. . . Some kickback of sorts?

It was my intention to write about education in Barbados and its importance to our national consciousness and, by extension, our mutual development. I was going to offer some of my thoughts on how to close the achievement gap, so clearly evident to all except the Minister of Education.

I was going to talk about the role that technology, once properly deployed, could play in improving the delivery of education services to help move Barbados to a new level. However, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to write that article this week after reading the following statement from Minister of Sport Stephen Lashley.

“We’ve never had this kind of corporate collaboration in the past . . . . It is a giant step towards assisting the Government of Barbados in relation to key elements of its sporting programme, both from a perspective of maintenance and from a perspective of development.” 

This, of course, was said by the minister on the signing of a $392,252 agreement with energy services company Emera to develop and maintain the North Stars sporting facility in St Lucy and the Silver Hill sporting facility in Christ Church.

The minister then further asserted: “I think it is important going forward that we see a vibrant partnership between the private sector and Government, in harnessing what is a very key resource of our country; and that is sports.”

On the face of it, these statements appear innocuous in nature, not ordinarily causing any alarm. The problem with the whole thing relates to the incident at the Spring Garden plant where an employee of the company was kicked by a Canadian consultant, causing fellow employees to protest in support of their colleague.

I find it utterly repulsive that our Government through the Minister of Sport would deliberately set out to use this kicking incident to benefit politically. Instead of our Government condemning the act of disrespect and deporting the consultant, the minister demonstrated to all Barbadians instead there was nowhere low enough the DLP Government wasn’t prepared to go.

What makes matters worse is the minister has chosen his constituency as one of the areas earmarked for redevelopment.

Under normal circumstances, political kickbacks would be associated with something underhanded; or, as Captain Sawyer so aptly put, it “something for something”. However, in this case Emera appears to be trying to do what these days is called exercising good corporate social responsibility by investing in communities where they operate. Again, under normal circumstances, nothing would be wrong with that either; but I know public relations spiel when I hear it.

In all of this, the public hadn’t heard whether the employee had been compensated by Emera and the consultant for what was a clear breach of the standards expected by occupational health and safety legislation both in Barbados and Canada.

On Page 2 of Emera’s Standards For Business Conduct (http://www.emera.com/site-emera/media/emera/Emera%20Standards%20for%20Business%20Conduct.pdf), it states that “we (director, officers and employees) must treat everyone with dignity and respect”.

On Page 6, under Political Contributions, it states no funds or assets of Emera shall be contributed to any political party or organization, or any candidate for public office, except where such contribution is permitted by all applicable laws and authorized by a senior officer or the board of directors.

While it is indeed true that Emera has not given the $392,252 to the Democratic Labour Party, the fact that $125,000 is going into the constituency of the Minister of Sport and $267,252 in the constituency of the Minister of Housing at this time, does not excuse Emera, in my book. The decision-making with respect to the choice of sports facilities is at best curious, and the fact a general election is due in the period over which this money will be spent, benefits both ministers politically.

Let me make clear to readers, lest I be misinterpreted, I do not believe there is anything underhanded in this arrangement that would lead anyone to say there is any financial corruption. What is unacceptable about the arrangement is the thought process that sees our Government exploiting maximum political advantage from a situation where a citizen was not treated with the dignity and respect the directors and officers of Emera promised to provide in their workplace.

When the catchphrase “Barbados is more than an economy; it’s a society” was being touted widely by the members of the DLP, I am sure proponents of the slogan did not believe the society being described was one in which the Government would seek political advantage from the disrespect to ordinary citizens.

I do not know who was the employee kicked at Spring Garden, but whoever you are, I want to apologize to you, your colleagues who protested on your behalf, and to the rest of Barbados for the very shabby treatment being meted out by the Government. One truly shudders to think that on Emancipation Day, the Minister of Sport in his capacity as Minister of Culture will be upfront leading the annual celebrations.

It would be an insult to General Bussa and the others who gave their lives to regain their freedom. More importantly, it is unsettling when the kicking issue takes place in the year we’re celebrating 50 years of Independence. Actually, the pain and humiliation is tantamount to a kick in the teeth.

(Ryan Straughn, a Barbados Labour Party candidate, is a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados-trained economist. Email straughn.ryan@gmail.com)

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