More careful analysis needed from media
IT NEVER CEASES to amaze me how officials make statements that are regarded as being newsworthy and go unchallenged because of the apparent standing of the speaker.
Recently, two items of news and their apparent acceptance, since I have not seen any challenges, have given me cause for concern. The first was a statement from Standard & Poor’s about Government’s inability to cut public sector pay. The other was an announcement by the police about wearing or even possessing camouflage clothing and other items made of material with that pattern. Those statements need careful analysis as they were both misleading and simplistic.
Standard and Poor’s somehow believes that the constitutional amendment, which prevents cutting public sector pay, is restricting Government’s ability to solve the island’s fiscal problems. This type of analysis is peripheral at best and suggests that S&P could not take time to do a proper analysis of Barbados’ problems. The glib pronouncement calls into question their international reputation as a rating agency. Before they look for present day solutions, they prefer the lazy route of using 1991 remedies. As far as I can see, they have the impression that salary cuts worked then so why bother to look for innovative ways of dealing with the crisis now.
Instead of relying on S&P and other foreign snake oil salesmen, Government should admit that it is not up to the task and ask for help. But if pride prevents them from asking, let me offer one uninvited suggestion. I went into the Registration Department and did a quick search of the judgments that have been filed against VAT defaulters. These judgments represent people who have collected VAT and who have refused to pay it in for whatever reason. From my reckoning, the outstanding VAT, penalties and interest are far in excess of $1 billion.
Government needs a bailiff, plain and simple, not this nonsense about a revenue authority, another foreign-grown concept – like Bajans can’t find solutions for themselves. The bailiff should be paid based only on the money recovered and you will see how productive our workers can be. I make bold to say that the Government would have more than enough revenue if VAT were efficiently collected and an aggressive campaign implemented to collect the arrears. There might be enough money in the coffers that the VAT rate could be reduced. Instead, Government seems to prefer a system where it continually increases impositions on the poor while allowing the better off to retain money that they collected on behalf of the state: reverse Robin Hood, if you ask me.
I will now turn my attention to the assertion made by a police officer that all camouflage is illegal, which was reported as news. That statement is simply not true. It would be true to say that police and Customs have been misinterpreting the law, and as a result, they have been confiscating items unlawfully. Worse, magistrates have been penalizing people for not breaking the law. Section 188 of the Defence Act states, in part:
(1) A person is guilty of an offence who (a) wears in a public place, without authority, the uniform of the Barbados Defence Force, not being a member of the force, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or other distinctive marks of any such uniform:
(b) wears without authority
(i) any uniform or part thereof, or any article of clothing made from any of the disruptive pattern materials used for making the military uniform commonly called “camouflage uniform” or from any other material so nearly resembling any of those materials as is likely to deceive, or (ii) any uniform or part thereof worn by any military organization of any country, whether in being or disbanded;
(c) has in his possession without authority
(i) any uniform or part thereof, article of clothing or material mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) of paragraph (b).
It is clear from the legislation that it is unlawful to wear or have in your possession camouflage clothing or material that is used by the Defence Force or any other camouflage that is close enough to appear like the one used by the Defence Force.
Be that as it may, I have personally seen a policeman confiscate a pink camouflage scarf, and while at the airport I was on time to see Customs seize a camouflage travelling bag: the visitor was forced to leave the airport with their belongings in plastic bags. I expect this type of enforcement from overzealous lower level law enforcement officers but this zeal has been outdone by the courts.
Since the police and the courts erroneously hold the view that it is illegal to possess all camouflage, it is no wonder that people have been convicted in circumstances where there is no breach of the law. Even if there were a breach, the quality of the evidence would not have been such as to justify a finding of guilt. The problem is that it is far too easy to secure a conviction, especially in the Magistrates’ Courts.
I do not recall ever hearing that anyone from the Defence Force being called to give evidence to confirm that the camouflage is the type worn by its soldiers. Further, I have never seen any consular or military personnel from any other country being called to identify the article as being similar to the one worn by their country’s soldiers. Contrary to the news report, all camouflage is not illegal.
I am looking forward to a time when the media do not just accept Press statements from officialdom without careful analysis of the content.
l Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator. Email email@example.com