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PURELY POLITICAL: Cat and mouse over AX report

PURELY POLITICAL: Cat and mouse over AX report

By Albert Brandford | Sun, November 11, 2012 - 12:00 AM

We are hoping to get it laid on Tuesday, if not . . . the following week. – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart speaking at a Press conference, November 3, on the report of The Alexandra School Commission Of Inquiry.

When the House of Assembly met on Tuesday, November 6, the air was pregnant with anticipation of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart finally making public the contents of The Alexandra Report, snippets of which had already reached some sections of the media.

The Prime Minister had previously revealed his receipt of the report from the Waterman Commission on September 21 and disclosed that Cabinet had considered its recommendations a month later on October 22 and approved them for sending to the relevant agencies for appropriate action.

However, when the House rose late Tuesday night, there was an almost palpable sense of disappointment among those who had been waiting for a copy of the now elusive report.

There was no official word from Government on the reason the report was not laid as half-promised.

But there was even more consternation when the House was adjourned for two weeks – until November 20 – mere days before the island swings into full Independence celebrations mode.

Meantime, all of us will be watching to see what, if any, political action is taken in the interim.

This Government has so far spent at least $600 000 on the inquiry – some say the actual cost could run even higher to around $1 million – and the likelihood is that the taxpayers may not know of the contents of its recommendations until a full two months after the Prime Minister said he received the report.

Why the delay? What is the need for this secrecy? Could the Government possibly be hoping to derive some electoral advantage this close to a general election by strategically withholding the report? Possibly.

But I am forced to ask: might it not also add another badge to the coat of the Prime Minister, who has been assailed within and without the administration as a ditherer?

There can hardly be any advantages to creating the impression of wanting to observe non-existent parliamentary requirements and/or conventions, but if there are, I confess that they escape me!

“I do not want to be the person to say what the recommendations are because as a Cabinet we took a position that we should not speak too much about the contents of the report,” Stuart told reporters.

“I am advised that there have been some leaks but the contents of the report should become known very shortly because once they are laid in Parliament, it becomes a public document.”

If the Prime Minister who set up the commission of inquiry cannot speak to its contents after having received an official copy, and given his acknowledgement that the media has had access,  albeit limited, who then will be authorized to report to the public on the outcome of the probe?

What really is the strategy of this Government as it goes before the electorate in search of a second mandate?

There was a suggestion in some quarters, which I still find a little difficult to swallow, that the Prime Minister was waiting on an Obama victory in the United States presidential elections which would allow for certain favourable comparisons to be drawn between the two administrations.

Even if there were any such comparisons, I am also finding it difficult to understand the correlation between the outcome of the United States election and the outcome of the upcoming election here in Barbados. How is it possible to compare the relentless activity of President Barack Obama over the last four years to restore the economy, cope with foreign affairs and fight a Congress that is Republican in the House of Representatives, with what has been happening locally?

Given Stuart’s penchant for things historical, it may be worth mentioning that apart from Independence, which is the brainchild of the ruling Democratic Labour Party, the party won its first general election on December 5, 1961. It captured 14 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly.

Perhaps, these dates may have as much meaning as the United States election.

I think it is fair comment to say that the Prime Minister has not communicated enough with the public and when he has done so, surprisingly, he has not been effective. The failure to communicate on the big issues continues with respect to the much anticipated Alexandra Report.

But that report holds major political significance because it was the one issue that offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to help repair his damaged image as a communicator. Having expended close to $1 million on the commission, it was expected that he would have been untypically anxious to speak to the public on the contents of the report. The issue grabbed the attention of the public.

So, is the Prime Minister being typical, or is he dodging having to justify his inability to act on the recommendations?

Could this delay be a tacit admission of an error and a belated search for a way out of The Alexandra mess?

Apparently, the lawyers in and out of Government were of the view that the commission never had the power to cause the principal of Alexandra or any other teacher to be disciplined. In all fairness, the man on the street was of the opposite view. The spending of so much money only to be told what the legal luminaries already knew could not have been the inspiration behind the setting up of the commission.

Further, the layman is now being told that the evidence given in the inquiry cannot be used in a court of law. So, it is revealed that only the Public Service Commission can discipline anyone at The Alexandra School.

Was this information always known?

In such circumstances, it is understandable why the Prime Minister has only issued a nondescript Press release to date on the report.   

The House’s adjournment has invited further speculation over the calling of the election. It is unacceptable to treat the public with an air of indifference in most issues. But it is even more unacceptable for the Prime Minister to spend the taxpayers’ money and not feel obligated to report the findings of the report with some sense of urgency.

It is beyond comprehension how a politician, whose strength has always been, not his charm, but his facility with the English language, could be so cold with the public, notwithstanding his elevation to the highest political office in the land.

Then again, this is the same Stuart who hardly ruffled a political feather in all his years in Opposition, even when the late David Thompson made him his Deputy Opposition Leader. Why are we so surprised, when the evidence is there for all to see?

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has stepped up his public appearances but he has not stepped up his communication on the critical issues.

• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.

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