“Have we forgotten Mr. Joseph W Parry?”
By now my readers will know that I like to use provocative titles to get them thinking and curious enough to read. Today I want to remind us of a man called Joseph Walcott Parry who at the ripe age of 35 years became the first Permanent Secretary for Nevis when St Kitts and Nevis gained its independence in 1983. It was Mr Parry who at 35 oversaw every ministry in Nevis whether it was related to physical planning, agriculture, tourism, youth and sports, culture, finance, lands and housing, labour, health, education, issues related to the police inter alia. It is striking that in 1983 when Dr. Simeon Daniel became the first Premier of Nevis and had to search for a man to look over all of these critical ministries that he didn’t look for someone that was close to 50 like him but a man who was 35. It is no surprise then that this same Mr Parry some 23 years later could also rise to be Premier, because at 35 he was already overseeing the various ministries of the island.
I give this brief history to show how backward we have become in Nevis almost 33 years after independence. Do we have any Permanent Secretaries who are 35 and younger now? It appears that in order to become a Permanent Secretary you have to be close to 50 or over 50. Have we become totally untrusting of youth? Just take a cursory look at our civil service today. Are we satisfied that in 1983 when a degree was so hard to come by we could have a 35 year old being the only Permanent Secretary and then 23 years after, when so many folks have degrees that we cannot count one Permanent Secretary that is 35 years old? I will be the first to say that it takes way more than a degree to lead an organization and that there are some people with degrees and masters that are not fit to lead an organization. Academic certification in itself is not enough but the truth is we have some people in our civil service and in statutory corporations that contribute precious little, yet are paid higher than folks who are young, qualified and full of verve, vim and vision to be in charge. It is a travesty that we do not use our youth well.
My father was the first person to lead the Labour Department in Nevis when he was only 23 years old and then went on to become General Manager of the NHLDC before he was 31. His legacy in both organizations to this day is unimpeachable but if someone were to do the same today, we would accuse the government of being crazy simply because the person is young. I commend very highly the work of the former government in ensuring that at least one young person would be a representative on each statutory board in the country. It meant that at 23, I was able to sit on the board at the Nevis Solid Waste Management Authority as its Deputy Chairman. The experience and lessons learned from that 3 year stint have been invaluable to me in my learning continuum. I note that the present government has continued the trend where young people sit on the board of statutory corporations but it appears that there are a few exceptions. This must change if we are to be serious about transferring leadership to our young people at an early age.
It cannot be perceived that youth is analogous to being a disease or disaster. We speak of political victimization all the time but there is also a vicious cycle of age victimization happening in the civil service, the statutory corporations and the private sector. I note that some of my friends are in the throes of forming the Nevis Youth Council. As a former Nevis Youth Council PRO I want to encourage the Youth Council to engage government and others about empowering youth by appointing them to leadership positions. Youth are not empowered merely by sending them to workshops on youth activism and involvement in St Kitts and Nevis and around the world. Youth must be entrusted with opportunities to fill important human resource potholes in this country and equally youth must show the equanimity and eagerness to earn such roles. I am not advocating that youth be “given” anything because they are young and bright but they must by their commitment and performance prove themselves worthy of this investment.
After 33 years of independence, we need to do a better job at transferring power to the young people. Just look around the world. Almost everyone who is successful in any industry or sport did so when they were young, even Donald Trump. There is no time like the present and the more time we spend denying our youth the opportunity means youth will either get dejected and give perfunctory service or leave to join another organization. To quote my hero the late Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. The tranquilizing drug of gradualism has gotten us nowhere. The time to empower our youth is NOW!
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