Talking for votes
I begin with the assumption that all members of the political class in Barbados initially mean well. They possess an eagerness to contribute definitively to national development without reducing politics to be a ‘talk-shop’. Of course, circumstances may change sufficiently that these same political figures will, from time to time, shift their priorities.
Nowadays, a seemingly growing number of Barbadians have apparently become drawn into thinking that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has assumed a mode of taking care of itself. Rightly or wrongly, people are saying that DLP politicians have lapsed into self-indulgence and pursuit of self-interests at the expense of the nation. More and more, sceptical persons admonish these representatives of the people when they say and do things, supposedly to educate (i.e. influence and manipulate), but ultimately do more to confuse.
Robert Shapiro suggests that this political ‘education’ intrinsically requires distinguishing what people actually want from what they ought to want with regard to both means and ends. Stephen Lukes in his seminal work – Power: A Radical View – contends that “manipulation may be distinguished by the intent to deceive or create conditions of choice leading others to make a choice not in their interests”. Negative consequences will often be hidden by the politician’s use of innuendo or semantics. It is to those things that people begin to point fingers, with the political cynic then shouting ‘conspiracy’.
Today, this cry of conspiracy is being heard all across Barbados with increased regularity. Conspiracy theory is described as explaining an event to be the result of a plot by a government, covert group or organization. Additionally, conspiracy theory is said to be a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by the scheme of that group. Advancing a conspiracy theory means advancing the perception that a group of people is secretly trying to harm someone or achieve something.
A reasonable question that follows is whether secrecy, stealth, and sweet sounding statements are savoury for us suffering on the political sidelines? Without sufficient information and full disclosure by the DLP government to the general public, many persons in the society are left to speculate. Barbadians are drawing their conclusions on the barest of detail – and many times, the more accurate information is leaked into the public domain. Barbadians, in large numbers, are convinced that a new conspiracy is unravelling.
The fact that politicians may reasonably fascinate potential voters in an attempt to attract widespread acceptance is commonplace. Yet, there are some Barbadians mulling the DLP’s knack for silence and clandestine behaviour. Many persons are left with the perception that conspiracy is prime in this governance mix, particularly in which access to information is impaired and accountability and transparency are ignored.
Daniel Schorr once said that: “I have no doubt that the nation has suffered more from undue secrecy than from undue disclosure. The government takes good care of itself.” A contention in this article is that the Freundel Stuart administration and governing authorities convey the impression that ‘stealth and secrecy are our only hope’. Perhaps, it is timely for politicians to trust the people. Trust is still a virtuous and effective condition for winning in politics.
Recently in Barbados, things have been said and done, and allowed to be done by officials, which have stirred great intrigue. Given the expectation that Barbados is on the cusp of campaigning for the next general election, it makes sense for us to consider the meanings of specific words and actions coming from this administration.
For instance, Minister of Education Ronald Jones is reported to have said that he agrees with the “decriminalizing of ganja”, and he made specific mention of small amounts. This writer’s understanding on decriminalization, views it as typically meaning: no arrest, prison time, or criminal record, particularly for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption. Jones opined that he did not see the need to “flood our prisons, really, for someone who is not selling . . . but has a small spliff”. Those that have felt the strong arm of the law and the sentencing of the courts will tend to immediately agree with him.
Indeed, this often controversial minister, with parted lips and raging tongue, has further asserted that “we . . . have sent the signal that we would rather not incarcerate individuals for having small quantities of marijuana”. The liberal-minded would again approve, although more conventional thought may focus on the risk to society. It must be noted that in the DLP’s 2013 Manifesto there was absolutely no mention of a policy intent to decriminalize small amounts of ‘ganja’ as a means of keeping youthful members of the Barbadian society out of jail.
Government Senator Verla De Peiza, speaking a couple years ago, had suggested that the nation considers allowing small amounts for leisure, medicinal, or religious use without users falling to abuse. This writer does not condone jailing the youth for a ‘spliff’ or ‘roach’, in an environment wherein many opportunities for progress already have been sapped from them by a miscalculating DLP.
More instructively, the Senator insisted that politicians must “recognize we’re representing people” and we have to be able “to focus on what the people want, instead of telling what they ought to have”. It is hardly a secret that there are exploiters high on the supply side who are getting away scotch-free. Allegedly, these miscreants – financiers and traffickers – are being overlooked by the authorities.
Another issue that raises eyebrows at this time, surrounds the Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy. The minister has been upbeat, as he should, on the new Sandals Barbados Resort and Spa Expansion Project, and with the $450 million transformation of Sam Lord’s Castle property into a Wyndam Grand Resort Hotel property. These are two very useful projects that, once completed, should add to the room-stock of our tourism product and employ hundreds, if not thousands of Barbadians.
Nonetheless, one well remembers the several pronouncements that came from the current government but which were either still-born or have been otherwise pushed to the back-burner. Four Seasons, the Pierhead Marina, Pickerings, the state-of-the-art sugar factory, a new hospital, and others comprise these failures. The projects are captured in official statements, the turning of the soil, and the missing dimensions of actual financing, plans for work continuation, and completion. The St John Polyclinic that was promised for decades, is classic in that regard. Its completion and operation dates were scheduled in 2012 (months before the last general election), but the functionality came long after 2013.
Surely, the DLP’s optic strategy to throw something (anything sounding hopefully good) to the public should not be misconstrued as valid information or education, but be interpreted as vote-catching, particularly when there are few detailed plans towards project-completion.
Just over a month ago, Barbadians were sprung to attention when Prime Minister Stuart, on the matter of granting bail to murder accused in Barbados, confessed “that one hit me for six”. Stuart’s unconvincing disbelief was contextualized with words to the effect that he has “to be very careful”, since, as Prime Minister, he did not want it said that he was “trying to interfere with the administration of justice or the independence of the judiciary”. This wise calculation came from a nominal leader, often accused of being out of touch with the people.
But lo and behold! The Attorney General of Barbados, the country’s principal legal officer, Adriel Brathwaite backed a call by the Barbados Police Association (BPA) for the provision of bail to be extended for Constable Everton Gittens, who is charged with murder. Brathwaite felt compelled to say that “if you, for example, can release on bail someone who names himself Lord Evil, I see no reason why you cannot release Constable Gittens on bail”.
The AG’s stroke, trespassing on the judiciary’s green, claimed he was not making a call for Gittens’ bail “because it sounds good”. One wonders why then did the AG risk the ire of several listening parties? Two days later, Constable Gittens was offered bail in the amount of $200,000, following an appearance before the fair-minded Justice Randall Worrell. Local conspiracy theorists have since had a field day.
Instructively, Pierre Trudeau once said, “the essential ingredient of politics is timing”. Furthermore, William Wordsworth poetically informed readers that: “The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this.” Now clearly, the Attorney General, the Prime Minister, and the political class in Barbados must recognize that in politics, timing and perception can be two useful friends or two abject enemies.
So what are we witnessing in Barbados? Is the DLP purposefully talking for votes and minimal fallout, or is the population being given the right away to continue formulating their understandings of conspiracy in an apathetic environment of mistrust?
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )