of Mr. Ifa Lewis for whom housing support was approved after fire destroyed their home in 2009 and has waiting for more than two years for the delivery of the support. The significance of Mr. Lewis is that his family typifies the plight of the housing starved families in St. John and the rest of the nation.
My former Cabinet colleagues would remember and should be willing to testify that I often spoke to and encouraged the Cabinet to debunk the notion that the current Government came to Office because the people voted against the last regime and not necessarily for the NDC. The veracity of this claim could always be disputed.
I encouraged my former cabinet colleagues to respond to the perception and use it as an incentive to aggressively implement programmes and projects that would make significant changes in the quality of the lives of ordinary Grenadians.
The objective was simply to ensure that our political longevity rested solely on our demonstrated efforts to serve the people with a sensible development agenda to which ordinary working class Grenadians would have been able to relate.
And, so, as much as we shout aloud with every opportunity about the great crusading march to the Valhala of good governance, transparency and accountability; a basic understanding of Maslow’s pyramid of needs would quickly and effectively silence the tongue that persists to spout that emptiness having considered Government’s poor delivery of tangibles to the nation – permanent jobs, better health facilities and improved health care services, more community-based projects, use of the fisheries sector to rejuvenate some of the stagnating coastal towns and villages, better sporting facilities and basic transportation infrastructure so that long neglected communities could re-enter the limelight of development.
Higher level cultural goods can only be accommodated when the goods that are fundamental for human comfort become permanently accessible to the ordinary person. Government has not demonstrated that it understands, through its actions, the requirements of the Grenadian people.
It is imperative to keep in perspective that as the ordinary citizen laments the absence of jobs and the persistence of economic stagnation; the more it becomes evident that the population that once subscribed to the ‘world crisis explanation’ as the responsible agent for the nation’s woes has begun to decline. They are reasoning, correctly or incorrectly, that since the country is out of recession, as declared by our Minister of Finance, improvements in economic activity and Government’s performance should have been more evident.
The governance attitude and carriage of the Prime Minister, in particular, has also begun to change – with its manifestation of the attendant nervousness and impatience associated with the feared rejection non-performance attracts at the polls.
The refashioning of the elected Government from being democratic to being feudal in many respects begun also as a response, in part, to that nervousness. It acquired a more feudal character in the sense that, over time, those who paid homage to the feudal lord were allowed to wax in power and responsibility. Government-nominated senators with no legitimate claim to constituency representation and popularity assumed overwhelming power and responsibility enough to stall legitimate government programme activities in constituencies where the elected representatives were not favoured by the chief have been happening unchecked.
In that type of political environment it becomes a matter of time before the Government loses its way and the ‘prime among equals’ becomes impotent thus guaranteeing any future efforts to get government back on track impossible.
I now wish to discuss more directly and pointedly the motion as it applies to the Prime Minister and his performance during which time I expect to conclude definitively, one way or the other.
However, I believe that I owe the House an insight into the framework which I intend to use to develop and present this part of my contribution to the debate.
I will refrain from making any comparisons between the current holder of the post and previous holders. And, I do so deliberately because my contribution should not be treated as a defence of any political grouping or individual neither as a condemnation of any.
Secondly, I will exercise the freedom to call on information garnered from my experiences and interactions with the current holder but strictly from the political realm and, in particular, within Government while I served as a minister.
Thirdly, I shall offer a running conversation on the performance of the current Prime Minister in terms of his governance style and his management of government policies, both in their implementation and outcomes.
I shall conclude with a summary of my findings on which my decision regarding the motion will be made. Hurriedly, I wish to underscore the process with this caveat that while I do not claim that the measuring sticks that I propose to use are exhaustive; I believe that they would both be necessary and sufficient to allow one to arrive at a reasonable and objective position on the matter occupying our minds currently.
There is a notion in circulation that is suggestive of a preference for a feudal type of leadership rather than the democratic type of leadership. A type of leadership that speaks to unconditional obedience to the chief because he or she was designated chief by the rest of the pack and handed extensive and sweeping powers and privileges by the constitution.
It is also purporting to encourage the autocratic practice of authority by the chief without the imposition of responsibility on the chief for poor political outcomes and policy errors clearly associated with the decisions made and other times the decisions not made by the chief.
In a sense, the chief assumes infallibility while those who wear the garments of independence become the candidates for scape-goating.
The ultimate result has been the deterioration of the system into one in which the chief is emboldened to the extent that he is elevated to being a demigod and those who exhibit any inclination for independent thinking are condemned as trouble makers and those who pay homage are considered cooperative, void of self-interest selfless and having the nation’s interests at heart. Debates on policy issues that touch national development increasingly take on the character of religious morality and personal ethical interpretations with an inordinately unbalanced skewedness.
Such a state of affairs harbours the possibility of becoming repulsive to the human spirit, to say the least, because which group of normal thinking persons would agree to yield so much power to one individual knowing ahead of time that they were not going to be treated as equals in the governance contract. We hear on a regular basis that the Prime Minister is right because the constitution gives him the authority to act in the manner that he is acting.
Let us agree, for argument sake, that the letter of the constitution does hand that apparent level of authority to the Prime Minister. Is not it reasonable to conclude that since the context of the constitution is itself intended in spirit and intent to encourage and support democratic practice; then, to function oblivious of this is to transform the constitution into a corpse which the Prime Minister may find impossible to resurrect in times of need?
Listen to Dr. Francis Alexis commenting on a real event and how he characterises it in the context of leadership, equality and transparency,
“The teaching that a Prime Minister is first among equals does not tell the whole story about the powers of a Prime Minister. But it does indicate that, by hallowed conventions of the constitution, the Prime Minister should treat other Ministers as equals as among themselves; leaving aside questions of merit, production, productivity, conduct and loyalty to collective Cabinet responsibility.
A Minister publicly says that the Prime Minister was wrong to sign abroad a document for investment promotion in Grenada. The Minister thereby belittles the Prime Minister. If that Minister does so with impunity, how can the Prime Minister readily talk about disciplining other Ministers? That is not transparency in according equality. That’s different strokes for different folks. It provokes revolt. It is a recipe for getting to the brink, if not over the brink.”
I am not to sure that we have not gone beyond the brink since these comments were offered by our learned Grenadian legal scholar but much has happened to cause many to think that we have. What is an acceptable explanation that the prime minister can offer for not disciplining that minister who was acting specifically and precisely within the boundaries of his Government?
How can that same Prime Minister justify the summoning of a member of parliament who lamented the lack of attention being shown to his constituency in the Parliament where he legitimately has the duty to do so? And, here I am not making reference to me because the actions against me were draconian, disrespectful and brutal and as I said to the Prime Minister in our meeting of October 6, 2011 that the evidence clearly showed his connivance in that particular matter.
Throughout the life of this administration the record is replete with examples of cases in which the Prime Minister cannot be credited for being transparent in his dealing with some ministers. From the Sewang Issue to the firing of Former Minister Gilbert to the recent events leading up to the resignation of the Former Minister for Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation.
The Minister for Information, at the same time, has been given free rein to use a Government appointed position to usurp the role of a party PRO to make mischief and further jeopardise the nation’s stability. He appears on televised news reporting the results of party constituency election results while clearly presenting himself as the Minister for Information and there are no indications suggesting that the Prime Minister tried to protect the integrity of Government by discouraging that incestuous relationship between his party and his government.
But, again, his behaviour while not correct could be deemed to be consistent with his thinking. I say so because during his contribution to the 2012 Budget in March he claimed that the institutionalisation of quasi-governmental operatives via his creation of the Ministry of the Prime Minister was part of his contribution to good governance and democracy, as the Prime Minister claimed.
Given the foregoing, it becomes an almost impossible task to dissuade the public from believing that, at least, the Prime Minister is tacitly supportive of the actions and sentiments of the Minister for Information and, by extension, others who act to preserve him even when their actions could be deemed to be inimical of the nation’s interest. Some persons have even asked me whether or not the Prime Minister has the capacity to differentiate between party matters and Government matters. And, some of these inquiring persons are honest with this concern because some do express that the Prime Minister appears to be a good person.
Others are even beginning to think that the Prime Minister is acting out of character and that he might be coming under the influence of advisors who do not have the country’s or the Prime Minister’s interests at heart. While I cannot speak definitively to this concern; clearly, there are Grenadians who would have viewed many of the recent and unfortunate events and would have concluded that these political challenges could have been dealt with and managed differently but that the failures, real and perceived, had to be the responsibility of the Prime Minister.
Belated, as some Grenadians thought, yet, many felt that the announcement that the Prime Minister was going to address the nation on the night of May 3, 2012 offered the Prime Minister a moment for redemption. The nation was very uneasy for the last few weeks, there were reports of intensifying discontent within the Government and the opposition was aggressively mobilising its political machinery and forces.
The national expectation was that the Prime Minister would deliver a comprehensive address which would speak to the burning current political issues and in the process assure the nation that he was in truth and in fact in charge and would also use the opportunity to present himself as a national unifying force. Mr. Speaker, that was not to be. He squandered the opportunity and left the nation more confused than before.
One individual from the constituency of St. John said that the Prime Minister used the occasion to make two announcements and then reminded the nation, in an almost dismissive manner, that his priorities were different from that of the people of this country.
Another remarked that the Prime Minister by expressing the thought that his Government was strong with the departure of the former Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture spoke eloquently to the assertion that Grenadians were already making about the Prime Minister’s questionable grasp of reality.
Another person remarked that she believed that the Prime Minister had mis-spoken and meant to use the adjective ‘stronger’ and not ‘strong’. So that what he should have read was that his Government was stronger with the departure of the former Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture.
Here, we had a Prime Minister experiencing the continued abandoned by ministers who became members of his Cabinet by virtue of election and forcing him in his survival bid to increase his dependence on senators who had no proven political groundings with the people and in some cases had cemented their images in the minds of the people as the most unpopular holders of ministerial postings.
Mr. Speaker, this august House would recall that I had the opportunity to serve in the Cabinet between July, 2009 and November, 2010. During that time I was privy to certain information and constantly observed the interaction, interplay and exchanges among ourselves as Cabinet ministers.
I distinctly recall the characterization of the Cabinet by the Prime Minister at one of our sittings in 2009 as ‘the good versus the evil’. This categorisation and the associated rigid and dogmatic views would play out in different ways on different occasions in our Cabinet and later spilled over into the public domain as the Prime Minister increasingly failed to command the majority on sensitive issues like ALBA, the casino debate and the Louis Hamilton issue, among others.
As he became increasingly intolerant of different viewpoints; he grew more autocratic in his decision-making. For example, the nation would recall his public expressions with regards to the Casino Issue which was obviously designed to invoke sympathy for him because by then it was very clear to me that he had decided to take the perceived challenge public disguising his intention by dressing it in a moral/ethical costume.
On another occasion and subsequent discussions on the Louis Hamilton Issue it became evident that the majority of the Cabinet was of a different view than that of the Prime Minister. The majority of the Cabinet was of the view that the business transactions involving Louis Hamilton needed to be given an opportunity to be properly consummated.
To this, he refused.
As a compromise we acceded to his request to seek legal advice from an independent legal house. We did but when the legal advice did not go in the Prime Minister’s favour he rejected it and requested yet another opinion. Once again we consented to his demand.
You also have to remember that these requests were being paid for by the Grenadian people. One cannot conclude that any of the opinions absolutely supported the Prime Minister’s position.
However, he opted to pursue his position of acquisition of the property with no consideration for the business interest of Louis Hamilton, its overall negative impact on an already suspicious business climate and totally oblivious to the collective and majority view of his Cabinet.
In the end, all the fanfare was nothing but hot air for the memorandum of agreement with Louis Hamilton explicit provided for termination of the agreement where there was a material breach. This was no victory for the Prime Minister as there was a clear provision for this in the agreement and all he had to do was to trigger the clause. Mind you, I wish to remind the House that this was not the thinking of the majority of the Cabinet.
The Prime Minister clearly demonstrated in this case that he was not willing to submit to the collective decision of Cabinet whenever the view was different from his. And, in so doing, one of the inevitable consequences eventually would be the certain alienation of members of the pack from him or him from them.
I believe as that process of separation between the Prime Minister and some of his elected cabinet ministers grew that lead him to greater and greater reliance on the selected ministers (senators) but it was not only a growing reliance but he was bound, as he did, to make some of them more and more powerful to the injury and displeasure of the people’s elected representatives in his Cabinet.
The dysfunctional Cabinet in order to increase its hold on Government had to find a twin for deposition preferably in a quasi-administrative setting and that was the rationale for the creation of the Ministry of the Prime Minister. In the coming weeks I warn – that those of you who fail to view this discussion with seriousness would be faced with new governance challenges because the Honourable Prime Minister is under new management.
Mr. Speaker, we are about to experience the replication of the Ministry of Truth as depicted by George Orwell in his book, 1984. We need to heed the warning of the late George Brizan , in Island of Conflict, “Autocratic rule, where allowed to proceed unchecked, usually ends up devouring the autocrat, his stooges and the country.”
Mr. Speaker, the leader who fails to appreciate the realities of the environment in which he is expected to rule will perish; the leader who is not discerning loses the kingly anointing and suffers the fate of King Saul but the rest of us must undertake the responsibility to save our nation whenever we are called upon to do so.
Mr, Speaker, I have dispassionately detached myself from partisan affection and shared with this honourable house experiences, observations and philosophical thoughts that are necessary, relevant and hopefully sufficient to allow the submissions I am about to table to have been supported by the internal logic and factualness of my presentation:
Thus, Mr. Speaker, in summary, I wish to submit,
That the Prime Minister, in practice, has not promoted fairness and equality in his Cabinet which are essential ingredients for Cabinet transparency;
That the Prime Minister in addition to not promoting collegiality within his Cabinet has applied autocratic rule in decision-making, especially in cases where the majority view differed from his;
That the Prime Minister has consistently shown unwillingness or incapacity or both to oversee economic and development policies that should have delivered benefits to the ordinary working people of this country;
That the Prime Minister has supported and defended national budgets that have not made the investment climate accommodating to both local and foreign investors; and,
That the Prime Minister in an agonising struggle within his party for his political survival has neglected the stability of the State and the welfare of the people of Grenada.
For these reasons, Mr. Speaker, I submit that in the end I have no choice but to convey to this Honourable House that I do not repose any confidence in the Office Holder, Honourable Tillman Thomas, and therefore unreservedly support the motion of ‘no confidence’ in the Prime Minister.©