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FIRING LINE: Disappointing discourse

Shantal Munro-Knight

FIRING LINE: Disappointing discourse

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Much hoopla about nothing really.
That is my point view about the comment reportedly made by Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler about Leader of Opposition Mia Mottley running through Bridgetown. The song and dance about the comment diverted attention from the no-confidence motion and the issues which were to be articulated. Instead of making maximum use of the public attention to lay the case for the no-confidence motion the repeated politicking around the more minor issue reduced the focus of public debate. This was quite unfortunate and was perhaps a flaw in the Barbados Labour Party strategy. 
We would all agree the BLP knew beforehand that they would not win the no-confidence motion in Parliament. The strategy therefore would have been to win the case in the court of public opinion. I would suggest that creating obviously politically motivated noise about the comment was perhaps not the final message the public should have been left with going into the debate.
This is not to say that Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler should be entirely off the hook for his comments. It was an unfortunate and ill-considered comment for one whose office is the “embodiment of Government’s policy and structure”. The Government stage should not be seen in the same light as the political platform; there are two differing standards of expected behaviour. However, this has become the expected pattern of responses from DLP politicians of late to any perceived criticism. If they are not being condensing and belligerent, they resort to being flippant and dismissive. Someone ought to tell them that perhaps they should spend less time coming with such retorts for perceived critics and more time addressing the public on the solutions to the dire problems facing the country.  
While I would agree that the no-confidence motion was more of a public exercise; which to be fair to the Opposition was perhaps necessary to ensure that they let the country know that they are not asleep; the Government ought not to turn a blind eye to some of the fundamental issues raised. If we strip the politics out and depersonalize the arguments made by Ms Mottley, there are some serious issues which need to be addressed; dare I say appropriately addressed.
The Central Bank governor’s remark that we should not expect growth until 2015 is alarming. A lot can happen to the social fabric of an economy within a year. As I have previously argued, the social impact of macro-adjustment policies can be extremely far reaching and actually serve to undermine the very elements that are needed to advance economic growth. It is for this reason that I must say I remain disappointed with the level at which the discourse around how to reshape and rebuild this economy is occurring.
Actually, there is no discourse about how we reshape and rebuild, only how we survive. Usually in a time of crisis there are two contending forces. One is conservative – battening down the hatches – and the other more daring, giving rise to space for change. We seem devoid of this element from both sides of the table and the academics on the hill have offered little in the way of new direction. 
Like most Barbadians, I am tired of the political noise; we need some sense of direction and hope. There is, at least among the Barbadians that I have been talking to a sense of hopelessness, a sense that things will get worse and there are no answers to be found among our leaders. When investors lose hope we are in trouble, when people lose hope we are in crisis.
I want to touch on two more issues before my space runs out. The story in Thursday’s NATION, in which it was reported that Justice Jacqueline Cornelius called for a sex offenders’ registry and labelled a convicted child molester a paedophile, is extremely disturbing. The story reported that the man had confessed that he had molested over 200 children in his life. Within the confines of the law his maximum sentence was five years in prison. He has refused available treatment and therefore will return to society within five years the same way he went in. 
I am more convinced than ever that we need to address some fundamental deficiencies within our law in respect to the protection of children and women specifically as it relates to rape. There has to be a shared consensus and commitment to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society. If the justice system is incapable of affording this protection, then the very foundational elements of society are in danger.
This is related to my final point. Regardless of the verdict, I would have hailed Shanique Myrie. Too often in our society, there is a perception that access to justice remains out of reach of the average person. Fighting the “system” is a daunting task for ordinary people. I hail her because she dared to fight.  
• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.