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OFF CENTRE: King man in a banana republic?


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: King man in a banana republic?

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Just arrived at the Ministry of Education – this request:
To Whom It May Concern,
The toilets in a section of . . . School have not worked for four weeks. As principal, I have made many complaints to the ministry but the problem remains. Is it all right if I let the media know?
P.S. I don’t mean to be rude, but if you refuse permission and I go ahead and talk, would I find myself in a toilet bowl – in shaving cream?
And this one:
To Whom It May Concern,
Last week I was assaulted by a fellow teacher in the staffroom of the St Philip school at which I work. When I reported the matter to the principal and informed him of my intention to lodge a police complaint, he told me that if I did that he would transfer me to a school in St Lucy. I live in St Philip, near to my workplace.
It seems like the media should know about this. Please, sir/ma’am, can I speak to Maria Bradshaw or David Ellis about it?
Well, well.
So we had the Minister of Education himself saying that principals and teachers should not have any truck with the media, and as if on cue, Chief Education Officer Laurie jump in the ling. Last week he sent out a circular stating, “Principals, teachers and other school personnel must seek permission before engaging the media in matters relating to the function, operation, policies or procedures of the schools, or the Ministry of Education.”
Every day this country showing more than stems and stains of a banana republic.
Of course, you read recently that Barbados was the only CARICOM country to have requested information from Facebook about how its nationals use that online social network.
And while lots of Barbadians singing and dancing and making merry, there are noises about people doing more than tapping their feet.
Concerning schools, my years in the system showed me this: unless things go public, many negative things in these institutions don’t get dealt with.
Many education officials seem to burn with fervour about keeping things out of the public eye – spawned by a self-absorbed twinning of human and institution in a diabolical symbiosis.
Set up to educate the people’s children, the schools must apparently hide what goes on in them from the people’s eyes – for reputation’s sake.
A little boy puts his hand up a girl’s skirt – We en talking ’bout that. A teacher put his hand in the cookie jar – “Ask the ministry.” The ministry: “No comment.”/ “We don’t know what you are talking about.”
Drugs found on the school compound – “We are not speaking to the Press.” One boy stabs another – Mum’s the word! A class has not had a teacher in Subject X for three weeks – “Not your business!” Ceilings falling down on children and teachers – “Don’t meddle in our business!”
Information on lockdown!
What is particularly disheartening is that when various encroachments are attempted, you don’t hear a peep from all the lawyers that we the taxpayers educated and even those we didn’t.
They don’t rise up in righteous anger, with a mighty sternness, setting their faces (and actions) like flint against the unholy daring – like if they only interested in winning a seat in Parliament or defending people who may or may not be criminals.
Now, I know that for years in these matters the authorities have frightened civil servants by telling them that the General Orders and later the Public Service Act prohibit this and prohibit that.
But it bears public noting that the preamble to the draft Freedom of Information Bill (been in draft since 2008), calls into question all those authoritarian limitations previously pressed upon us, heralding itself as an act to:
“(a) give effect to the broad provisions of section 20 of the Constitution which gives to every person the right and freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, including information held by public authorities, so as to enhance good governance through knowledge, transparency and accountability.”
And as you read on you see this: “limited only by exceptions and exemptions necessary for the protection of essential public interests in a democratic society and the private or business affairs of persons in respect of whom information is held by public authorities”.
I am no lawyer, but it seems from (a) above, that the much bandied about big-stick prohibitions in the General Orders and the Public Service Act 2007 re sharing of information were/are, in fact, in breach of our Constitution.
And still in 2013 comes another king man pushing too far!
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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