Don’t bash the messenger

It is the new normal with this regime – when the message is not to its liking, bash the messenger. The latest instalment of this nasty habit was when the Chief of Staff in the office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst, launched a broadside at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for daring to declare that Antigua and Barbuda’s economy would fall from a 7 percent rate of growth in 2018, to 4 percent in fiscal year 2019. The IMF suggested that we would need to improve the performance of investments and consumption if we are to realise any appreciable growth in the economy. Gasp! Could that harsh assessment really be true? Could it be that the much-vaunted ‘economic powerhouse’ is sputtering?  Could all the huffing and puffing be producing a mirage rather than a miracle? Apparently so.

Of course, the ordinary men and women in the streets – Joe Tool-Belt and Jane Domestic, could have told the IMF that they are not feeling the power from this fairy tale powerhouse. They could have told the IMF that they are not seeing the many promised foreign investments, and that they are finding it increasingly difficult to provide for their families. Hmmm! Seems, not withstanding the extremely crude and vulgar way in which he described our dire situation, and the tough choices that many have had to make to put food on the table, Mike Tyson may have been on to something when he spoke in unflattering terms of the desperation and lack of opportunity that he was seeing in Antigua. Of course, we are hardly fans of Tyson, but perhaps through his undeniable street-wise lenses, he was calling it as he saw it.  It is not easy, and the people in many of our teeming seedy neighbourhoods know it. No wonder the IMF posited, as reported by the DAILY OBSERVER of November 4, 2019: “The key is for governments to continue to strive for stronger growth that is more inclusive, and strengthen well-targeted spending and social programs to protect the most vulnerable groups.” Clearly, notwithstanding the financial geniuses in its ranks, this government does not have the Midas touch.

However, the administration does have a sledge-hammer, and it was going to use it to bash the IMF for its imprudent expose of an open national secret – that we are flat broke. As Paul Keens-Douglas, he of Tantie Merle fame, would have impishly questioned, “Who tell de IMF say dat?” Who tell de IMF say, in not so many words, “The significant drop [in growth] comes as a result of high levels of inequality and lack of economic opportunity.” Good grief! Think brutal inequality in this blessed land where only a few, the chosen few, are doing well, and ‘everybody else is catching hell!’ In his calypso gem,UNITY, Shelly Tobitt pens a poignant line, “Is only de elites who live on Market Street will tell you life is sweet.” We suggest an updated version of that classic thusly, “Is only de elites who live on the corner of Gaston Street and Cheese Lane will tell you that life’s good.”

So there they were, wielding the aforementioned sledge-hammer with reckless abandon. Instead of taking the IMF’s report to heart, and looking to correct course, the administration pooh-poohed it. They called it “misleading and fictitious.” They said that “IMF reports should never be taken seriously,” especially since, according to Hurst, the IMF did not take into account the supposed major ongoing projects here in our fair state. And “Max” was not done with his assault. Nay, he was just beginning. Said he, “We do not listen to the IMF nor its advice or its counsel. In fact, we have devised in times past, our own structural adjustment programmes without bringing in all the pain and suffering that is commonplace to the IMF programmes.”  So there! The world-renowned and well-respected experts from the IMF, all of whom have no skin in our political game, can go suck a lemon.

To be sure, Hurst’s claim of pain and suffering at the hands of the IMF hearkened back to the 1970’s and 1980’s when the IMF’s austerity measures and cutbacks in countries like Guyana and Jamaica, proved to be inordinately harsh. This gave rise to the thinking in a number of circles that “the cure was worse than the disease.” But that was back in the day. The IMF has changed significantly since struggling Third World countries shrank in fear from its draconian remedies. Needless to say, Hurst’s thinking on the IMF is anachronistic, and his broadsides are misguided.

Meanwhile, we saw a similar bashing of the messenger when, Minister Melford Nicholas, in an appearance on our OBSERVER AM, unleashed a fusillade of unfortunate, never mind defensive and petulant, bile at our media house. Rather than address the substance of the good-governance advocate, Akaash Maharaj, a non-partisan analyst with no horse in our political race, who was speaking to the concerns of the citizenry about NAMCO, the good MP Nicholas took offense at Maharaj’s suggestions that politicians are corrupt. He also lashed out at what he perceived to be swipes at his administration’s lack of accountability and oversight and self-dealing and conflicts of interest. He denounced Maharaj and NEWSCO. Sigh!

We could go on and on and on with sad accounts of this administration’s antipathy towards harbingers, even as they ignore the import of the messages, but that would be superfluous. You get the point. This regime gives credence to Sophocles’ declaration in ANTIGONE, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” And believe us folks, the news is BAD!