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May - August,  2006

SPECIAL: ELECTRONIC EXCHANGE WITH TILLMAN THOMAS

MR. TILLMAN THOMAS, LEADER OF THE PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION IN GRENADA- AN INTRODUCTION

BIGDRUMNATION, the Grenadian e-journal of arts, culture and ideas- is very pleased to bring you Opposition Leader Tillman Thomas's responses to eight questions put to him in a letter of May 25 2006 written by the journal's Martin P. Felix and Caldwell Taylor. Mr. Thomas's responses came to us in a note dated June 29, 2006, relayed via the office of Opposition parliamentarian Ms Glynis C. B. Roberts, Member for the constituency
of St George South.

Tillman Thomas,59, was born at Hermitage (St Patrick's) on June 13, 1947 to parents whom he describes as
"strict disciplinarians". Tillman's father was a farmer and butcher, and mom stayed home to raise the kids.

Tillman attended the Tivoli Roman Catholic School, where he was an excellent student. He was also an avid sportsman and developed into an outstanding cricketer. Indeed, his fine batsmanship won him the praises of very many people in his community.

Tillman traveled to the United States as a young man, and it was there he began his post-primary education,
eventually earning himself a Bachelor's degree at New York's Fordham University.  From Fordham, he went on
to the University of the West Indies (Barbados) to read for a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree and a Certificate of Legal Education.

He returned to Grenada in the mid-seventies and immediately went into the practice of law. This was at a time when Grenadian youth were waging what Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci calls a "war of position". In other words , a struggle against the "hegemonic" ( ruling) culture. A war of position lays the basis for a "war of movement", according to Gramsci.

The mid-seventies was of course a time when anti-Gairy anger was growing by the day. It was also a time when
very many Grenadians felt the elections of 1972 "proved" that the Grenada National Party ( now defunct) was
toothless and that the time had come for a radical alternative led by younger men and women.

And these young men and young women had "evidence" to back their case for change. For they had "heard" from the Young Turks-Fitzroy O'Neal, Selwyn Strachan, Unison Whiteman and Keith Mitchell ( now prime minister of Grenada)- four "young fellas" who contested the '72 elections on the GNP ticket. As the great "Cacademon" Magadden Grant used to say:" When shark swim shore and tell you the blasted sea water rough, it really rough".

The mid-seventies radicalization of Grenadian politics brought to "the blocks" the intoxicating ideas of Marx,
Chairman Mao, Nkrumah, Che , Fidel, Frantz Fanon, CLR James,Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney and other theoreticians (and practioners) of revolution: Thomas came home just in time to get caught up in this ideological maelstrom. But he was prepared; he had his very own mascot, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham ( 1748-1832),father of European utilitarianism.

Like the rest of young men and women who spouted Marx and Lenin, Thomas knew very little about his Master's ideas and was merely smitten by Bentham's ethical arithmetic: "The greatest good for the greatest number".  This is not an attempt to bad mouth Tillman Thomas, for this writer is of the view that his embrace of Bentham's greatest good for the greatest number was/is evidence that there is a compassionate heart beating in Thomas's chest.  And let me hasten to add: Time has smothered the passions of youth and "middle age" has "rehabilitated" renegades like Ding Xiaoping. Following Ding, it hardly matters whether the cat is black or white. Indeed, the one and only real question is this: Does it catch mice?

In the little more than 30 years since his return to Grenada, Thomas has worn a multiplicity of hats, including that of  Junior Crown Counsel in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Minister in the Ministry of Finance (1993) and Minister of Tourism (1995).He was elected Leader of New Democratic Congress(NDC) in 2000 ; the NDC is the official opposition in the Grenada House of Representatives.

And the portion of Tillman Thomas's biography covering the thirty years since his return to Grenada in the mid-
seventies, bears grave witness to an unlawful imprisonment at the Richmond Hill Prison for running afoul of the
People's Revolutionary Government. Those who know the leader of the opposition say the way he has risen above this "traumatic chapter" testifies to the loftiness of  his soul and the unfathomable depths of his compassion.  Even so, his detention ( and that of several others) remains a source of agonizing shame. Therefore, in our search for atonement, we must resolve to remember that force is ill-equipped to do battle against the sovereign human spirit.

The Leader of the Opposition and , indeed, the legislative opposition, play a crucial and curious role in parliamentary democracies such as Grenada. Speaking of the role of  opposition parties, Canadian Gerard Schmidt had this to say:

"The Opposition's right and duty , if  it believes the public interest is at stake, is to oppose the government's policies and actions by every legitimate parliamentary means.  In so doing, oppositions try to convince the
electorate that they should change places with the government".

Norman Washington Manley (1893-1969), one of the "Fathers" of the sister Caribbean nation of Jamaica,
spoke eloquently of the role of the opposition in a 1967 article prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.  Mr. Manley, who was then the Leader of the Opposition,  posited three major roles for 'alternative government':

"[First] the Opposition must maintain a visible leadership; it must renew its strength with young faces and present the reality of an appearance of being capable of tackling the job.   It must be seen and heard and felt in every corner of the land. In the village the voice and leadership of the party must be heard and felt. In the town,
it must maintain a constant activity. Among the workers and in the trade union field it must offer constructive leadership...

"The second great role of the Opposition is, to put it very broadly and simply, to preserve democratic
procedures and fundamental human rights....

The third great duty of the Opposition flows from the  first two. it has a duty to oppose..."

Therefore, the Leader of the Opposition must not stint in his/ her criticism of the government. He/she must snarl at inadequate and incompetent government ministers, denounce every misuse of public funds, and  expose even the minutest breaches of the public trust.

And in all of this, the Opposition, especially its leader, must be careful not to betray too much teeth as this could be deemed "un-parliamentary". Such censure , especially coming from voters- could be very costly at the polls.

Yes, it is "like hell" being the "chief critic" and at once the prime minister-in -waiting. And that is exactly the portfolio of the Leader of the Opposition.  He /she must be attack dog on the one hand, and dean of decorum on the other. Tough.

Mr. Thomas seems confident that he could maintain the delicate balance that his Office demands. Furthermore,
he believes the Grenadian voters will award him very high marks when the "test" comes. Time go tell. We go see.

C.Taylor



AN ELECTRONIC EXCHANGE WITH TILLMAN THOMAS


1. BIGDRUMNATION ( Martin P Felix & Caldwell Taylor):
Mr. Thomas, How will you characterize the present political situation in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique?

TT: Stable and quiet.

2. BDN:There are whispers that the NNP Government is contemplating General Elections in a little over
a year from today. Will the NDC be in a position to mount an effective challenge? Do you think you will be able to dislodge the NNP?

TT: The NDC will unseat the current administration in the next election.

3. BDN: If you succeeded in defeating the NNP Government, what changes will you effect in the economy?

TT: The resuscitation of the Agricultural sector in particular to link Agriculture to processing and
manufacturing.

4. BDN: Do you (NDC) have a critical economic development theory? If yes, What are the major planks of this
critical development theory?

TT: The Private Sector as the main engine of growth. The main planks of our development strategy are
Agriculture, Food Security, Tourism and other services.

5. BDN: Have you (NDC) determined a role for culture in the process of national development?

TT: Culture will be promiently featured in an NDC administration. A Centre for the Performing Arts will be established.


6. BDN: Sir, you recently investigated one of the your sitting members of Parliament in the wake of allegations
of fraud. And after these "investigations", you pronounced that that member was innocent of the charges, but you made the pronouncement via a media release. Shouldn't you have done more, especially in light of the NDC's emphasis on "transparency"? Besides, why a media release instead of a press conference?

TT: The investigation was an internal investigation and a release was issued on the findings. A press conference was not necessary because all the issues were addressed.

7. BDN:How will you rate the NNP Government's performance on a scale of 1 to 10?

TT: 4

8 BDN: And how will you rate your Party's performance on the same scale?

TT: 7

BDN: Thank you.


July 5, 2006

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