Posted on

ONLY HUMAN: Seek consensus, then speak out

Sanka Price

ONLY HUMAN: Seek consensus, then speak out

Social Share

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has declared that tertiary education here will remain free, and has insisted that reintroducing tuition fees would be a step backwards in the country’s development.   
His statement over the weekend should put to rest any further hints that Government, faced with mounting costs in the midst of a relentless recession, would consider this step.
This possibility was raised by Minister of Education Ronald Jones as recently as three weeks ago in an address at the Erdiston Teachers’ Training College. Then, he reportedly said that the burden of providing free education to all citizens was becoming increasingly difficult on the Government as a result of the ongoing global economic turmoil, and it was in danger of being “dismantled”.
Jones stressed that the Government had not yet made the decision to do this, but outlined how much this policy cost the Government from the primary to the tertiary level.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has also made remarks on the cost of education to the public purse and, even in his recent spat with the University of the West Indies over funding, has been stressing the need for value for money.
That Stuart is saying something which differs from two of his most senior ministers suggest there was not consensus on the issue that there should be.
That question of free or subsidized tertiary education should have been thoroughly discussed in Cabinet and a common position arrived at. However, now that the Prime Minister has spoken, such debate should be over. Well, at least we hope so.    
Recurring since this Government came to office in 2008, has been a minister taking a position publicly and then the Prime Minister dismissing it. Also, board members openly disagreeing with the administration’s policy or their minister’s, then resigning.
(In the Owen Arthur administration we had two major public fallouts: the resignation of Ronald Toppin from Cabinet, and the overturning of Cabinet minister Anthony Wood’s statement that bus fares would be increased by Arthur.)
You may recall that in August 2008, seven months into office – and after stating in their general election manifesto that “the DLP believes there is no need in building a 21st century facility with 19th century attitudes” – then Minister of Health Dr David Estwick said Government was “going ahead with plans for a new hospital, without a doubt”.
But two days later, then Prime Minister David Thompson dismissed Estwick’s statement, and made it clear that there would be no new hospital. By November Thompson shifted Estwick out of Health in his first Cabinet reshuffle.
Since present Minister of Health Donville Inniss announced a new $800 million hospital will be built two weeks ago, we have heard little about it. Stuart’s say on it is greatly anticipated.
Staying in health, there was the policy position taken by Inniss in June this year that non-nationals would no longer be able to access health care at the QEH or other public facilities unless in emergency cases. Weeks later Stuart dismissed this move.
The Prime Minister said that “we cannot allow those who have lived in Barbados for many years and have worked and paid their taxes to be suddenly disadvantaged by the strict enforcement of a long-existing policy.”   
Then there was the resignation by four members of  the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. (BTII), including its chairman, deputy chairman, and members last March over a disagreement to go ahead with new plans for the Pierhead Development Project.  
To date neither Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Darcy Boyce nor Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy – nor any of the four former board members – has commented on the matter.
Then there was the tiff between Marilyn Rice-Bowen, then chairman of the National Housing Corporation and her minister Michael Lashley, and the resignation of Haldene Dottin from the chairmanship of the Harrison’s Cave board.
Each of these incidents suggest there was not enough dialogue among the relevant actors to avoid such public fallout. Some may even suggest that these incidents, particularly those involving Cabinet ministers, point to tensions. After all, if there weren’t, you would not get these things happening Tensions, though, are par for the course within Cabinet. However, one expects issues would be thrashed out there and the public would never hear divergent views, as consensus would emerge.
This has not happened in the cases cited. We wait to see if yesterday’s special Cabinet meeting with the National Insurance board on funding of the Four Seasons project will bring similar ripples.