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Why, Prime Minister?

Peter Simmons

Why, Prime Minister?

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EVERY SO OFTEN a news story in the media captures public attention so dramatically or confounds logic so comprehensively that all else becomes secondary.
It happened again on Wednesday when the outgoing president, Mr Colin Jordan, addressed the annual general meeting of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association (BHTA) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
I have never met the gentleman but during his two-year tenure as head of the omnibus organization representing Barbados’ major foreign exchange earning industry, he has impressed me with an atmosphere of deep thought, serious-mindedness and total dedication to pushing the interests of the BHTA in particular and Barbados in general.
Controlled and articulate, he has been a credit to the educational institutions which nurtured his intellect and expertise. I have also been impressed by his fearlessness and the ease with which he presented his information, shared it with his membership and was always committed to pursue solutions to problems confronting the association.
Confused priorities
He lamented that having written to Prime Minister Stuart requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the tourism industry, two-and-a-half months later – though his request was acknowledged – the meeting has not materialized.
Telling it just like it is, he juxtaposed this severe disappointment with the Prime Minister’s prompt meeting with Cuban Raul Garcia at Dodds Prison. He served 15 years in jail here for a major drug offence. The suggestion is of clearly confused priorities, with which Barbadians will have little difficulty in agreeing.      
One of the major mantras for tourism promotion through the years is that tourism is the business of all Barbadians and we must all play our part. This recent disclosure calls into question whether our first among equals, the player with whom the buck ultimately stops, is playing his part when asked in a letter also co-signed by 11 former BHTA presidents for an urgent meeting but has not found it possible to meet.
Deep trouble
All Barbadians are aware that the hotel and tourism businesses are in deep trouble. A spate of hotel closures and hundreds of workers losing their jobs are worrying features. The fact that the current BHTA president and 11 of his predecessors came together to request an urgent meeting is indicative of the highest level of concern.
Mr Jordan said tourism is in crisis and in need of vision and strategic thinking. Even while acknowledging the Prime Minister’s habitual reliance on mature reflection which recurrently applies the brakes to his decision-making, when our leading industry’s principal operatives seek urgent dialogue with the head of Government, not to meet suggests a failure to understand and respond to the gravity of the situation.
We must also regret his failure to meet because of the message it may send to potential investors at home and abroad who will hardly be encouraged to put their money down when there is a demonstrated disinclination by the maximum leader to meet in a timely manner with key players in the industry.
An interesting spin-off of this imbroglio is the way the story was covered in the media. Whereas the Nation, Advocate and Voice of Barbados gave full exposure to Mr Jordan’s eminently newsworthy comments, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) never carried the story either on its television or any newscast on its many radio services.
Too often these days, the Government-funded CBC is grossly selective in not broadcasting any story which in the opinion of its staff reflects negatively on aspects of Government’s performance. These failures to broadcast all the news that is fit to broadcast make a monumental mockery of their daily claim to be committed and balanced. We, the people, demand unwavering professionalism at all times.
CBC’s failure to broadcast Mr Jordan’s comments is further grist for the mill of the Eager Eleven who identified “drift and inertia” as major shortcomings of the Prime Minister’s modus operandi threatening their return to office.
Acknowledgement of correspondence is a normal courtesy. Sadly, it has not advanced progress in the matter at hand and does nothing for the comfort of those whose livelihoods are rooted in the industry. They want their concerns to be heard at the highest level of Government which is quite reasonable and all Barbadians must hope that Mr Jordan’s comments will quickly have the desired effect.
In closing, let me congratulate all those who made a contribution to Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison’s inscription on the World Heritage List on Wednesday evening. I am not a regular CBC-TV viewer but I watched the proceedings. My two disappointments were the minister’s failure to acknowledge with whom the process started and the master of ceremonies falling short of his normal standard.
I shall follow closely how UNESCO’s recognition of Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison is utilized to preserve and protect our national heritage and bolster our floundering tourism.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]