ONLY HUMAN: Criticism par for course, Mr Jones
Ronald Jones is right in saying “a country does not build itself on pervasive negativity. It builds itself on people being positive, focused and interested in the development of their country”.
As Minister of Education, Jones has every right, too, to bemoan what he considers the unnecessary “picking” at every single thing occurring in his ministry as he did on Sunday night at a constituency meeting. After all, it can’t be easy being under such consistent intense scrutiny.
His colleague Chris Sinckler, the embattled Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, can make a similar complaint. With key economic indicators down, and the fear of job losses in the public sector sparked by Government’s urgent need to cut more than $400 million in spending, his stewardship has been under the greatest scrutiny of all.
Jones, the once long-serving president of the Barbados Football Association, will no doubt agree too that it is equally true that you cannot build a country, a home or a club on unquestioning agreement and sheepish consent. For either option would spell disaster, especially in an environment that lacks clear and coherent information from which logical conclusions can be confidently drawn.
The reality is that criticism is central to a healthy democracy. It is as integral as accountability is to ensuring that those in power are always kept on their toes in their management of a country’s affairs.
So Jones, Sinckler and others in the Freundel Stuart-led administration can be criticized constructively or otherwise for their stewardship. Likewise, they are quite within their right to react to what they perceive as unnecessary complaints about what they are doing.
However, in their protests they should be careful not to say things that border on others’ rights or that do not do justice to their standing as leaders.
Jones’ statement to principals and teachers that the media should not be invited onto school premises, and that union leaders should “stay out in the road unless you come to do good” crosses this line. These statements seem more emotional than realistic and do nothing for an individual who was known for his robust leadership of a trade union.
Those statements also highlight the continuing, and misguided, tension politicians in power – in particular – often have with the media. Indeed, if there has been one fact that media practitioners in Barbados can state, it is that the two institutions which are consistently criticized and berated by Government are the opposition party and the media.
The Government of the day often sees collusion between these two, and usually suggests they are irresponsible and seeking to destabilize the country with their negative rhetoric.
One well recalls after the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) whipped the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the 1999 general election, winning all but two seats in the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Owen Arthur was still of the view that the independent media was against him.
For example, on January 25, 2000, Arthur said he would never welcome then NATION President and Editor-in-Chief Harold Hoyte to join any choir to sing his praises in response to criticism by Hoyte on a Point At Issue call-in programme on Voice Of Barbados days earlier that examined the first year of the second term of Arthur’s Government.
Hoyte stressed that there were still a number of bread-and-butter issues to be addressed by the Government. He said: “I am not a member of Arthur’s How Great Thou Art Choir. I don’t walk around saying he is great, although I think he’s been a good leader and he’s done some good things, but on bread-and-butter issues he is going to be very hard to judge.”
Arthur fired back: “What I am 100 per cent sure about is that Harold Hoyte need never entertain any fears of singing in any choir of mine. To be quite honest, I would not know where to put him.”
The Freundel Stuart-administration has been constantly criticized for their management of the country since the death of late Prime Minister David Thompson. This has continued apace since they won this year’s general election. They and their supporters would suggest that much of this criticism is unwarranted, given that they have services running and public servants employed while around the world layoffs and some basic services are being compromised.
To those levelling the accusations, they could point to the downgrade of Barbados’ credit rating to junk status, the taxing of once tax-free allowances, the heavy taxation imposed, the galloping cost of living, and the borrowing of money monthly for several months to pay public servants, which has precipitated the present fiscal crisis.
Whatever one’s position, as leaders in our society, ministers should realize that in the same way that they have a right to pursue the policies they think best for Barbados, Barbadians also have a right to say how they feel about their Government ministers’ work.
• Sanka Price is a NATION editor.