As we speculate about the date of the Barbados election, one is almost inclined to forget that Grenada’s election is also weeks away as the five-year anniversary of the 2013 poll falls on February 19, 2018. The two events were proximate; however, the outcomes could not have been more different with one producing a marginal Government and the other producing the strongest possible government for the second time in Grenada’s history. Over the past five years, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart held on to all of the appointments he initially made, while Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell reshuffled his cabinet several times.
Mitchell’s government was colourful, and his management style was strategically fascinating, while Stuart’s is colourless and bereft of any apparent strategic initiatives.
It is striking that Mitchell just delivered a budget that gave considerable relief to Grenadians. In contradistinction, Stuart’s Finance Minister recently imposed higher levels of taxation on Barbadians in a package that set national records for single tax increases and “gave away” little or nothing.
In fairness, Mitchell had the benefit of a political outcome that allowed him to enough elbow room to consider all options which included the conclusion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and introducing some level of austerity. In the case of Grenada, their public service bill is generally less oppressive, so in addition to the political space, Mitchell would not have had to contemplate terminating thousands of public servants.
In Barbados, Stuart’s Finance Minister tinkered with austerity and terminated thousands, but the absence of an IMF or other major programme of support, meant that while Mitchell has been able to report success with his programme, Chris Sinckler was weeks ago announcing his intention to commence another one in the series.
On the other side of both political coins is the opposition scenario which also presents a stark contrast. The 2013 election gutted the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in Grenada
with former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas losing his seat along with all the others.
It is fortuitous that Thomas has thrown in the towel and given the NDC an opportunity to regroup under new leadership; however, it is less fortunate that leadership has fallen to Nazim Burke, a leading member of the Thomas regime who has been part of the Grenadian political scene since the 1970s.
Over the past five years, Burke has struggled against Mitchell, especially as he lacks the legitimacy of an elected opposition leader; however, both he and the NDC fail to understand that their shortcomings go beyond the lack of a seat. The NDC’s mantra for the last 20-plus years has focused on the alleged “evils” of Mitchell, which is a conversation that Burke has persisted with, although it is clear from two 15-0 results that Grenadians disagree.
To this is now added the complexity of the relative success of Mitchell’s economic programme compared to that of Thomas/Burke which, like Stuart/ Sinckler’s never really got off the ground. In contradistinction, the Mia Mottley led Barbados Labour Party can come to the public with cleaner hands as she has never led that party before and unlike Burke performed credibly in the 2013 election. Mottley can also rely on the fact that our most recent memory of the BLP suggested a higher level of competence than that which is currently being experienced which is the polar opposite of the Grenada situation.
Peter W. Wickham (peter.w.wickham @gmail.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).