Thursday, April 25, 2024
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HomeOpinionCommentaryIndependent thoughts on 'Independence 45' - Quo Vadis, Sancta Lucia

Independent thoughts on ‘Independence 45’ – Quo Vadis, Sancta Lucia

By Dr  Alphonsus St Rose

“Quo Vadis” is Ecclesiastical Latin, and it means, “where are you going?” It has its origin in a 1602 painting by the Italian painter, Annibale Carracci. The painting reflects an episode from the life of St. Peter, who was fleeing Rome to avoid crucifixion, during the persecution of Christians, under the emperor Nero. While walking along the Appian Way, St. Peter met Christ in a vision and asked: “Quo Vadis?” to which Christ replied, “Romam Vado Interum Crucifigi” (“I am going to Rome to be crucified again”).

It is unreasonable, inhumane even, to be subjected to crucifixion over and over. Yet, Quo Vadis Sancta Lucia bears some metaphorical parallels that emerges every 22nd February.

Geographically, we happen to be in one of the most vulnerable, deprived and unequal regions of the world. Historically, our imposed political-economic systems of slavery, colonialism and capitalism have dragged us through transgressions of recurrent savagery, wars, genocide, exploitation, poverty, inequality, underdevelopment and widespread social deprivation.

This is the historical, generational and moral context that has ignited us to transcend inhumanity first through emancipation, then apprenticeship, and on to independence. This framed the collective pathway to sovereignty and self-determination, destined to serve the best interest of our people as an independent nation-state living in peaceful co-existence with other nation-states.

Independence, in its true context domestically, must imply freedom in furtherance of peace, social justice, human dignity and democratic alliances for shared prosperity and human security. We are all challenged today by a crisis of modern civilization. The Davos elites call it a poly-crisis. At the heart of this crisis is a dominant political economic theory and model of free enterprise and free market capitalism called neoliberalism.

This model was destined to ultimately and maximally serve the best interest of the economy and the common good of Society.1 Ironically, greed and profit maximization have turned out quite the opposite in delivering worsening global inequalities. Today, mankind is on a death-driven trajectory towards homicide.

That free market has now produced genocidal wars, global economic instability and the man-made climatic crisis. The latter, our greatest existential threat, increases global temperatures, melts the ice caps, raises sea levels, fuels droughts, adverse weather patterns, food, water, and energy insecurities. That dominant political-economic system has now threatened global human security such that our independence too is in jeopardy. Politically, this means, worsening inequities and disparities, unsustainable indebtedness, poverty, conflicts, crime, and violence.

I now challenge Saint Lucia in its people and its nationhood, in a similar directional “Quo Vadis” question, albeit in a non-religious, non-sacrilegious, yet practical and logical sense. Where exactly are we going?

What is the mission purpose of independence and to what extent have we accomplished same? What exactly are we celebrating that displays the sincerest meaning, purpose and progress of a conviction of genuine independence that may resonate with inspiration to our young people?

The answer I posit, resides in an understanding of how our destiny appears to be pre-determined, shaped and trapped in a repetitive cycle of political and economic depravity and parasitism. As is often said, history gets repeated where irrationality, stupidity and unreasonableness flourish. Our political space has been occupied by a political duopoly.

At 45 years of navigating independence with a public mindset of supposed emancipation from slavery and colonialism, we might have thought that especially the two latter eras would today be regarded as a humanitarian indignity and injustice of the past. We are today less truly or freely Independent individually, as a collective and as a nation-state. The irony of our 45 years’ celebrations resides in a deep-rooted and painful exhibition of national parochialism and hypocrisy.

The constitutionality of our democracy (people power) and sovereignty (authority) to self-govern freely and independently, with respect and in peaceful co-existence with all other people, has been slowly eroded over the course of the last 45 years. The politics and public policies of our political duopoly are today so twinned and less ideological, that the extent of their compounded impact must now be measured by the quality of life they have delivered to the citizens.

Consider the detestable fact in how our much-touted economic growth has left most citizens disadvantaged. National economic growth means nothing if it cannot measurably improve the quality of life, standard of living, life expectancy and aspirations of the citizens. Such economic growth must afford them a pathway out of poverty, inequality, social deprivation and the illicit economy that drives crime and violence. It must not represent rewards for a minority economic elite at the expense of the poor and working-class majority. That is antithetical to democracy.

Sir William Arthur Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, the very year we gained independence, for his theory on development economics in developing nations. Our political duopoly never once saw it fitting to ordain let alone consider Sir Arthur’s theory of economic development as part of our economic agenda. It is perhaps too late now and somewhat irrelevant in today’s world of neoliberal capitalism transitioning to the 4th industrial revolution of technological innovation, ICT, high-speed internet, 5G, AI and cloud capital. The latter has rendered the free-market concept, the bedrock of Sir Arthur’s economic theory, misanthropic.2

If the explanation is framed around us being a work in progress towards building a more democratic nation-state, then the unacceptable outcomes of worsening poverty, inequality and social deprivation reflect otherwise. “Progress” must be stress-tested periodically and subjected to the litmus test of public scrutiny and acceptance. This must be executed by a robust system of publicly transparent measurements and evaluations of predetermined end-points. It therefore means, we have missed the boat!

Let me explain why we are now living in dark times despite our independence exuberances. A poorly educated and unhealthy populace has unquestionably no future. Stripping our intellect of critical, analytical and independent thinking over decades of miseducation and misinformation has eroded our dignity, freedom and our humanity.

Universal education like universal health care/coverage requires ambitious planning and financing because they are both in dire crisis, under-resourced and poorly managed. They are, however, critical to our human resource development and well-being, which makes them fundamental to our economic development as an independent nation. We have once more failed in that regard!

What do our policymakers mean when they pronounce that education must no longer be seen as a social good but, rather as a driver of the economy? The dark cynicism of this statement served to represent an austerity-type policy shift away from much-needed universal public education to private (for-profit) outsourced entities. Education has and must retain at its core, a social function, which once appropriately and inclusively engaged can now serve as a key driver of an innovative and sustainable, green, digitalized and decarbonized economy for everyone.

The education of the children of this nation is not and must never be viewed as a business proposition; it is a universally declared human right that must be constitutionally guaranteed, respected, and protected by every administration. In that regard, the one university graduate per household doctrine is lacking in bold ambition, broad and inclusive social vision as well as is inequitable and discriminatory at best. In that context and circumstance, the one university graduate per household doctrine defies the much-hyped meritocracy doctrine!

What is needed is the democratization of education, by opening the floodgates to equal opportunity access and affordability to superior quality universal education for every citizen. This is the principle of long-termism, a moral imperative of today and tomorrow, where popular participation and inclusion seeks to frame an economy and standard of living that truly works for everyone. That too is an additional pathway out of poverty, inequality, crime and violence.

What do our policymakers mean when they repeatedly tell us that the private sector is the driver of the economy? This is a dangerously flawed mindset that serves to demoralize, humiliate and minimize the value of productivity and creativity within the public sector and the popular masses (citizenry) by extension. It is at its core, discriminatory, not broadly inclusive, and uninspiring.

I often contend that the same “efficiencies,” “best practices” and “operating procedures” applicable to the much-touted successes of the private sector can and must be applied in a sanitized manner across the public sector as well. It also calls for less outsourcing, with greater emphasis on human resource capacity and capital building within the public sector eco-spaces. This is to drive data capture, collective intelligence and strategic collaborations to co-create and co-influence PPPs and contracts, that foster improved relationships of greater social equity and synergies with less private sector dominance, distortions and parasitism.

What do our policymakers mean when they tell foreign investors that they are given a free hand to make returns on their investments, just to ensure the workers get a fair wage? This premise presupposes that the private sector, driven by profit, is also replete with trust in social conscience. In politics and economics, good intentions are worthless unless followed up with action, by policy-based legislative, regulatory and oversight mechanisms. Our labour force must not be unfairly disadvantaged. It is time to mandate a minimum liveable wage, improve stakeholder equity and value, as well as foster fairer conditions for workers through unionization.

So yes, we are growing older as a country. Sadly, however, we have not grown up; we have not matured sufficiently to responsibly frame a moonshot of a mission and a purpose that will serve the common good of our nation, mankind and planet earth. Our situation is a manifestation of not having good options while our leaders continue to be poor negotiators on our behalf.

Therefore, if we do not create now, a new breed of bold, ambitious and courageous leaders and thinkers, then we deserve what we have accepted. The time is now to stop resisting the obvious necessity for transformational change.

Independence must also reflect the contribution and impact of the working people and citizens of this 45-year-old nation despite their battles to transcend the decades-long challenges of their many unholy alliances. Our historical, economic and cultural activities in agriculture and fishing have largely been replaced by the small manufacturing, services and tourism sectors.

Diversification must no longer be viewed as a zero-sum game. Food sovereignty is a political and policy choice that must guarantee us the right to produce our own food, on our own lands, to feed our people and all who wish to visit us. It is a critical and indispensable pathway to attaining food independence and food security, which are also a human rights issue.

Food insecurity leads to the malnutrition, cognitive, growth and developmental challenges in human beings. It is also a driver of the many risk factors for CNCDs, crime, violence and premature deaths. Today’s food shortages are principally driven by poverty, inequality, conflicts and the climatic crisis. They are all characteristic features of that dominant political-economic model of free enterprise and free market capitalism (neoliberalism). Our political duopoly has embraced this model with an ill-prepared mindset to appreciate how and why economies and markets must reflect planned end-points that must deliver on real and fair opportunities and possibilities for the citizens.

If the health and education of the nation are not thriving (as they shamefully are not), then the nation cannot be successful! The scientific data is clear; that wherever these inequalities worsen, overall inequalities in society worsen as well.3 To lessen this social gradient would mean access to a lifelong mission of a social package of benefits (social justice) which can be achieved if we want. Realistically, there must be an urgency of scale and pace, of bold and ambitious initiatives and investments to narrow our insecurity, deficiency and inefficiency gaps.

While undoubtedly, many important achievements have been secured and guaranteed for our citizens, the working class remains a most unfortunate and abused cohort. They are victims of an extractive wealth-generating space in both the productive and non-productive sectors.

Unfulfilled promises and broken social contracts have hindered just recognition and rewards in purpose, creativity, and value. History has taught us, that does not come naturally. Rather, it must be laboured and fought for with courage, determination, persistence, and flexibility.

Our workers must retain the audacity of their unrelenting pursuit with hope, resolve and resilience towards building a more equal and fairer society, with sustainable guarantees for themselves as well as the future of their children.

I have no doubt that our workers can step up to meet that challenge, but we must also equally commit to collectively advocating for their fairer and just rewards.

Today’s workplace demands a qualified workforce that is more educated and skilful. Therefore, our technical, vocational and academic institutions of superior learning and educational excellence must prepare to better deliver on a thus far failed mission. The State, must be a key partner in driving this challenge of a new reality into a new and rebranded human resource product.

Humankind in its design and evolution manifests a uniquely special consciousness for social integration and harmony. As a rule, healthy beings resist an existence outside of or isolated from society which speaks to a principle of collectivism and social solidarity.

The Way Forward

Crises create the opportunity for important reform that requires consensus building and partnering between the State and the citizens, as well as access to affordable and adequate finance and investment capital for a successful outcome.

We need a medium to long-term strategic and actionable development plan to energize the economy in all its productive and non-productive sectors while embracing the net zero just energy transition drive to replace fossil fuel. Our citizens need to acquire the necessary strategic skills for economic growth and progress beyond tourism. That must include the digital, technological and brain-driven industries of today, tomorrow and into the future. This can only be acquired through dedicated investments in vocational, technical and academic-based quality education and skills training of our citizens and, more specifically, our labour force.

We will not be able to deliver a sustainable economy of fair opportunities and dignified possibilities for every citizen if we are unable to inspire and motivate them into a mindset and reality of sacrifice, hard work and education. For those born in the year that birthed the nation’s independence, unlike your nation, you are well past the halfway mark of your life expectancy, which, according to national data, is 72 years.

Finally, we ought not to view our independence in isolation of its regional and international context. Our current leaders have not done their part well enough to deserve a victory lap. Our new frontier is no longer the OECS or CARICOM per se, but, rather a broadening of the cooperation and integration movement to reflect the true regional realities in the context of a surviving and sustainable pathway to the future. CARICOM, as a block, has been too slow and timid to progress, with little moral clarity and conviction. It is at risk of losing its mission purpose. Therefore, a logical integration approach on several levels must be, of necessity, towards Latin America and the Global South, notwithstanding its established relationship with the Global North.

Do not allow ourselves to be easily co-opted into submission to divisive, cruel and tribal political partisanship, framed around cult-like personalities and party loyalty, as our sense of national purpose. Our political duopoly, with its social conscience deficit, continues to practice the politics of division and hate. Hatred is dark and destructive. Love is an intense and radiant explosion of life. What we need now is the politics of truth for peace, reconciliation, social justice and true democracy.

1 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1779; The Invisible Hand Theory; Theory of Comparative Advantage. 2 Yanis Varoufakis, 2024; Techno-feudalism: What Killed Capitalism. 3 Sir Michael Mamot, 2008; WHO’s Global Commission on Social Determinants of Health, Closing the Gap in A Generation.

758, Happy 45th Independence Anniversary!

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