Let’s talk manifesto

The hot-button issue in recent weeks has been government’s divestment plan, starting with State Insurance Corporation. There’s been strong rhetoric, industrial action and protest action, but what was has captured our attention most is the justification that there was no need to consult the people, since divestment was prominently featured in the 2009 manifesto.

It was galling to hear, on Serpent’s Snake Pit programme a few weeks ago, a non-elected member of the UPP callously saying that people gave the United Progressive Party the mandate, and those who wanted to have discourse on the matter should refer to page two of the manifesto. Case closed.

That manifesto rationale was toned down and refined but repeated nonetheless by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, when he met with the staff at State Insurance, and by Minister of Finance Harold Lovell in a press statement to defend divestment plans and the chairman of the SIC Board.

Now, we don’t have a problem with the UPP fulfilling manifesto promises or even referencing the manifesto, but by all means, since they opened the box, we want to look in.

In the 2004 manifesto Agenda for Change, the UPP promised justice. In fact, in terms of placement, that issue took prominence just as divestment takes prominence now. Still, despite all of the tough talk, threats and promises that justice would be served, it has been a complete game of smoke and mirrors.

People will remember that justice was the main plank in a platform that ushered the UPP into office in 2004, but it remains unfulfilled, even as people toss a later manifesto at us.

For six years, we have been asking for this to come to pass and what we’ve been given instead are more stops than starts, a stillborn inquiry and what’s starting to look, more and more, like collusion to keep some people from having their day in court.

Frankly, there’s cold comfort in the UPP’s selectiveness in keeping campaign promises. How did we leapfrog from Agenda for Change to Defending the Nation, leaving more important matters wanting?

Even if we look at the latest manifesto, the UPP promised that divestment would “propel a quantum leap to the economic democracy by divesting to the broad masses of Antiguans those activities of the state that are best operated as private sector entities.”

We know that due diligence is under way, so the story has not been told, but nowhere in the din have we heard of a decided thrust to empower citizens and residents. What we have heard is some back-pedalling from an initial pronouncement that 75 per cent of the shares would be allocated to international and/or regional entities.

Since, according to what we’ve heard lately, the UPP has a burning desire to fulfill manifesto promises, we think it is appropriate and timely to ask, on behalf of the people, the status of the Unemployment Relief Programme that will pay laid-off workers up to 60 per cent of their salaries for up to three months.

We’re wondering also about the progress on the National Commission on Law and Order. The manifesto promised “the National Commission on Law and Order will assist the government in achieving civil peace and harmony, cultural renewal and social cohesion.” Where is it?

We are also waiting to see movement on the Victims of Crime Bill of Rights and the transformation of the “capital city,” to include, according to the manifesto, pedestrian-only zones, the completion of the multi-storey car park, CCTV units in St John’s, incentives for property owners to maintain their structures or demolish them, urban beautification and more.

We would also love to hear the plan to establish administrative and cultural centres in each parish.

And while we are at it, we are certain that the young people of the nation want to hear about the National Youth Service where they can earn skills, stipends and education credits.

We could go on about myriad other promises, but we’ll stop here to note that we understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But we also want to point out to the spokespersons and speech writers that voters do not support a party on the basis of their manifestos only and that some people vote for a party in spite of their manifestos.

True, the majority gave the UPP the mandate to run the country; and, true, the leaders need to be confident enough to make decisions without having to get consensus for every pan that will knock.

But it was the UPP that introduced terms like “people first,” and “participatory democracy” into our lexicon. It was the UPP that raised our expectations and it is the UPP that prides itself on holding consultations. So they can’t come when they like and when they choose, with odium and arrogance, to tell the people to check the manifesto.

Because one thing is certain, if the new modus operandi of the UPP is to throw the manifesto at the electorate, then government better be prepared to be graded by it and to have it thrown right back at them.

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