Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why do people put political party before country?

Yesterday I was invited by the Observer Media Group (OMG) to appear on their most popular radio program "Voice of the People" from 12 until 2 pm. The topic was a broad survey of Environmental issues that came up in 2011 and were either dealt with successfully or not. 
As is usually the case with our local media the extremely complex and massive subject of the environment was piled into one conversation, but Julian Rogers who was running the show did a great job of trying to focus on to several narrow themes. 
Dr. Brian Cooper from the EAG and Arika Hill from the government's Environment Division were also guests on the program. 
Of course, Arika Hill works for the government and has to tread carefully around many topics that come up. As the person in charge of education within the ministry of environment, she focused on some of the great work they are doing in trying to spread the Good News of environmental stewardship among the youth of Antigua and Barbuda. We all agree that if the country's youth better understand our rich environmental assets and the ongoing threats that these assets face, they will be better equipped to manage these resources in the future. In fact, one caller even went as far as to say that the older generation is so set in their ways that they are almost incapable of changing for the better. She said that we just need to focus on the kids. 
I don't agree entirely with that and feel that change can happen if the decision and policy makers at the very top start the process or ARE FORCED TO START THE PROCESS. 
Dr. Cooper and I both intimated that the lack of political will was and has always been a major stumbling block. Example after example is there for us all to see where great ideas, speeches, programs, laws, regulations, policies have been brought before the public by politicians, but almost none of these turn into visible action on the ground. I mentioned the NEMMA which has failed to produce any visible change in the Marine Protected Area apart from unmanaged mooring balls for yachts. 
All three of the guests spoke about the Environmental Management Bill (I think that's the proper name for the bit of proposed legislation). This bill was worked on my a huge team of consultants and civil servants for years. Of course this wasn't done for free and plenty of hard earned tax payers money went into the construction of that bill. Dr. Cooper himself said that back in 2003 he had spent considerable time on the bill. The EAG has worked on it with the government as has many others, but it still hasn't been pushed through parliament. Why? Well some of the reason was that there were other bits of legislation which crossed over the bill, but we feel that the main reason that it hasn't been sent to parliament is that it will finally give some teeth to the Environment Divison and to anyone else who cares about environmental protection.... like you and me. Can you imagine that there are critically endangered species which have no legal protection here in Antigua? Madness. Anyway, Julian Rogers did a very good job of extracting a clear picture of how the bill works and why it hasn't gotten its final stamp of approval. 
Several people called in to ask questions and generally we were fairly diplomatic about what we were speaking about. I mean, I didn't say that the leading party were doing a terrible job or spend any time slamming the Minister of Environment, Hilson Baptiste who also is Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Fisheries. Lord knows that it wouldn't be difficult to be very critical of the way Fisheries and the Environment Division has been managed, but I tried to focus on the idea that a shift in the political policy was what was needed. I stressed over and over that Antiguans and Barbudans need to understand the inalienable connection between proper environmental protection and economic survival. Julian asked something along the lines of why i felt that the Leaders of Antigua and Barbuda had not lived up to their promises. I said that as a new Dad who is constantly changing my boy's diapers, I liked the saying which compared diapers and politicians. It suggested you change them both as often as possible.
George Ryan who is a regular caller on the program called in shortly afterward to offer support and encouragement for the panel. He is a highly respected businessman in Antigua and sits on many boards locally. Anyway, he suggested that since I was suggesting that the politicians had dropped the ball and walked away from the game of Environmental protection, that I should offer myself as a candidate. I laughed as I have no interest at the moment in diving into the degree of service and commitment that is required of a political representative. He pushed and said that i would be surprised as how many people would be following me.
I guess this was the straw that broke the camel's back. The next caller was The Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Fisheries, Hilson Baptiste who was still on the last day of his Christmas holiday. He did a good job of highlighting some of the areas that he and his ministry in the Environment Division were working hard for Antigua. He also pointed out that he was working with the EAG and that he had worked with me when he was Jr. Minister of tourism.
Shortly afterward a few of his party's loyal supporters called in applauding the Minister and his efforts. Blinded by what is actually going on out at sea, along the coastline and on the ground, these political followers support party first and can never see shortcomings. The same callers always seem to call in whenever anyone dares suggest that a better job can be done. This GroupThink mentality is what has ruined empires, political parties, great companies and all sorts of groups. Being critical without suggesting solutions isn't the right way, but not accepting any criticism because you feel that your party of political position is threatened is so much worse. I think to sit by and accept everything without offering suggestions on how things could be done in a better way is unpatriotic. I will always put country before party. It's the patriotic thing to do especially when it comes to conservation and environmentalism.