A change in thinking
If you doubt that Barbados has slipped quietly and quickly into election mode, keep watch over your neighbourhood and listen for the knock on your door — that representative, or candidate, that you have not seen for some time is about to come calling.
Have you been concerned about the amount of travel done by our ministers, we are willing to bet that will not be a concern in the weeks and months ahead — they are going to be too busy beating the streets to take to the skies with any frequency.
Have you been clamouring for an explanation for some aspect of public business, but with little to no result, fear not. We are more than a little sure that you are going to be getting more explanations than you can stomach. Like it or not, the silly season is here — and it is not dependent on the date set by the Prime Minister because all Barbadians can see the window as it closes.
Now, until Barbadians go to the polls to elect a new Government, elected members and candidates of the ruling Democratic Labour Party will in one respect find themselves fighting a battle that is more difficult than it ought to be.
And while it is not unique to this Government, the challenges brought on by the global recession, have perhaps made this situation more pronounced. We refer to an operating system which apparently dictates that the Government of Barbados, regardless of whether it is DLP or BLP, must do its business in virtual secrecy.
We have spoken about this before and bring it up again on the eve of a general election in the hope that whichever party occupies the seat of power at Bay Street after the votes have been counted will see the weakness in continuing with business as usual.
Every week any Barbadian can look on the websites of newspapers in Jamaica and Trinidad and follow what the designated minister reports on the week’s cabinet meeting. Post cabinet press conferences are now institutionalised.
In Barbados, however, for decades what members of the Barbados Cabinet discuss is deliberately characterised by secrecy and mystique. We have to pay them, but how dare we ask what they do each Thursday.
We readily accept that there will be matters of national interest that it would not be in our best interest to have them disclosed immediately, but we strongly believe that there must be a structured approach to keeping Barbadians, who are the shareholders in Company Barbados, up to date on what the board of directors they have appointed are doing with their investment.
We are reasonably sure that if routine public disclosure had been part of the modus operandi of the Freundel Stuart Administration, a lot of the criticism they have endured would have been significantly blunted. A Government must talk to its people, and not only when a minister is in New York or when he or she returns from some distant capital.
How in Heaven’s name you can have so much to say after two days in London, Rio or Geneva, and absolutely nothing to say month after month in Barbados? It certainly can’t be that you do nothing while you are here.
And as we have said before, this is not peculiar to the current administration because they all seem somehow to behave as though Bay Street is their preserve where ordinary mortals dare not tread.
It is this kind of thinking that led a minister to complain on live public television during the Budget debate about Cabinet secrets being “published in Barbados … today” — “secrets” so sacred and critical to national security like the terms of reference of the Commission of Enquiry into the Alexandra School, the hiring of a diplomat to run a state corporation for which he is fully qualified, or the appointment of the general manager of the Bridgetown Port to a position in which he had been acting for a considerable time.
It is the kind of thinking that ensures that the promise of a Freedom of Information Act, dating back more than 15 years to when MP David Simmons, now Sir David, was Attorney General is still unfulfilled.
Our Governments and the handful of elected people who make them up pay little more than lip service to the concepts of accountability and transparency in office — and sadly, we the electorate, fail repeatedly to demand better.
With general elections pending, we keep our fingers crossed that there will be a change in thinking, but we will not be so suicidal as to hold our breath.