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One step forward

Yesterday afternoon, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, supported by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, met members of the Press at Government headquarters in a much anticipated news briefing.

Today, we will largely ignore the contents of the press conference, which produced stories and photographs that dominated all news publications in Barbados yesterday evening and this morning. Sealy’s ten-point plan for the revitalisation of tourism is not critical to our article on this occasion.

What we have taken note of though is that the meeting with the press occurred immediately after the regular weekly meeting of the Cabinet in the same building, and consequently was dubbed by the radio stations as a post-Cabinet press conference.

We don’t know if those responsible for calling the event intended for it to be linked to the day’s sitting of the ministers and their advisors, but we note that the fact that it occurred when it did must have added to the speculation about its purpose and what its content was likely to include.

As Sinckler pointed out, the island was alive with rumours that he was about to tender his resignation. Truth be told, that was only a small part of what was circulating, since the country was also hearing that at least two other members of the Freundel Stuart Cabinet would be resigning, that VAT was going to be increased to at least 20 per cent, and that a variety of spending cuts would be imposed by the Government.

The fact that the press conference contained nothing of the sort did little to dampen the rumour mill. For before the sun had fully set and the news filtered out that Standard & Poor’s had altered Barbados status to negative and hinted at a possible further downgrade, the motives for engaging the press yesterday became the subject of further question.

The day ended with some sharing the view that the primary purpose of the meet-the-press session was to create headlines that would blunt any fallout from the S&P announcement.

Short of a Wikileaks-type revelation, we can’t say that Sealy, Sinckler or the Stuart Cabinet had any motives other than what was apparent from the Press conference, but the situation does reinforce a point we have made repeatedly: that the Government needs to develop a routine of discussing with the people, via the press, the business in which it is engaged.

All the rumours before and after the press conference flourished because there was a clear absence of a structured, planned delivery of information on the country’s affairs, especially at this time when there is a clear increase in fears brought on by the uncertainty of the economic climate.

Whatever you may think about the content of the Press conference, the fact is it was a step in the right direction and the people got information they did not have before. The governments of Jamaica and Trinidad do it weekly, so what makes us so different that our leaders do not believe a better informed Bajan leads to a better system of governance.

When press conferences are the exception rather than the rule, and around here they are truly exceptional, rumours will naturally fill the void — and when that happens the ministers really have no moral authority to mount soap boxes and condemn rumour mongering. After all, they create the environment for it.

We now look forward to next Thursday’s post-Cabinet press conference.

But alas!

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