Posted on

PURELY POLITICAL: Repairing our image

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Repairing our image

Social Share

I think it is important that we do things like this to show the world that Barbados is an open, all-inclusive society that welcomes people from other countries to become citizens of Barbados, but we obviously apply certain rules to it. It’s a sign of a mature nation too. – Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for Immigration, Senator Harry Husbands, at the first citizenship induction ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday.
According to media reports of the historic event, Senator Husbands was speaking against the backdrop of a flood of recent criticisms of Barbados’ tough immigration stance.
The significance of the event was highlighted by the presence of the Acting Governor General Elliott Belgrave who administered the Oath Of Allegiance and took affirmations from a few among the 120 new Barbadian citizens.
At first blush, that suggested it was a non-political state event, above and beyond the usual shenanigans which political parties are prone to getting involved with, especially in the lead-up to a general election.
But then, one noticed the presence of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, whose office has portfolio responsibility for immigration, and former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, whose inspiration it was, according to Stuart, to have the public citizenship induction ceremony.
Unlike in countries such as the United States and Canada, where the citizenship process is a public ritual of enormous symbolic significance for immigrants – with minimal political involvement, in Barbados it has always been a low-key affair requiring only a visit by those qualified to the Chief Immigration Officer’s office to collect the certificate.
Not by any means ignoring the tremendous value placed on the status of “Citizen of Barbados”, but it still came as something of a surprise when the Government made a huge media event of what has always been a routine bureaucratic exercise.
Mind you, I share Prime Minister Stuart’s sentiments, as expressed, completely.
“Citizenship is the highest status within the gift of a country,” the Prime Minister told the new Barbadians. “It is always a privilege, and I consider it important that you be aware of the values you are about to embrace, the view of the world to which you are about to subscribe, and conception of society to which you are about to pledge your allegiance.”
Stuart also promised to make the event “a recurrent feature for years to come”.
Still, Husbands, perhaps unwittingly, gave an insight into the rationale behind hosting such an event for the first time in nearly 50 years since Barbados became an independent nation, and partly answered the question why now?
With so much negativity surrounding the Stuart administration’s handling of the affairs of this nation – particularly on the economic front – whoever is advising the Government must have told them that they needed to take a leaf from the playbook of the PR consultant/political strategist and go with something big, bold, unusual and dramatic – a real attention and headline-grabber.
It would have the double barrel effect of being a distraction from the nation’s economic woes, while at the same time introducing a feel-good factor for Barbadians about their country despite its problems.
But the question remains: why have we chosen this particular moment, in our 46th year of Independence to, for the very first time, make this very public and elaborate display of our openness and our status as a warm and welcoming society?
Why involve the Governor General (Acting) and the Prime Minister in what has come across to some as a crass piece of political propagandizing over what is essentially a routine administrative matter regularly performed by a competent Immigration Department for duly qualified non-nationals away from the glare of the media spotlight?
It is not really helpful in the search for answers for supporters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to offer the lame response that such citizenship induction ceremonies are held in the great metropolitan countries.
Yes, they are, but those people do not regularly trot out their presidents, prime ministers and governors general – although United States’ President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush have attended inductions mainly for military personnel – and the ceremonies are usually held in municipal buildings in front of an ordinary judge.
Still, it has not gone unnoticed that Barbados’ immigration policy, including its citizenship requirements, and indeed, the notion of hassle-free travel in the region as touted by CARICOM, will come under scrutiny by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) later this week when the court hears the matter of the Jamaican Shanique Myrie – she, of the infamous finger-rape allegations against local airport authorities.
That hearing will likely bring into the public arena for the first time the findings of a report ordered by the Stuart Government in the aftermath of the Myrie allegations but about which little or nothing has been forthcoming.
Will this public display of Barbados’ willingness to welcome all those who meet and comply with our immigration and citizenship criteria be enough to counter any negatives which the CCJ might unearth during its hearing?
Should Barbadians not be hearing more at this time about the promised comprehensive review of immigration policy and proposals for legislative reform?
What, for example, is the status of the White Paper that was to follow the Green Paper tabled in Parliament in 2009 by late Prime Minister David Thompson who wanted several “anomalies and ambiguities” in legislation removed?
Thompson, for instance, was particularly concerned about an anomaly which related to a person who was deemed to be “ordinarily resident” and who, under the 2000 Constitutional Amendment, Section 3A (1) would, as of right, qualify for citizenship. He explained that the “troubling provision” could conceivably be interpreted as including people who had been residing in Barbados illegally and without documentation for ten or more years.
“This is a classic example of the anomalies of which I speak and which must be rectified urgently . . . . The Green Paper is therefore intended to stimulate discussion on these issues which drive our immigration policies and are critical to both national security and national development,” Thompson said.
There is no doubt that Barbados’ immigration stance has led to its image taking a beating across the region, including an emotional response from the comrade next door that we were “stoking the chauvinistic fires which are latent in Caribbean societies”.
Maybe, just maybe, this public induction ceremony could be seen as an important first step toward repairing some of the damage to Barbados’ image as a caring, tolerant and welcoming society.