A few decades ago, President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, said: “Unless we who have power, whether political or technical, remain one with the masses, then we cannot serve them. Our opportunity is unparalleled in man’s history. We must meet the challenge with courage, and with humility.”
Barbados, in many respects, has reached a critical juncture in relation to its image, governance, and national development. Nothing at this stage can be more welcoming for the people than to find solace in the hope that the political and technocratic classes running the affairs of Barbados are doing so in ways that are conducive to the progress of the country.
It is reasonable to conclude that this ideal is being undermined with the series of mishaps, downgrades, turmoil in industrial relations, and several other factors emerging in Barbados’ economy and society.
The case that has now become most topical in terms of governmental and ministerial failures is the prolonged continuation of the Alexandra fiasco. While it may be easy for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to say that he expected “the follow up processes will be both smooth and seamless” regarding the series of foul-ups, let-downs, and the almost tragic treatment of the Alexandra School children and their parents/guardians, more distressing is the fact that the Prime Minister quickly realised that the Commission of Enquiry set up by him under former Justice Frederick Waterman would have implicated the performances of several government departments and agencies.
Ironically, it is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that heads the Ministry of the Civil Service. This is the central agency of government that is supposed “to ensure that the public service has the human resource capacity and appropriate organisational structure to facilitate the efficient and effective attainment of Government’s national goals”. Equally as mind-boggling and incidental to the Alexandra mess which brought the entire education system into disarray, and teaching into disrepute, is the fact that the Minister of Education is also the minister responsible for Human Resource Development.
It is commendable that Stuart stressed that “the first and paramount consideration” given to his intervention and later actions of the DLP administration on the vexing and character altering episodes at the St. Peter institution was “the welfare of the students of the Alexandra School”.
This is an assertion that all right-thinking Barbadians will accept and promote. It does not appear that one can accurately indicate this prioritisation of the Alexandra students or for that matter, the students across the length and breath of Barbados.
Given the transfers which were announced last week to Barbadians, these transfers are coming at a most unfortunate time and are slated to commence at the beginning of a new school term. This can only be disruptive to the school population in Barbados since the students themselves are preparing for the pressures of life shaping examinations. The transfers and the manner in which these became operational are clouded in legal and political controversy, with further implications for those personalities, many of whom have been teaching for more than a decade.
Indeed, the partial application by the governmental authorities of the recommendations advanced by the Frederick Waterman-led Commission of Enquiry into this Alexandra fiasco appears conditioned by a strong sense of punitive, dictatorial, and adversarial clutter. The Ministry of Education and/or the Public Service Commission have evaded a most critical recommendation which pointed directly to the Ministry of Education.
The Waterman Commission called for “the strategic reorganisation of the Ministry of Education and the refocusing of its staff with the aim of ensuring that the ministry operates proactively and is more responsive to the issues faced by the boards of management, the principal and the staff and other stakeholders of every public secondary school… [And] members of the ministry’s senior staff should also be trained in alternative dispute resolution.”
The transition between the possible and the necessary has been far from a flawless turn of events. The Government actions appear to have further embroiled a vital teaching service that was laced with dramatic revelations and embarrassing accusations and counter-accusations heard during the enquiry.
Should Barbadians be having second thoughts on the roles and utterances of the political class in Barbados; and in particular, the things said by the Prime Minister? Prime Minister Stuart said that he “issued a statement on the Alexandra report after it was made public, and … it has been passed on to the relevant agencies to do whatever it is thought necessary to be done”. The Prime Minister further suggested that he remained “confident that what needs to be done is being done. “[And that] there is nothing now that the Prime Minister as Prime Minister has to do in relation to the report,” it certainly comes across as washing one’s hands clean of a sordid affair that must of necessity become shoddier before it can get healthier.
From the onset, one must ask if this Stuart is the leader of a county that found it necessary to intervene and meet with one or more groupings of the key actors while refusing to meet with one or more other groups. Is this the chief official from the executive, the one who is primus inter pares that saw it necessary to bring “the dispute … to a hasty end,” because as far as he was concerned it was “an adolescent exhibition of machismo and a bad example set by adults?”
By and large, Barbadians agree with Stuart that egotistical behaviour has been central in the breakdown at Alexandra; but the same thing can be said for a government that fails to listen or one that relinquishes the opportunities before it to face the challenges of the day and lead to a status of revival and recovery.
Barbadians in vociferous numbers expected that the initial intervention of Prime Minister Stuart and the subsequent commission of enquiry would have netted results that would bring a lasting solution to the problems that emerged at Alexandra. Indeed and quite contrarily, when Stuart stated that “there are follow-up actions that must be taken to secure a genuine long-term and enduring settlement of this issue”, and that he was “determined to follow it day by day to ensure that those steps that have to be taken are taken and that the causes of offence are brought under effective control,” therein stood the wavering nature of the Prime Minister and by extension the DLP’s approach to governance in Barbados.
This statement by Stuart was ambiguously vague; it was wrapped in a form of imprecision which to my mind is indicative of this leader’s proclivity to let things occur rather than make things happen. Prime Minister Stuart rightly sought settlement on the issues, and one could also infer that he wanted no political fallout from any actions taken which could be detrimental to his self-spoken posture of decency or that would negatively impact on the DLP’s chances for re-election at the polls.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the essence in his communication about the source of the problem was one that needed leadership and political will, but he was not prepared to spill blood even if to protect the Alexandra students first and foremost. The intention of the Prime Minister, as he evidently stated, was merely to achieve the result of “effective control” rather than the elimination of the source causing the disease to become so manifested as to taint the entire secondary school system and probably education on a whole.
The commissioner’s report stated emphatically that “corrective action is imperative”, and Waterman was even more specific, recommending that the Freundel Stuart-led administration should move to “include an immediate injection of funds for professional expertise in helping staff to rebuild trust and collegiality among themselves, so that this can be filtered down to the students”.
I therefore end this article by asking: Why is it that the relevant authorities chose the most disruptive elements in the list of recommendations, knowing full well that teachers are needed by the students mostly at this time as they prepare for examinations? Is it easier and more politically correct to use state power to stifle the teachers, than to have put the necessary funds to good use, and to start with the lesser evil of cleaning one house, namely the Ministry of Education?