By Arthur Kallick
Grenada’s 1974 constitution institutionalized an electoral system of first past the post, with an elected House of Representatives and a nominated upper house or Senate.
Between 1974 and 1999, the country operated a political system where no one party controlled all the seats in the lower house. Even the once formidable Sir Eric Gairy and his GULP never achieved that feat. The New National Party (NNP) led by Dr Keith Mitchell created history by winning all the seats in national elections.
Arthur Kallick was born in Trinidad and lived in Grenada until he moved to Canada in the late 1980s after completing secondary school. He has a Master’s in family counselling and child physiology from the University of Toronto. He is now a freelance writer and has been living in Grenada for the past six years, and at present works with Caribbean Family Planning unit as a counsellor
New challenges arose as the framers of the constitution did not envisage such a phenomenon. In steps the office of the Governor General to “alleviate” the effects of the anomaly by invoking powers to appoint in his own name, three members of the upper house.
Interestingly, the said members are deemed to be “independent” but, as it now stands, all three appointees were defeated candidates of the main opposition party the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC polled 41% of the popular vote but no seats in the lower house.
Dr Mitchell and the NNP got a “second bite on the cherry” when they won all 15 seats in the February poll. Ten days passed between the swearing in of the prime minister and the swearing in of the rest of the Cabinet. During that period, the commissioner of police was removed from office, a number of senior civil servants were redeployed and a number of other changes that should have been the subject of a cabinet conclusion.
Sir Eric Gairy once said, in response to a question about whether a decision which he had taken must get Cabinet’s approval, “I am the Cabinet.” History has now repeated itself.
The buzz word now among the upper echelons of the government is that “nothing moves” without the expressed wish or approval of the prime minister. Even the hiring of a driver or a janitor must be cleared by the “Chief”.
The national community has seen how the chief poker player stays in the background and pushes “Can do nothing wrong Steele, Otway-Noel and Oliver Joseph out front, in an effort to “soften’ the image of the now “kinder and gentler” Prime Minister Mitchell. Give us a break Hamlet with this cheap propaganda that can only fool the unsuspecting.
The enactment of the Electronic Crimes Bill and the Citizens by Investment Legislation without any changes after the public outcry shows clearly that Dr Mitchell will do what he wants during the life of this Parliament. Even in the face of the facts, NNP senators were paralyzed, even petrified to accept the truth about the reason why Canada imposed visa restrictions on Grenadians during the last sitting of the Upper House.
Some persons close to the government are uncomfortable with this emerging trend where the prime minister has taken unto himself the right of impunity, but no one dare question the “Chief”. Cabinet meetings continue to be a forum about petty things like who must travel, transfers of public officers, coupled with small talk and gossip.
The new round of public forum suggests that the “Dictator” is ever so conscious that the mandate he currently enjoys can evaporate if they don’t “deliver”. NNP insiders have expressed surprise that the battered NDC could have attracted 41% of the popular vote.
The concerted attempt to control the press using subtle techniques to force self-censorship has served to give citizens a nightly menu of biased news. The current unease in the high command of the police and the virtual paralysis of the public service has generated fear and anxiety among public officers. The recent mass transfer of Customs officers is a case in point.
The prime minister has said repeatedly that loyalty is more valuable than competence. Many persons have tied their “political tongue” because they fear that their relatives can be victimized by the regime, their children may be discriminated against in accessing jobs, government programs or scholarships.
The much vaunted “delivery train” is stuck in a swamp of empty promises while the “Chief” continues to build his Tower of Babel unaware that Grenada is supposed to be a democracy and not the playground of a constitutionally elected “dictator”.