Grenada's Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell.
Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell.
National Democratic Congress

The Caribbean Community’s newest head of government is preparing to name a full cabinet then head to Suriname for his first regional leaders summit, but mixed messaging about political hires in the civil service has put a bit of a damper on the mood following last week’s general elections in Grenada.

Attorney Dickon Mitchell and his New Democratic Congress (NDC) routed Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, 75, and his New National Party (NNP) in nine of the 15 constituencies to send the NNP, which had amazingly won all 15 seats in the past two elections, into the opposition. In fact, Mitchell and the NNP had taken all the parliamentary seats three different times. Mitchell and Mia Mottley of nearby Barbados are the only two leaders in the 15-nation bloc whose governing parties had held every single parliamentary seat and had run their countries largely without any opposition in an atmosphere of peace.

It is important to note that the younger Mitchell, 44 — no known relation to the former prime minister — had only become leader of the NDC in just the past eight months and still he was able to reorganize a party, famous for its political infighting, into a credible enough force to reverse 15-0 results from the two previous contests into a comfortable three-seat parliamentary majority.

Grenadians celebrated into the wee hours of Friday and over the weekend, signaling that they had grown tired of Mitchell and persistent allegations of nepotism, corruption, political victimization and a struggling economy. Mitchell had basically dominated Grenada’s political life for the past two decades. He easily won his seat but colleagues like former Finance Minister Greg Bowen as well as Minister of Legal Affairs Kindra Mathurin-Stewart, Alvin Da Breo of Fisheries and Pamela Moses of Information and Technology were not so fortunate.

Speaking at various times since his victory and swearing in, Dickon Mitchell has given mixed signals about how he will handle a public service that had been controlled and influenced by the other Mitchell and the NNP for the past decade.

“Under my leadership I intend to break that vicious cycle of nepotism. The key criteria will be merit in particular as it relates to the government service in all aspects including the police, nurses, teachers and doctors. We need to run our country based on merit, hard work, the desire and willingness to overcome and to find solutions to the challenges that face us. We will not move forward or prosper as a people on the sole basis for job selection, promotion, for the award of contracts on party loyalty or personal loyalty,” he told a weekend forum.

Realizing that he might have caused some jitters among the unqualified who were hired under the NNP, Mitchell appeared to walk back some of his comments, softening the tone and noting that workers should not be made to labor under an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.

“I can state this categorically, there should be no need for anyone to be fearful. There should be no need for anyone to want to have jitters. What I will certainly say is you need to have loyalty to your job, the people of Grenada because that’s who’s paying you.”

Keith Mitchell had begged voters to give him one more five-year term before he retired but the electorate voted otherwise. It is unclear for how long he will remain the opposition leader and to whom he will hand over the leadership of the NNP as some of the better known names will not be heading to parliament.

He did say this week that while the results “were not exactly what we wanted them to be, the sting of defeat hurts, we all have to remain engaged for the prospects of this nation depend on the contribution of each and every one of you. As a party, this NNP will survive this current setback, as we still remain the perennial dominant force in national politics. This is underscored by the fact that in one of our worst nights we still got 28, 959 of the popular votes, only 2,471 less than the winner.” Still, he said, “so we are willing to give the new government support in promoting policies and programs that will be for the benefit of the nation.”