Commentary: Deconstruction of democracy in Dominica: Labour Party's 'mission' to emulate Venezuela!

Commentary: Deconstruction of democracy in Dominica: Labour Party's 'mission' to emulate Venezuela!

By Leighton R. James

Thirty months ago, in a piece entitled ‘Dominica: Rectifying the stride towards quasi-independence’ evidence was presented to alert readers that the ruling Dominica Labour Party was on the path to deconstruction of democracy on the island. Factors that promoted and sustained this path were identified and, as well, actions to curtail this aggressive assault and alter the unfortunate trajectory were documented.

Leighton R. James was born and grew up in Dominica. He has been involved in the establishment of community service groups in North America that are devoted to promoting STEM education and community health.

Notwithstanding the intervening impact of Tropical Storm (TS) Erika about 21 months ago, the slide continued and the island is now juxtaposed with Venezuela as two flailing states in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, TS Erika offered the Labour Party the opportunity to utilize this unfortunate natural disaster to execute no-bid government contracts (contravening the country’s Procurement Act), increase aberrant behaviour in use of the country’s finances (couched as ‘national development initiatives’) and concurrently promote the current Commonwealth secretary general (Patricia Scotland). In other words: why make a good crisis go to waste?

Developed over the past 15 years, the pace of democratic destruction in Dominica has accelerated in the past three years and has approached warp configurations since CBS’ 60-Minutes report five months ago on Dominican passport sales to ‘international crooks, criminals and scoundrels’. Several interacting components and events have synergized to enhance a sustained attack on democracy and to consolidate the Labour Party battering of the Dominican populace.

1) Emasculation of the Electoral Commission and the mechanism of parliamentary elections, by installing unconscionable legal ‘experts’ as placeholders on this key statutory body. This has ensured that the voters list was not updated for the past two election cycles and has fraught efforts to institute anti-fraud measures that would facilitate free and fair elections in Dominica. The Labour Party’s bold-faced assault on democracy culminated in a scheduled effort (on May 23, 2017) to regularize treating, cheating, bribery and other aberrations that have been so effective in ensuring the Labour Party’s electoral victory for the last three election cycles. This effort is the most significant, egregious and brazen action ever undertaken by any governing executive branch in the OECS region; parliament is being convened to remove key tenets of election-related statutes that prevent vote-buying, cheating, bribery and intimidation. The aforementioned strategy is noteworthy as there is a pending court matter against current Labour Party parliamentarians related to treating during the 2014 general elections.

2) Degradation of the police service to become a paramilitary extension of the ruling Labour Party. Upper management is staffed by malleable ‘yes-persons’ who bend to the whims of the prime minister and his hapless cabinet. In particular, this organization is now guided by a police commissioner who is typically mute on diverse issues relating to safety and law enforcement on the island. Interestingly, his only foray into linguistic utterance involves either threatening the public with “lethal force” whenever the Labour Party feels vulnerable (including during parliamentary elections in 2014) or issuing threats to lower-ranking police officers who display the audacity to stand up for their constitutionally mandated rights.

3) Systematic and progressive failure of a judicial system in which justice no longer appears to be balanced or without favours. To many, the justice system appears dysfunctional and has evolved it an entity that augments government oppression. To nullify critics and opposing views, the courts have become the primary tool utilized by the ruling Labour Party to stifle alternative ideas. Lawsuits against those with opposing views (including members of opposing parties and broadcast media) have escalated with the aforementioned aim. Magistrates and judges have displayed a propensity to rule in favour of members of current ruling party as, to do otherwise, risks their career and livelihood.

4) Insidious, progressive emergence of an office of President that represents the ruling Labour Party rather than working on behalf of Dominica and Dominicans. The current occupant of the President’s Office is ineffective, unless action is required to defend the ruling Labour Party (from which he ascended). A number of his predecessors, who functioned in a similar manner, have been rewarded for the compliance and silence in the face of atrocities.

5) A relentless move to acquire and / or stifle all means of mass communication on island. The Labour Party now, directly or indirectly, controls all aspects of mass communications effectively generating a vast propaganda machinery to further the Labour Party brand. Opposition parties have been effectively locked out from government funded broadcast and print media. These efforts have fostered the growth of cultish political allegiance to the ruling party that is rooted in ignorance and misinformation rather than facts and reality.

6) Emergence of a religious structure, most noticeable within the Catholic Church hierarchy that, contrary to church doctrines, has aligned itself with the ruling Labour Party. At opportune intervals, they insert themselves into Dominica’s politics to support viability of the ruling Labour Party and, concurrently, endure their religious institution. Pope Francis would be appalled; he may need to intervene to rein in these wayward clergies.

7) Flagrant abuse of government resources for political advancement that has been manifested through unregulated funding of unsolicited projects. While oversight resides within parliament, these actions by the executive branch have been facilitated by an incumbent speaker of the House (a fixture) who has been universally hostile to opposition parties over the past 17 years. In fact, both the speaker of the House and the president are Labour Party stalwarts with allegiance to party rather than country. Parliament is convened at the whim of the prime minister either to rubberstamp the Labour Party’s misguided legislation aimed at dismantling democracy (e.g. neutering the Integrity in Public Office Act, rubber stamping Supplementary Expenditure Bills, restraining free speech) or crippling opposition.

8) Unquestionably, the single most dominant factor that sustains the Labour Party’s hold on power has been the emergence and maintenance of dependency. To achieve this
feat, major productive sectors have been methodically destroyed. Analogous to (the late) Hugo Chavez’s approach, segments of the Dominican populace strategically distributed throughout the island but specifically concentrated in Labour Party ‘electoral strongholds’, constitutes the foundation of ‘Labour Power’. Many have become dependent on government for food, clothing, housing, energy, water, etcetera. This, in turn, has led to the emergence of an electoral composite for whom the Dominica Labour Party and, in particular, Roosevelt Skerrit can do no wrong. In their reality, the great party and its great leader are always right; opposing parties are either ‘jealous’ or hate Dominica. Truth always emanates from the party and its leader; contrary statements are lies or fake news – a hallmark of autocracy. Re-education and re-orientation will be long and arduous; the latter activity can only start after Labour Party no longer controls the executive.

Democracy is no longer under threat in Dominica. Instead, it has been successfully dismembered and a new system of single-party dominance has emerged (akin to Venezuela), propagating fear and threats to critiques and contrarians. The Labour Party is now equated to Dominica and any challenge to the former or its leader (Roosevelt Skerrit) is considered an attack on the latter (Dominica). Through deployment of accrued power and influence over the populace, the ruling Labour Party and its leader can:

a) summons supporters to transform any government-related activity (for example, renaming the airport at Melville Hall or opening a tax-payer-funded bridge in the capital city) into a Labour Party event;

b) misuse the police services to threaten the public;

c) fabricate stories to suite its narrative (for example, claiming there was a coup attempt in February 2017 with no evidence to support such claim);

d) arrest members of the opposition parties without cause or consequence;

e) abuse public resources without oversight or justification.

After destroying Dominica’s image and standing throughout the world, the ruling Labour Party is currently on an unprecedented spending spree directed at unsolicited, non-budgeted fantasy projects (or none at all) under the guise of development but with the clear, sinister aim of maintaining Labour Party’s grip on power for the foreseeable future. To sanitize its image locally, the administration has been on a wild ride throughout constituencies preaching the virtues and benefits of its efforts with the citizenship-by-investment (CBI) program. The regional and international thrust in the name of Dominica, but clearly designed to rescue a leader and the party’s tarnished image, has been no less intense or costly.

The enormity of the challenges currently confronting Dominica cannot be overstated. Caribbean nations are facing various challenges. However, I see no other Caribbean country in which democracy has been systematically dismantled in favour of one-party rule. Indeed, Dominica is in crisis. The effort to free Dominica from Labour Party Shackles will have to emanate from the ‘grass roots’ and ascend. Every patriot on island and beyond will need to coalesce to protect Democracy in the face of a relentless assault by an unyielding foe. This is not a feat that can be accomplished by the Freedom Party and United Workers Party (UWP), either alone, or in concert. Everyone with a progressive, more people-centric vision for Dominica (including those in the Dominican Diaspora) will be needed in this effort.

Unless rationality prevails to rescue democracy in Dominica, chaos will supersede. Unfortunately, unlike classic ‘Chaos Theory’, the events in Dominica have not been random; the approximate present does not determine the approximate future. There are no underlying patterns or feedback loops; the built-in constitutional counterbalancing feedback (Parliament) is deliberately mismanaged by a hostile Labour Party operative masquerading as speaker of the House of Assembly. We should harness all assistance needed to support those trapped in this vortex to enhance severance of dependency, ensure return to independence and (hopefully), this in turn will rescue democracy from the grip of self-centered Labour Party operatives.