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A sad state of affairs


Shantal Munro-Knight

A sad state of affairs

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 I am completely exhausted by the Ferris wheel of events that have taken place over the last week and a half. 
I really do not think that there is much more I can say about the current situation. Actually, if I could I would give up my column space for a reprint of Harold Hoyte’s comments at the third People’s Assembly held under the auspices of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
He threw some well-deserved and directed punches at both political parties. He is completely right. Our politics is at a tragic stage. Right at the time when the country most needs a strong and vigilant Opposition, the internal disharmony of the BLP is plainly exposed.
Interestingly, the key question for me is who leaked the letter and why? Given the trail of the correspondence, the pool of leakers is fairly small. This issue has been the nemesis of the party and it is unclear how it will be resolved. One thing is certain, the public was right in its perception that the claimed unity between Mia Mottley and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur so publicly displayed in the last election was nothing more than a political gimmick.
The party ought to be careful to throw stones in a glass house. It is unfortunate and disappointing. It provided an inopportune distraction for a muddling Government. The public is lucky we do not have a more politically savvy administration. Another type of government could have used just that second to send home another 300 workers and claim once again it was part of a restructuring and not part of the 3 000 (all due respect to the public workers of course). 
Even as I say that, I give the Government kudos for its handling of the outcome of the meetings with the trade unions. It was a good face-saving move. The Government clearly realized it did not have all of the necessary administrative processes and procedures in place to send home the workers by January 15. However, after so many meetings with the trade unions it would not have been political to send the unions home empty-handed. So we have ended up with a stalemate, which leaves thousands of public workers none the wiser about their fate.    
I was a little apprehensive when I first heard that Cabinet will review the list of workers to be sent home. I was not sure why a whole Cabinet had to be convened to pour over a list with names. However, after some rethinking, I am happy that they will do so and that the Prime Minister has become so visibly involved. It means that we can hold them all accountable for any inconsistencies in how the workers were selected.
With this level of oversight we can all be assured that all of the Ps and Qs will be in place for a fair and transparent process. No one will need to meet with workers to apologize and appease them because each minister will not have the legitimacy to claim they did not know or were not aware.   
What was perhaps most interesting for me was the Prime Minister’s statement as reported in the Press. He was quoted in part as saying “we should not get preoccupied with numbers  . . . . The Government will do what it has to do to achieve those objectives because when those objectives are achieved, all will benefit in the long run”.
If you read my columns often enough you would know that I am easily confused. What does that mean? It was the current administration that identified the numbers and so now we are told to ignore the numbers? What other means will be used to achieve the Government’s objective? We were told that this is what the Government needed to do to reach some measure of stability?
It is becoming more and more difficult to follow the trail of inconsistencies in the pronouncements of senior members of this administration. I am no longer sure who should be listened to. I am actually completely mortified. There is absolutely no attempt to be consistent and accountable and even more scary there are no social forces at play with enough gumption to force the political powers to be accountable. It seems that we are all caught up in this wasteland of inaction, finger-pointing and complaining.  
The media report, not interrogate, the unions; well, right now, they hold meetings and gather information. Good competition I guess for research institutes. Our academics with a few exceptions, are comfortable to hold intellectual court on the Hill in small huddled groups slapping each other on the back for their brilliance and savvy; instead of providing the honest intellectual critique which is so necessary for social change.
As for us the public, we are happy to keep our heads low once we can keep our own individual households intact, we are pretty cool. No one wants to step up since public dissent has become a bogeyman. It is in these moments that the fallacies in this parliamentary democracy that we practise become more pronounced. Where do we go from here? 
• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.
 

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