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ONLY HUMAN: Worrying signs in political culture

Sanka Price

ONLY HUMAN: Worrying signs in political culture

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A hallmark of our society is the generally cordial relations among politicians in spite of party allegiance. Indeed, it is said that after they denounce each other on the platform, many of them often eat and drink together.   
These amiable relationships have served Barbados well to the extent that despite heated political debates and seemingly acrimonious election campaigns, there tends to be an unwritten understanding that some things are not done regardless of who wins power. As a consequence of this, we have not seen any large-scale dislocation of people whenever administrations are changed.
Sure, immediately after general elections there have been some resignations, a few dismissals, and later a number of non-renewals of contracts. But, generally speaking, few heads are “chopped off” in spite of the campaign accusations.
This mature behaviour should be applauded. I do not necessarily see it as a tacit agreement which works to protect politicians’ interests or shield any wrongdoers from prosecution. Rather, it is our political culture. And it works for our stability and has served us well.
However, over the last couple of years I have been seeing some signs that are making me uncomfortable. On both sides there seems to be emerging an aggressiveness, once reserved for the platform, in basic debates on the simplest of issues.
On this score, my particular angst is the Opposition Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) unseemly personal attacks on the integrity of the Governor of the Central Bank. As a public servant, he should never be in the firing line as he has been, and the venomous terms used in reference to him have been unfortunate.
The BLP’s onslaught on Dr DeLisle Worrell does no credit to their image as a responsible, highly regarded political organization. The Governor has a solid reputation locally and internationally, as Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler rightly pointed out last Sunday on the television programme The People’s Business.
The BLP should be – to use a football analogy – playing the ball and not the man. To continue “fouling” Worrell would be to risk being red-carded and sidelined by the public. That is, the party’s message could be ignored if what they are saying seems more a denunciation of Worrell than of his economic advice.
Of course, BLP spokes persons argue that Worrell has continually overstepped his boundaries as a technocrat and pronounces on policy in a manner that only a Minister of Finance should. This view of his approach has clearly made him fair game politically.
One example was last October when Worrell delivered the bank’s Review Of The Barbados Economy For The First Nine Months Of 2011, he dismissed the Barbados Statistical Service’s (BSS) findings that unemployment had risen to 12.1 per cent to the end of June by having the bank conduct its own survey. That study estimated unemployment to be 11.0 per cent.
No problem here, except that the Central Bank seemed to be going all out to show that jobs were not being lost. What’s more, Worrell’s argument for his actions raised further questions. He said then: “What the [BSS] survey says is that the rate of unemployment could have been 10.2 per cent, could have been 11 per cent, could have been 12.1 per cent, could have been 13.9 per cent, or any other number within that range . . . .
“To find out where the real number is, we had to assemble additional evidence . . . . So, at most there was a loss of 1 000 jobs between June and September. That gives us a rate of unemployment of approximately 11 per cent.
“Now 11 per cent sits within the range of 10.2 to 13.9, so it is entirely consistent with the results obtained by the Barbados Statistical Services . . .”
The ironic thing was that later the International Monetary Fund used the BSS’ statistics.
The other example that drew many comments was Worrell’s taking the lead when the recent Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Barbados’ credit rating was announced. Many felt the Prime Minister or Sinckler should have spoken on this crucial matter first and not the Central Bank Governor.
Be that as it may, the cut and thrust of politics would always see politicians seeking to advance their cause in any situation. It is unfortunate that the Central Bank Governor now seems to be caught up in the cross hairs of the verbal shots because of his pronouncements.
Perhaps Worrell needs to take a leaf out of the book of the bank’s first Governor Dr Courtney Blackman and recognize that as “a creature” of the Minister of Finance, he needs to allow the politicians to take the lead on economic policy issues and not be the first to speak.
• Sanka Price is the SATURDAY SUN Editor.