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Engaging the public

Prime Minister Frundel Stuart has named his Cabinet and all have been sworn in, the last being Dr. David Estwick this morning. Likewise, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has named her shadow Cabinet and they too should have been sworn in.

We note that it took the Prime Minister a week to name his team, but the time was not as big a concern to us as it apparently was to some Barbadians. We waited patiently, recognising that Stuart had reduced number to play with — a situation that would not have afforded him certain luxuries.

What we anticipated was that having “sat in the chair” for four years he would have been vigorously passaging the portfolios to come up with combinations that match both the personalities, experiences and academic/professional background of his people and the creativity that will have to characterise the process of governance over the next five years if we are to return to our previous position of national confidence.

As it turned out, except for a slight shift in the placement of faces, there is really nothing fantastic to write home about. But in all fairness to the Prime Minister, our opinion is just that, and since he is the one who has to face the music, we have to give him the opportunity to do what he believes he must do.

But we do hope that he has learnt at least one vital lesson from the last four years that showed up in the “final exam” on February 21 — or moreso in the three weeks of “study leave” the country enjoyed or endured prior to exam day two Thursdays ago.

From every quarter, from the time he took over as Prime Minister, the calls kept coming for him to be more engaging with the people — but he stoutly refused, for what ever reason; and as a result he entered the campaign with a very low popularity rating.

Once he opened his mouth, however, and people heard him speak repeatedly, forcefully and competently — even if at times too personally — his popularity shot up. If that was not an indication that those who begged him to speak up all along were right, then we don’t know what is.

We hope now that he will not return to the old mode, refusing to have dialogue with the media, until 2018 is approaching and it’s time again for “study leave”. We trust that Prime Minister Stuart will see the benefits of regularly scheduled press conferences — and we do not consider answering a few questions after a tour of some project or a visit from some official as equivalent.

The process of government in Barbados will be enhanced if journalists and the country know in advance that a press conference has been scheduled with the head of Government and he will take questions on any matter that might have arisen since his last such engagement.

The problem with the other type of engagement is that when, for example, an official tours a housing project and he is asked about some unrelated topic he or she can take strong offence because of the belief that that is not what they are there for. The end result is often strained relations between the particular journalist and minister, who for some reason can believe such questions are personal attacks.

While we are at it, we also believe Barbadians can get a much better sense of where their money is going and what the persons they elected are doing for their hire if the Government invokes the promise of late Prime Minister David Thompson and has weekly post-Cabinet press conferences. These occur routinely in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica and ought to be part of our political landscape.

Certainly such an approach would minimise the need for some mad pre-election scramble to sell the party’s/Government’s work/achievement because the electorate would already be intimately familiar with what has been taking place.

But in the end, all we can do us suggest. The reins of power don’t reside in Warrens, Fontabelle, River Road or the Pine — although we sometimes behave so. Bay Street is still the seat of power.

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