By Dr Isaac Newton
At the end of the intersessional meeting of CARICOM two weeks ago, the emotion-laden issue of whether CARICOM should address the motion of no confidence (MoNC) in St Kitts-Nevis became a heated discussion. When political situations call for blending institutional credibility with diplomacy, CARICOM leaders should balance good faith commitment to democracy with cultivating healthy collegiate friendships. Both ingredients add value to the Caribbean’s best practices while preserving the glue of regionalism.
Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues
Within the global community, the Caribbean’s political promise is defined by a deep dedication to democratic values. It is crafted around protecting the sovereignty of each island-state and cementing common interests. If global leaders are going to stop and listen to what CARICOM prime ministers have to say, every opportunity should be used to extend their influence for settling democratic disputes with shared values and in successful ways.
To realize the pragmatics of the freedoms we enjoy, Caribbean institutions need boldness and independence, so that leaders do not govern through legal loopholes, but in accordance with democratic principles and procedures.
We are still waiting for CARICOM to make a captivating, ethical, and discernible statement on the MoNC in Basseterre. On the strength of its own vision, CARICOM should show that it can navigate real differences of opinion and grapple honestly with competing ideas.
The logic that our peace-prone culture will work out political differences in ways that avoid breakdown of law and order may not continue forever. Without a structured regional response, internal political tensions and social conflict will proliferate. And Caribbean people may be further alienated from CARICOM leaders.
I shudder to imagine that CARICOM will intervene only when national stability dissolves into a thousand pieces of chaos. While I accept that our leaders should preserve national sovereignty, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world getting back to normalcy after peace disintegrates. A shift in leadership thinking must move from scale to substance. Short of this, our politics appears frozen in fraternity and, therefore, irrelevant for problem solving.
The key to a more effective integration is to envision the future and work toward its implementation. The time for a more proactive disputes arrangement is warranted. With a preventative model of intervention, CARICOM Secretariat could be vested with an enforceable disputes process through which remedies are made available to facilitate solutions.
The Secretariat should be given the freedom to draw anonymously on the capable talent pool of various experts -- at home and abroad -- to render fair decisions. Under this arrangement, studied judgments should be respected and accepted. Lack of compliance should lead to tangible consequences.
I believe that prevention is the only cure. A reactive intervention to political disaster may yield dire consequences too disconcerting for CARICOM’s advancement. If reliable integration is to be achieved, CARICOM may have to revise its hands-off intervention policy.
In the meantime, PM Dr Denzil Douglas is faced with two options: call general elections or debate the MoNC in Parliament. If the PM chooses to debate the MoNC, there are no guarantees that his government will prevail. But given the naked politics on the ground, the PM seems willing to surrender his leadership contract into the hands of the entire voting community. He refuses to allow political foes to topple his government.
The PM may have calculated that, if he calls the general elections with pressing urgency, the possibility of inducing disruptive change as opposed to incremental change is real. The effect of this could yield devastating outcomes, presumably falling far beneath collective beneficiaries than were initially imagined. Although going into general elections could yield great good, the risks cannot be underestimated.
Since the PM seems bent on preparing the population to weigh competing visions of national development thoughtfully, he should seek the best strategic intelligence to help him manage wisely and carefully, forces of fatigue and change verses forces of performance and stability.
Team Unity leader, Dr Timothy Harris, has argued that adherence to democratic essentials should always trump political preferences. His views are that the PM is perpetuating sentiments of ill-will by delaying the 15-month-old MoNC debate. This in turn produces contrary behaviours to the spirit of local laws and constitutional precedence.
Dr Harris has said that the population is fully prepared, either through elected representatives in the Parliament or through its franchise at the ballot, to decide who should control the levers of state power. But should Dr Harris choose to put ejection pressure on the PM, he could create a schism that goes outside of the country’s comfort zone. And this may require sacrifices too costly for St Kitts-Nevis to shoulder.
If he decides to capitalize on the patience of the masses to live harmoniously together, until the elections are constitutionally due in January of 2015, Team Unity is likely to invest heavily in persuading the masses, that Dr Harris is the better alternative.
The essence of responding to political disputes is to recognize that the more we understand the options, the better we are able to arrive at clearer decisions. I agree that free institutions should be valued more than the expediency of power. Abstract authority is ineffective and where laws are less explicit, political survivability could become rigid. That’s why CARICOM should erect a new template for settling member states internal disputes pre-emptively. The issue of best practices must now compel CARICOM to offer specific recommendations to future challenges.