Gov­ern­ment like or as a busi­ness: Who’s just talk­ing the talk?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

It would be hi­lar­i­ous if not for its se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Ev­ery year our gov­ern­ments set aside two or three days for the stated pur­pose of up­dat­ing the peo­ple on whether money has been ex­pended with­out due re­gard to econ­omy or ef­fi­ciency, and sat­is­fac­tory pro­ce­dures have not been es­tab­lished to mea­sure and re­port on the ef­fec­tive­ness of gov­ern­ment pro­grams; how the pri­vate sec­tor func­tioned; pay­ments on bank loans; new loans to be un­der­taken and how they will be re­paid; the ex­tent of the gov­ern­ment’s in­debt­ed­ness; what’s left in the kitty; the con­di­tion of gov­ern­ment-owned prop­er­ties in­clud­ing school build­ings, hospi­tals, po­lice sta­tions; roads to be re­paired or built from scratch, and so on.

From time to time MPs ac­tu­ally take the op­por­tu­nity to ac­knowl­edge they are mere “ser­vants of the peo­ple, al­ways ac­count­able to them.” Or that they are man­agers of “the peo­ple’s busi­ness.”

It would ap­pear, how­ever, that since June 2016 the worst sin a politi­cian can com­mit is to as­so­ciate gov­ern­ment in the slight­est way with busi­ness. Hardly a week goes by with­out an op­po­si­tion ref­er­ence to the cur­rent prime min­is­ter’s prom­ise upon tak­ing of­fice to run his gov­ern­ment “like a busi­ness.” Al­most from the mo­ment the words fell out of his mouth the op­po­si­tion party (mis­chie­vously or out of ig­no­rance) took to mis­quot­ing him, sub­sti­tut­ing his “like a busi­ness” phrase—by which the prime min­is­ter meant to say his gov­ern­ment would op­er­ate by the tested rules of good busi­ness—with their own “as a busi­ness”; that the prime min­is­ter was hell-bent on op­er­at­ing gov­ern­ment as he had his fam­ily’s ho­tel (wink! wink!), con­cerned only with profit and loss.

By the op­po­si­tion’s twisted mea­sure, a gov­ern­ment that op­er­ates as a busi­ness can­not be con­cerned about the poor. But we need not travel from the ridicu­lous to the sub­lime. The irony is that if our gov­ern­ments have demon­strated one com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic, it is their shared propen­sity to talk the talk (how­ever un­gram­mat­i­cally) but never to walk the walk. Whether or not they ad­mit it, they take turns pre­tend­ing to con­duct the af­fairs of state in ac­cor­dance with good busi­ness prac­tices.

Our politi­cians demon­stra­bly ab­hor ac­count­abil­ity. Au­dited ac­counts, which by law must be tabled in par­lia­ment within a stated time frame, are cus­tom­ar­ily pre­sented four or five years late, if at all. Of course that has never pre­vented the gov­ern­ments of our re­gion—where the ayes al­ways have it—from bor­row­ing and spend­ing as they please, re­gard­less of the wis­dom in the op­po­si­tion’s nays. With nearly ev­ery sub­mit­ted ac­count comes a Pan­dora’s Box of the dis­claimer that for sev­eral al­to­gether avoid­able rea­sons the tabled doc­u­ment is “not a true re­flec­tion of the state’s fi­nances.”

For countless years now prime min­is­ter af­ter prime min­is­ter has ac­knowl­edged the cost of gov­er­nance is a bur­den too heavy for this coun­try to carry. It is no se­cret that more than half of gov­ern­ment rev­enue is swal­lowed up by our in­sa­tiable pub­lic ser­vice that few would say de­liv­ers value for money. But its num­bers con­tinue to swell amidst claims that many carry on as if their job de­scrip­tion de­manded they do all in their power to frus­trate their em­ployer’s best ef­forts. Still suc­ceed­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions grin and bare the con­se­quences rather than take re­me­dial ac­tion, for rea­sons that by now are only too ob­vi­ous. Mean­while the of­fi­cial un­der­writ­ing of ev­ery mass-au­di­ence fete con­tin­ues un­abated, all in the ir­re­proach­able name of cul­ture.

There has hardly been a sit­ting of par­lia­ment over the past forty years (say, from 1979 to time of writ­ing) that ad­journed with­out the worst ac­cu­sa­tions and al­le­ga­tions hurled as in a food fight by MPs on both sides of the ta­ble. Not only have MPs pub­licly ac­cused col­leagues of countless crim­i­nal of­fenses, but they also con­tinue to treat the Speaker as if he or she were in­vis­i­ble and in­audi­ble. Doc­u­ments that mer­ited se­ri­ous study by the of­fices of the AG and DPP are in­stead rou­tinely pub­lished on the In­ter­net while the named sus­pects carry on as usual, not even both­er­ing to of­fer clar­i­fi­ca­tion or de­fense.

Small won­der the House that should be the na­tion’s most re­spected in­sti­tu­tion has ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion syn­ony­mous with al­ley-cat shenani­gans. No more are crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions cause for shame and em­bar­rass­ment; not in par­lia­ment, con­se­quently not in pri­vate life. It would seem the peo­ple not only get the gov­ern­ment they de­serve, they also em­brace their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­gard­less of how egre­gious. (See Ten­nyson Joseph state­ment on page 13.)

Ed­mund Burke comes to mind. The British MP and po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist is cred­ited with say­ing that “in all forms of gov­ern­ment the peo­ple are the true leg­is­la­tor”—which mes­sage de­pends for its mean­ing on the re­ceiver’s mind­set. But what if the peo­ple don’t know they are the true leg­is­la­tor, don’t care, or have been se­duced or co­erced into pass­ing on this re­spon­si­bil­ity to oth­ers who by their ac­tions or rep­u­ta­tions demon­strate noth­ing but dis­re­gard for com­mon de­cency, let alone the law?

In Democ­racy for Real­ists, pub­lished in 2016 by so­cial science pro­fes­sors Christo­pher Achen and Larry Bar­tels, the au­thors ar­gue that the idea that peo­ple make co­her­ent and in­tel­li­gi­ble pol­icy de­ci­sions on which gov­ern­ments then act bears no re­la­tion­ship to how it re­ally works. Or could work.

Vot­ers, the au­thors con­tend, can­not pos­si­bly live up to these ex­pec­ta­tions. Most are too busy with jobs and fam­i­lies and trou­bles of their own. “When we do have time off, not many of us tend to spend it sift­ing com­pet­ing claims about the fis­cal im­pli­ca­tions of quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing. Even when we do, we don’t be­have as the the­ory sug­gests.”

The sit­u­a­tion is far worse in a coun­try where the al­leged best brains are ei­ther civil ser­vants, there­fore si­lenced by staff or­ders and con­tracts, or they pro­duced the trou­ble­some pol­icy and in con­se­quence are com­plicit. As for the rest of us, the ma­jor­ity of whom can­not or will not read, we are like pro­grammed robots mind­lessly re­gur­gi­tat­ing party pro­pa­ganda. The re­search sum­ma­rized by Achen and Bar­tels sug­gests most peo­ple pos­sess al­most no use­ful in­for­ma­tion about poli­cies and their im­pli­ca­tions, have lit­tle de­sire to im­prove their state of knowl­edge, and have a deep aver­sion to po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ment. Our po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions are based on who we are, not on what we think. Put an­other way, we act po­lit­i­cally, not as in­di­vid­ual, ra­tio­nal be­ings but as mem­bers of so­cial groups, ex­press­ing a so­cial iden­tity. Did some­one say party hacks?

“We seek out the po­lit­i­cal par­ties that seem to cor­re­spond best to our cul­ture, with lit­tle re­gard to whether their poli­cies sup­port our in­ter­ests. We re­main loyal to po­lit­i­cal par­ties long af­ter they have ceased to serve us.”

Re­cently, the al­ways con­tro­ver­sial SLP ac­tivist and one-time elec­tion can­di­date Ten­nyson Joseph (he proved easy meat for the UWP’s Ru­fus Bous­quet) re­peated for the umpteenth time his con­vic­tion that busi­ness peo­ple ought to be de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to serve their coun­try in gov­ern­ment, on the dodgy premise that they care only for the bot­tom line and the hell with the poor and dis­fran­chised. He cited Trump as proof of the wis­dom in his ob­ser­va­tion, al­to­gether ig­nor­ing that it was Amer­ica’s so-called de­prived and os­tra­cized that were largely re­spon­si­ble for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s shock­ing de­feat. He ig­nored, too, the pop­u­lar no­tion that very rich politi­cians are un­likely to steal from the peo­ple they rep­re­sent.

Of course Trump was, for Ten­nyson Joseph, a step­ping stone, al­beit a slip­pery one, to where the SLP’s golden boy was headed. Be­fore long he was prat­ing about a bur­geon­ing neo-lib­er­al­ism move­ment whose ide­ol­ogy, he said, de­manded the re­moval from of­fice gov­ern­ments

that cared for the poor. That is to say, gov­ern­ments such as Kenny An­thony's, trounced in 2016 by “busi­ness­man” Allen Chas­tanet's United Work­ers Party—de­spite that An­thony held all the cards!

The truth is that from its in­cep­tion in 1964 the United Work­ers Party had been la­beled the busi­ness­man's party, com­pris­ing as it did such as John Comp­ton, Ge­orge Mal­let, Hunter Fran­cois, Mau­rice Ma­son, Henry Gi­raudy and so on. Ac­tu­ally, the more prom­i­nent among the UWP lead­er­ship were lawyers.

On the other hand the Labour Party, un­der its orig­i­nal leader Ge­orge Charles, proudly de­scribed it­self as the party of the down­trod­den la­borer, the rel­a­tively un­e­d­u­cated— con­se­quently poorer Saint Lu­cian. Ad­mit­tedly, that was a long time ago. Still the SLP's lead­ers con­tinue to bleed for all it's worth the no­tion that class sep­a­rates our two po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Kenny An­thony did lit­tle to ame­lio­rate the re­sul­tant lose-lose civil war. Nei­ther the Ox­ford grad­u­ate Ge­orge Od­lum be­fore him. For a Labour camper to pro­mote UWP gov­ern­ment pol­icy he believes serves the coun­try gen­er­ally is to risk be­ing la­beled a sell-out by the SLP. The re­verse is equally true. And so the self-hate pre­vails.

It must be ob­vi­ous by now that they will change their coun­ter­pro­duc­tive ways only when we the peo­ple adopt a new at­ti­tude to­ward our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives. To bor­row a phrase from a most un­likely source, “no more talk, no more talk, no more talk!” We are on the brink of the abyss. It's ac­tion time.

As ear­lier in­sin­u­ated, of the sev­eral seem­ingly un­solv­able prob­lems hang­ing over He­len's del­i­cate naked neck, the worst is our chronic short­age of funds com­bined with our ad­dic­tion to spend­ing bor­rowed money with no re­turns. In our gov­ern­ment's fis­cal cir­cum­stances a reg­u­lar busi­ness would long ago have been forced into bank­ruptcy. But then pri­vate sec­tor busi­nesses are not op­er­ated by un­reg­u­lated vam­pires with over 185,000 ex­posed jugu­lars at their dis­posal.

When a pri­vate busi­ness finds it­self in ap­par­ently ir­re­versible fi­nan­cial straits, its bankers de­mand ur­gent salu­tary ac­tion, re­gard­less of how dis­con­cert­ing. Usu­ally, the bank's rec­om­men­da­tion is “do more with less.” A dis­tressed pri­vate busi­ness of­ten is forced to send home cher­ished, long-serv­ing staff, to make cuts un­til there is noth­ing left to cut . . . and then the bank takes over the op­er­a­tion, ef­fec­tively ren­der­ing its own­ers and skele­ton staff bank em­ploy­ees. Yes, the mother of all night­mares!

The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund is equally hard on the peo­ple when their gov­ern­ment has fi­nally brought their coun­try to its knees. As I say, only the worst cow­ards go down with­out a fight. Our coun­try is headed down the toi­let. We must not al­low it to pick up more speed. I think I may have a pos­si­ble rem­edy. Bit­ter though it may be, what awaits around the cor­ner if we don't act to­gether—and with com­mon pur­pose—is far worse. Tune in next Sat­ur­day. In the mean­time read “Mas­sive Cuts in Bar­ba­dos Gov­ern­ment Spend­ing" on page 14!

When it comes to the op­er­a­tions of gov­ern­ment, lit­tle has changed since Sir John Comp­ton (pic­tured)—save for the worse.

e the hey­day of

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