Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, is legally correct that he can invite the people to the polls five years after the first official setting of Parliament. Although his administration is on the edge of popular expectation that between March and April the nation must decide who runs the country, the PM is facing a frustrated electorate. And he is losing momentum fast.
Widespread sentiment is stirring over whether the government is squatting or mortally afraid of the people’s verdict at the polls.
The real issues that will decide the next general election are jobs and crime. The opposition Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party has some momentum. I suspect this momentum is more a reflection of the distance between the people and the government rather than the attractiveness of the alternative. Several polls have revealed not only voter’s apathy but voter’s pain. After experiencing successive governments’ leadership styles, the general population still suffers from lingering structural poverty. Neither political organization has addressed the rejection of homegrown talent, for the presumption of foreign competence and credibility.
Too frequently, elected leaders have erected barriers to wealth creation for homegrown talent by withholding vital information and by discriminating – consciously and unconsciously – against the best and the brightest. Yet, this leadership core is given free rein to facilitate self-enrichment schemes at the expense of the masses. It is extremely suspicious of talented Antiguans and Barbudans living in the Diaspora. But ironically, this leadership would joyfully embrace external consultants, paying them millions for lackluster service that yield little returns on growth and development.
If homegrown talent isn’t rendering their professional services pro bono or far below market rate, elected leaders ruthlessly ignore the sustainable contribution they can offer to the benefit of the people. But leaders who continue to devalue top talent are more impaired than a drunk driver racing over a dangerous precipice with cell phone in hand, while aiming to get home safely. In contrast, enlightened leaders, who take nation building seriously, believe and invest in the intelligence, potential and possibility of their people. The promotion of self-belief in the talent-pool of homegrown intelligence increases the people’s faith in themselves and in their leaders.
Clearly, our democracy has failed to satisfy the hungers for a prosperous society. Our youngsters still yearn for causes, visions and practices that focus on raising their quality of life. They are technologically wise enough to realize that leaders who fan the flames of affirming local talent are ready to make a positive difference in the global market place.
But no nation can achieve success without the people demanding good governance and excellent public service from their leaders. One simple solution is for thousands of residents and citizens to say ‘NO’ to every inch of leadership irresponsibility. The task is not merely to get rid of bad politicians. It is to rethink the future with communal values. Leaders full of faith and affirmed people full of hope are the raw material for positive social change. We have to decide to assign respectability and support only to leaders that increase our achievement, add to our social harmony, and multiply our economic aspirations.
Perhaps, a deeper philosophical question must be asked and answered: What vision of development is best for the soul of the nation? More practically, how do we struggle to arrive at an inclusive mission, not only of material prosperity and security, but of collective happiness? What are the ethical goals and cultural values that are needed to empower each person to think for themselves, and to act in ways that are mutually beneficial to the advancement of the nation? Unless our political discourse begin to catch up with the needs of our people beyond nice speeches, growing poverty, and downright lies, we shall remain hostage to our own undoing and undermining.
We simply cannot act with impunity against our national interest, regional good and global reality. Our national discussion must be more transcendent than which politician is more corrupt and which party has the bigger track record of failure. What should loom larger are innovative ideas linked to regional solutions and international challenges for the benefit of all. Certainly, we can keep the best of our tradition alive while offering prophetic critiques of the ugly truths about ourselves that we don’t want to confront in order to embrace humane interactions across different groups. This will make our progress more effective and visible.
Real change has been too slow in coming, but through determination, personal resilience, and strategic contribution—something different and something better is possible. I have faith that we can walk in the light of a radical economic, political and values transformation. Our opportunities are limitless. Before, during and after each election our place in society should improve. I can see the bigger picture of building the greatness of Antigua and Barbuda and advancing the civilization of the Caribbean. If we dare, we can add another layer to the fabric of regional advancement by raising the leadership bar to higher heights.
Note: Dr. Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser. He specializes 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, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.