Information vital for development
ACCESS TO ACCURATE information is one of the most critical factors in decision-making. That is why business leaders, academics, trade unionists and politicians often complain when they cannot get information to help them decide on the way forward.
The news media, which is a watchdog on behalf of the citizens, also needs to have access to accurate information. Members of the public expect the media to keep them informed and not be involved in either public relations exercises or spin for any interest group.
The negative consequences of this lack of information in the lead-up to and during the ongoing lay-offs in the public sector are evidence that this vacuum can create uncertainty, confusion and even mistrust.
Even in the lives of average citizens, the unavailability of timely information does make a big difference. But the importance of dissemination of relevant information seems to have been lost on too many decision-makers in Barbados, particularly those in the public sector. Both the political directorate and the technocrats have generally adopted the same lethargic attitude on this issue.
For many public officials, there is always the Official Secrets Act to use as a shield when it suits them. The politicians’ approach is to simply not answer questions they do not like. Others will resort to the age-old shelter of “not speaking to the Press for fear of being misquoted”. The truth is that many public officials believe that a managed information flow is their best safeguard. In recent times some have resorted to the cover of the Government Information Service, with the result that information is not timely and is often overlooked.
The Ministry of Education has been a culprit in this regard for many years with the late release of names of Barbados Scholarship and Exhibition winners. So, too, has been the Cabinet Office in respect of recipients of national honours. Officials there should check how it is done in Britain. There are too many instances where ministers of Government go on official overseas missions and treat them as personal trips. On many occasions no public report is given. Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean often travels on behalf of the Government and people. Yet we know little of the gains from such travels. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and a delegation recently returned from a conference in Cuba, but the public was not adequately informed as to how this country benefited from that exercise.
The point is that from the Electoral and Boundaries Commission to the Immigration and Customs departments and all the other entities, there must be the free flow of accurate information.
In order to ensure greater transparency and accountability, and, by extension, good governance, there must be access to information. That is why Government needs to fulfil its promise regarding a Freedom Of Information Act.