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WE SAY SO: Business as usual?


Yvette BEST

WE SAY SO: Business as usual?

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LIKE MOST PEOPLE in Barbados, I anxiously wait to see if Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will choose his own team to run the affairs of this country.
Of particular interest to me, is what he will do with the cultural industries, which many believe will be the next big economic earner.
His predecessors on both sides of the fence bought into the idea and would have made certain changes at the National Cultural Foundation to pave the way as it were for the impact. But it has to go much further.
If we accept the magnitude of the creative industries and the money they can generate, they have to be treated with the requisite seriousness and not like the third cousin that currently obtains.
It would call for a complete paradigm shift that would see the sector being treated with the same level of importance as agriculture, tourism, health and education. More to the point, it should be the sole responsibility of a minister, or at least one who does not have responsibility for at least four other portfolios that need just as much attention.
From all appearances, Minister Stephen Lashley seems to be a no-nonsense person, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He has already publicly blasted staff in the Ministry of Youth, warning them to “shape up or ship out” and it is understood that staff in the Ministry of Community Development were hauled over the coals for the Spirit Of The Nation fiasco.
Except for replacing almost the entire board at the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), not a lot has been heard from the Ministry of Culture thus far. Lashley met with members of the Press for an early Crop-Over briefing last week, during which the new chairman Monique Taitt was introduced to the media.
Taitt did not say much to the media then, and has so far not made herself available to requests from the NATION to speak on her vision for culture and share her thoughts on being the first female chairman of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
Initially, it was because she had not been given the brief from the minister and had not yet met with the board.
Lashley’s attempt to include all the stakeholders into the process is admirable, and it should bring about the controversy-free Crop-Over he desires. He spoke highly of the two good women in Taitt and NCF CEO Dr Donna Hunte-Cox whom he has to work alongside him, and sounded genuinely pleased.
It would seem like that was all rhetoric, though. A gag order is reportedly in effect at the NCF.
Under the new media policy, neither the CEO nor the corporate communications specialist is allowed to speak to the Press. All communication has to come through the minister or the chairman. If I were tempted to say it ain’t so, I called the NCF on Monday for information and was told I would have to get the information from the chairman!
Now, the CEO I could possibly understand, but communication is the job of the communication specialist. What is Wayne Simmons being paid to do now?
That the minister would be a party to this is astounding. Only a few months ago people were blasted for not doing their jobs, and now you have a situation where people are being prevented from doing such by order.
It is also understood that the officers for the various disciplines have also been barred from speaking at events. Utter madness. Who better to speak about their work and the various programmes than they?
I would certainly have a difficulty with someone who pointed to her years as an attorney and the acquired organizational skills when asked about her background in culture, or a minister speaking to me about dance, theatre arts, music or anything of the sort.
The one-off Press conference is one thing, but not as a rule. To my mind, it brings the credibility of the information immediately into question.  
The first meeting with the stakeholders is reportedly being held today, but it would seem like some internal business needs to be rethought and resolved as a matter of urgency.
Would it not be the greatest of ironies if all the external stakeholders were smiling all Crop-Over long and the seeds of discontent that have been sown grew to epidemic proportions?

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