Of accountability, transparency and sheep
The tenet of the people’s right to know is one foreign to the citizenry of Barbados and their laws. Indeed, Barbadians are often treated with such indifference with respect to dissemination of information by those who govern, that one could be forgiven for believing there is a maxim that citizens are sheep and out of place for wanting to know.
In jurisdictions such as the United States where there is freedom of information legislation and vibrant media that pursue truth and hold those in public office accountable, the ordinary citizen can feel more comfortable that light has greater potential to be shone in the too frequently dark corridors of officialdom.
Too often we observe decisions being made in Barbados by state and other officials which impact on the lives of citizens and no explanation or information is relayed to John Public. Some situations cry out for public clarification or even consultation but our culture is not one that offers a home to the tenet of the people’s right to know. So we are treated as sheep.
In most cases, indeed, in every case in Barbados, there is no legislative requirement, no binding laws, for public officers to divulge anything about anything to the public. In such an environment court cases can be discontinued before adjudication without explanation because there is no requirement for the Director of Public Prosecution to do so. Then, the son of a wealthy businessman can have drug charges pending with no sign of adjudication for almost a decade without explanation by the powers that be.
In other cases questionable appointments that smack of nepotism, supersession or simple naked patronage, are made in statutory organizations with complete confidence that after some initial murmurs, the sound of dissent can be easily dismissed as akin to nothing but noise.
While we huff and puff about skimpy costumes on Kadooment Day and complain over the sexual orientation of fellow adult citizens, decisions are made to our ignorance that go to the heart of our democracy and the reputation of our country.
There is a situation at the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) that begs for an official explanation but none has been forthcoming from the Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, the permanent Secretary, head of the Civil Service, Prime Minister, Royal Barbados Police Force, local Privy Council, Tom, Dick or even Harry. No public statement has been made because within the context of our laws, none has to be given by the powers that be.
We have no axe to grind with any public officer, nor do we champion the agenda of any individual. But we believe that questions must be asked in the interest of transparency, even if we don’t anticipate any answers.
More than five years ago the head of the CZMU was summoned before the Accountant General and asked to explain several infelicities. Including among these was the awarding of contracts for work within his department to himself without adherence to the Financial Management and Audit Act, or the Financial Rules, 1971. Thousands of taxpayers’ dollars were cleverly but inappropriately directed to the man at the helm. The head of the unit admitted the error of his ways and promised to rectify the same. However, he was sent on leave and advised to hire legal counsel. The list of misdeeds cited was staggering and the case was subsequently forwarded to the police.
Fast forward to 2016 and the individual is back on the job at CZMU. We have no definitive idea if he returned to the office as a result of good fortune, the local Privy Council, divine intervention, the waving of some political magic wand or the appearance of Hecate.
However, that the head of the CZMU is back on the job is not the premier issue here. What is mind-boggling is that given the drama of the Auditor General’s report that initially blew the whistle on the Government official, his admission and promise to correct certain infelicities, and the involvement of the Royal Barbados Police Force, no one in officialdom has seen it fit to give John Public an explanation about Dr Leo Brewster’s return.
The individual manning the main office at CZMU is really irrelevant. The office itself is the relevant commodity and maintaining its reputation in the estimation of the people. But unfortunately, this treatment of the Barbadian populace is the norm. Why? Because there are no laws requiring better to be done in the interest of transparency and accountability in Government. Were this an isolated occurrence one might be led to ignore it. But this is par for the course.
And questions must be asked. If such damning evidence was unearthed and documented, why has the head of the CZMU been returned to the site of his great temptation? Would it not have been better to place him in a different environment if fate brought him back?
Alas, we do not anticipate an answer for any of these queries.