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FIRING LINE: The silence is silly

Shantal Munro-Knight

FIRING LINE: The silence is silly

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I am not sure who is advising the current administration or perhaps who are the listened-to people who have the ear of those in leadership but if I knew who they were, I would tell them that they are not worthy to advise my nine-year-old. I would not hire them for anything, not even to read me instructions from a recipe book.
I find the ongoing approach to public engagement by this Government silly, offensive, and it smacks of a lack of understanding of the Barbadian public. It is untenable!
You have a senior Government minister who makes the most unfortunate remarks possible and even amid calls from all quarters of this society for an apology, there is nothing but silence. An apology is the minimum for an offence. All the majority of the calls were asking is that the minister say sorry (in any other international jurisdiction he would have been made to resign forthwith). Saying sorry is what we do when we misstep and mash someone’s toe. Not even that the public of Barbados was deemed worthy of receiving.  
I do believe that upon some reflection, the minister in question would have regretted what was said and particularly how it was conveyed. I believe that from what we know of the minister from previous public utterances, he is passionate and does have a penchant for controversial remarks, but I have never found him to be a necessarily unreasonable character. What or who would stop such a minister from coming back to the public shame-faced and suitably chastised by his party leader to say sorry?
The other key dynamic that convinces me the advisors need firing is that the Barbadian public is a politician’s dream public. We are one of the most forgiving anywhere. We have short memories and someone will always stop and say “cuddear, give him a chance”. I believe that the expectation is that with silence the issue will blow over. However, it compounds the feeling that this Government is treating us dismissively and with a level of disdain that is becoming entrenched.
This is all the more disturbing when we add the recent forced retirement of Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin by the Police Services Commission (PSC), reportedly in the “public interest”. Come on now! This was not the head of the rum shop society or some little known public agency. This is the top of your police force who is let go under contentious circumstances and again we are treated to silence. No one is saying to comment on the legality of the action, but you cannot have the kind of public wrangling and court battles befalling the police force at this time and someone not at the very least tell the public that Government is on top of the situation. There is a process to apprise the public with necessary information. Again, a minimum response! For me, there is the feeling that even the very minimum of accountability is not being practised.
I would not even bother to comment on the fact that the public should be told why the commissioner was retired. If we cannot get the minimum, I do not see how we will reach this stage of open accountability.
This present situation took me back to the sacking of key persons under the previous Owen Arthur administration. The public was treated in much the same way.
The lack of public accountability in the affairs of Government is becoming endemic. Our present political system offers little for us to press for redress. Essentially, we once again have to “like it or lump it”. Time is longer than twine, so we will wait.
I do also want to make an overarching comment about the issues plaguing the police force at this time. The force is one of the arms of justice in this country. There is an explicit trust that the public has to put in the hands of the Royal Barbados Police Force. We have to trust that they will act professionally, within the law and treat all fairly in the execution of their duties.
If we expect those attributes from the police force in their dealings with us, but there is a perception that fairness and justice as it relates to promotions and other such things are not carried out according to those same values, then we have a disconnect. The character of the organization is reflected not only in what it does publicly but how it treats its own on the inside.
I would suggest that perhaps now is a good time for someone (free advice for the advisors) to signal a process which would lead to the complete overhaul of institutional processes of the police force in order to imbue greater transparency and openness in how it does its business. Greater accountability will not threaten its operations; it will ensure confidence and goodwill.
• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.