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Mass confusion


Peter Wickham

Mass confusion

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Almost one year ago to the date, People & Things commented on the Alexandra School “affair” in an article entitled Governance Please. I concluded that the “the crisis [w]as the most recent manifestation of the extent to which the Freundel Stuart administration [was] drifting in what appears to be a rudderless ship of state towards a general election which is due in 12 months”.
It is now exactly 12 months later and it is disturbing that over the last week we have been revisiting this issue which was urgent one year ago and expressing concern about this administration’s “prescription” to resolve the impasse.
It is ironic that I made a case in this article for the Prime Minister to intervene and suggested the logic of a political solution. As fate would have it, the Prime Minister did intervene and “solved” the problem by way of a phased approach which did not start with a Commission of Inquiry, but included this investigation which made recommendations (quickly). Fortuitously, these recommendations were not passed to an implementation committee as I suspected, but back to the Ministry of Education for “action” which has now come.
That action, however, appears to be highly disruptive and easily comparable to chemotherapy which poisons the entire body in an effort to destroy a few tiny cells. Such action is politically unwise at the best of times, but has even more profound implications as elections are imminent.
There are three aspects to this issue which need to be explored, and the first relates to the role of the ministry. In the January 2012 article I argued that the ministry should ideally be in a position to fulfil its role as an educational supervisor, but it could not reasonably be expected to fulfil this role for several reasons.
One therefore wonders why it was relied upon to make extraordinary human resource shifts in the context of a report which was itself extraordinary. Summarily, the ministry could have on its own done one year ago what it did last week, and the fact that a commission was assembled would normally imply that the type of action anticipated was beyond the scope of the ministry in the first place.
Against that background, I would argue that the minister and indeed the ministry ought to be spared undue criticism since it did what it could under the circumstances. The ministry’s action appears to have been well intentioned and designed to achieve a solution by way of shifting personalities away from the locations which generated conflict.
There might be some reasonable concern expressed about the way in which some teachers have been shifted to “higher” secondary schools and others to “lower” ones, consistent with the finer elitist traditions I complain about. This is unfortunate, but a reality of a system which superficially treats all schools alike but in reality, creates zones of privilege, the opposite of which can conveniently be used punitively to punish the wayward.
The second issue which emerges relates to the rather curious way in which the matter has been passed to the Prime Minster for action and thereafter passed back to the ministry after he took “action”.
Presumably the matter reached the desk of the Prime Minister because all else failed and one would therefore have thought that there was little he could have done NOT to “own” and solve this problem. To the minds of those among us who believe that the Prime Minister is (to use the words of the May NATION/CADRES poll) “too slow to make decisions”, this was a unique opportunity to set the record straight especially as an election is upon us.
It is however now clear that the Prime Minister has no intention of “owning” this issue since it was referred to a retired High Court judge for an opinion and thereafter back to the ministry for action. Moreover, when the Prime Minister was recently quizzed about the delay in the resolution of this matter, he reminded the reporter that he had done all he could and that there was nothing more for a prime minister to do in this regard.
Those who disagree with me might want to argue that this reaction was taken out of an abundance of respect for the role of the Public Service, while others would be fascinated at the capacity of our leader to avoid “dirtying” his hands as he treats to these matters.
This brings us to the third and final issue which might well be deemed redundant by the dissolution of Parliament, which is rumoured to be imminent. Notwithstanding the matter of election timing is perhaps the most pertinent political issue at this time and public reaction seems to suggest unequivocally that the Prime Minister would not be doing the Democratic Labour Party any favours by dissolving Parliament this or next week.
The political environment was tainted just before Christmas by the Moody’s downgrade on which our Prime Minister has not yet spoken, and has now been further contaminated by the “ministry’s” handling of this issue from which the Government cannot escape blame.
Over the years, I have learned that the most dangerous political action is that which offends an individual’s mother or children. The handling of the Alexandra issue clearly offends the latter in respect of those who are directly affected and others who can empathise. It would be therefore wise for the Prime Minister to “hold his hand” on the election for a few more weeks until this memory is less fresh in our minds.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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