Beyond intimidation and inducement

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Exactly one week from today, on Monday 28th January 2019, debate will open in the House of Representatives on the annual budgetary estimates that were presented 11 days previously by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

We already know that the ‘ayes’ will have it, in a Parliament where the Opposition is hopelessly outmatched and outnumbered 15-2, led by a greenhorn whose learning curve for coming ‘up to scratch’ is in no way helped by the bewilderingly apparent determination of his party to remain fractiously at odds with its own moniker of being ‘united’ and ‘progressive’.

But a critique of the UPP is not the purpose of this editorial. Instead it is to point out (and encourage) that the always dutiful and essential responsibility of civil society has become urgent and critical.

The Gaston Browne administration, as things now stand, may have every reason to fancy itself unstoppable – as much in entitlement as in capability. With complete control of the executive and legislative arms of government it can legalize wrongs, frustrate mechanisms for administrative redress against any aspect of its vast and complex domain, and overwhelm opponents’ recourse to the judiciary with the legal and financial resources it can marshal at taxpayers’ expense.

Those who coined the term “fourth estate” to describe the news media, had in mind that – in addition to the institutional triumvirate of executive, legislature and judiciary – the press would function as an unofficial and independent fourth branch of government, holding the other three accountable – largely by insisting on their transparency. It is to this ideal that OBSERVER Media remains committed – from our inception and transition to our present incarnation.

We pride ourselves in being this country’s ONLY remaining and truly independent news and information medium. But our independence and commitment do not mean that we are or should be alone in this never ending battle for transparency, accountability, integrity, good governance and ethical administration by our elected and public officials.

The entire gamut of civil society and its many institutions must rouse themselves from the slumber of indifference and recognize the totalized peril of a governmental juggernaut feeling so secure in its political power and presumed invincibility, that it routinely threatens, bullies, abuses and cusses off everyone and everything it wants for every reason – and sometimes for no reason but just the fact that it can. For the sheer heck of it, it seems!

Calypsonians who sing about what they consider to be ‘nastiness’ intimated into withdrawing their song and pulling out of a national competition – more recently a thinly veiled threat levelled at one who expressed unhappiness with the Entertainment Tax that he would be dealt with via his pocket should he decide to protest by not performing at a concert under the patronage of we-know-whom; even a party stalwart and veteran trade unionist was summarily executed from the Senate for his principled stance on what he deemed anti-worker legislation – and two years later his intendedto-silence designation as Ambassador to the ILO is yet to be operationalized; Sandals owner Gordon “Butch” Stewart ridiculed in our Parliament as ostensibly trying to buy the Prime Minister with a private plane ride and a bottle of Dom Pérignon, when he was doing what just about all investors try: obtain the best deals and most advantages terms they possibly can; and so has it continued with Scotia Bank and the threat of ‘no vesting order or compulsory acquisition if you don’t sell to me’.

Then it’s the private telecoms firms targeted with ‘windfall’ and other taxes, seemingly to ‘cut them down to size’ for making so much profit that they are characterized as raping the country.

Quietly, the executives of those private telecoms firms are telling those they speak to that these charges to supposedly fund a national university and establish an entrepreneurial development fund – not to mention the dispute over how the 850 megahertz GSM mobile phone band is divvied – are all smokescreens to tip the scales in favor of the state-owned (and hence government-controlled) utility provider APUA.

These matters, as we have noted before (the Scotia Bank sale and the APUA-versus-the rest standoffs) could end up being brought before institutions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, such as Caricom Competition Commission and even the Caribbean Court of Justice, which has ruled that it is open to hear disputes of this nature not only when they arise between member states, but also can be brought by commercial and other entities against States if these non-governmental entities consider themselves affected by unfair competition, abuse of market dominance, and other contrived trade distortions within a single free market and economy.

We heard in the recent budget address private telecoms companies being told, with not a little cockiness, that they have no choice, with reference to the demand that they make space for the late-arriving APUA on the 850 spectrum.

They may choose not to exercise their choices in terms of disputing and challenging politically driven demands and impositions within courts and regional bodies established for adjudication and resolution. They may simply decide to pass on the additional costs to consumers, in which case the people on whose behalf you claim to be acting could end up getting the dirty end of the stick.

Whether APUA’s assisted market dominance will be able to compensate for this is anyone’s guess, given the notso-great history and staying power of state enterprises. The political purposes to which they are always put and the graft they often feed – to reward and gain supporters – is a difficult legacy to reverse even when the centrally planned nationalization of free market industries and commerce is quaintly repackaged as entrepreneurial socialism.

Time to resist being bullied; time to reject being bought; time to at least slow down the juggernaut, whose speed may be less about accomplishing for us, and more about confusing, dizzying, dazzling and disorienting us, so it can better pursue selfserving and self-aggrandizing agenda.

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