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OFF CENTRE: Sinckler in press of circumstance


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Sinckler in press of circumstance

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Monday, January 6. I en saying that it is a day that will go down in infamy. I am just saying that I am glad that I was not a news reporter on that day.
’Cause then I might have found myself at a news conference with the Minister of Finance, wondering why they did not tell me that my questions were going to be fodder for a politician in fierce campaign mode.
Those who were able to concentrate without constantly flinching or wincing deserve a medal for courage under ire (if you want to say fire, that’s your business).
Yuh know how in newspapers and magazines when they are giving a verbatim account of an interview, they set it up in the form of Question and Answer? The interviewer asks a question and the subject responds. And so it goes – back and forth. Well, I think some news media might have been tempted to frame Monday’s encounter as Question and Tirade.
Granted that with everybody’s mind on edge as direct joblessness is a clear prospect for many, and with collateral damage consequentially awaiting others, we are principally concerned with the nitty-gritty of economic policy – specifically fiscal policy, we have been hearing.
But that does not mean that dignity and moral and behavioural imperatives are to be put on hold.
Yes, we have come to expect that a Press conference with a politico will be a kind of cat and mouse game – but still engaged in with a commitment to mutual decorum. And yes, we have seen the ways of New Jersey’s Governor Christie in this kind of forum, but I am sure that nobody thinks that his approach represents the status quo.
I know, too, that the weekly back and forth attrition in the House of Assembly may have accustomed us to lower level interactions among the elected, but, as bad as that is, we still expect politicians’ dealings with journalists in formal Press conferences, where the latter are in fact the proxies of the people, not to descend into that mire. In such circumstances, the responses can reasonably be taken as directed at the people.
In the context of a Press conference which is serious about being a Press conference, to do the people’s business (which is why the journalists are there) those on hand must be expected to ask useful questions, including follow-up ones that stem from the responses.
But I found that this forum had little of the kind of lucidity that represented a deep exploration of the minister’s answers, for the journalists understandably flagged in the effort of having to regularly pick sense out of harangue.
As the news conference stretched on, Sinckler’s abrasive surliness became its oppressive mark. There was little hint of respect for us, through our proxies, who as they put question after question, had to sit back at each turn and face unrelenting many-minute volleys – what some might have interpreted as temper tantrums.
“Blame me for everything!” “I am prepared to be a scapegoat or a scapecat!”
It was enough to make people who had legitimate questions feel that they had sinned grievously in even thinking about them or that they were being seen as taking up fire-rage for some absent party – double meaning intended.
Is this the kind of governance we will have to live with as we try to weather this storm? Economic blows and psychological thumps too?
Like any “good” politician, Mr Sinckler is likely predisposed to picking fights with political opponents. But I don’t want him to pick those fights and fight them on my time – and in my storm. Which is what he did on Monday last.
We the people of Barbados, many of whom simply desire to man up to the challenges of the times with the focused help of our leaders, don’t want to feel that every time the Minister of Finance speaks we have to battle even more than economic misery. Many of us have no interest in being embroiled in his political battles.
I did not think of the words myself, but others have used an expression like “alley cat” in reference to the minister’s behaviour. Nobody near me mentioned “bald pooch cat”.
No doubt, these are times that try men’s souls. But for those in governance, these are also times that test your poise – one of the qualities of a true statesman.
Yet on Monday almost every answer was tinted (tainted?) with a sense of grievance. The thing is, many Barbadians feel aggrieved too. Should we all therefore abandon a sense of dignity and poise and lash out at every turn?
In an age when we have moved away from neighbours behaving well towards each other on the basis of a shared though informal moral code, it seemed on Monday last week that another area long played out with agreed, if unspoken and unwritten, “moral” rules became a casualty too.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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