Editorial: Trick and treat for Halloween

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Halloween is celebrated in the United States and other countries on the night of October 31, the eve of All Souls’ Day. It is reputed to be the time when ghosts and spirits roam the earth in search of souls. Children dress up in scary masks and costumes, knock on doors and declare to the homeowners, “Trick or treat, smelly feet / Give me something good to eat!” (Give me, or else!) Of course, the residents usually place candy or other goodies in the bags of the children and they merrily run on to the next home in their “give-me-something-or-else” bargaining.
Surprisingly, we here in Antigua and Barbuda saw a political version of that bargaining  – “No Back Pay; No CCJ!” (Caribbean Court of Justice) And it appeared to be resonating with a goodly portion of the body politic – not only those who were actually owed the back pay, our out-of-pocket public servants, but those who sympathised with them. Of course, in some circles, it appeared as though this type of horse-trading and hard-nosed negotiating for CCJ support on the condition that back pay be disbursed, was a great example of the people using their clout and calling their government to do right by them.  The people had the power (their vote), and they were using that vote to take the government to task.  Think, “Power to the people!” 
And when prominent voices began thundering the notion that something as monumental as a vote for an apex court could be held hostage to two months back pay, the floodgates of demands were opened, and everybody who wanted something from the government, suddenly made their yea-vote for the CCJ conditional on the government acceding to this and/or that demand. For example, there was the “Fix the roads first, or no CCJ!” Also, there was “Fix the prison system, or no CCJ!” And, “Pay Social Security on time, or no CCJ!” The latest precondition that we heard yesterday was, “Give us running water 24/7, or no CCJ!” Indeed, the trend in recent days was for a person to go on a rant against the government and then end  with an emphatic, “ . . .That’s why I am not voting for the CCJ!”
Of course, the rich irony here is that in the days and months leading up to the last election in March of this year, many of those who are now making these demands for redress of grievances (And we will make no judgment as to the merits. After all, what might seem trite and frivolous to one, may be deeply important to another) were deafeningly silent. Crickets! With so much that needed fixing in Antigua and Barbuda; with so many undelivered promises; with so much bark and bluster, but so little bite – so very little to show in real terms for the masses, it was a bit of a head-scratcher that voters gave up their votes of support for little more than “a mess of pottage.” Not to mention those who never even bothered to exercise their sacred franchise. To hell with all the things that needed fixing! But that’s all ancient history. Oh, and many of those who are now saying that we can’t trust our own judges to interpret and adjudicate our laws, voted for our own politicians to make those very laws! Good grief! The mind wobbles! But that too is ancient history, and a subject for another time.
Anyway, just in time for Halloween 2018, the government delivered a Halloween treat (some say trick) to secure the 67 percent of votes cast needed for approval of a change to our constitution that would pave the way to the CCJ. Voila! The Prime Minister’s early suggestion that he knew that perhaps the back pay could not be paid in October, was replaced by a coy declaration that maybe he could surprise the public servants before the end of the year, and then abracadabra – the November surprise – a $5 million loan to pay the established public servants on or before November 6, Referendum Day! Needless to say, ghosts, spirits and cynicism abound!
Of course, we are delighted that the established public servants will be getting a portion of their back pay. And we really wish that all of our public servants could be getting theirs. They have patiently waited long enough! And they are more than deserving of every penny! Never mind that they took a substantial cut on monies
owed them. But the optics are terrible! Perception is reality! And the sudden sourcing of funds to pay the back pay just before the referendum, appears to be a cheap trick, a naked, politically-calculated ploy to buy votes. There really is no other way to say it! Especially in light of the supposed poll by a Caribbean pollster suggesting that the government could be falling just shy of the 67 percent threshold. Think quid pro quo! A nice treat – ‘something good to eat,’ just in time for Halloween! And the referendum!

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