EDITORIAL: Minister, public views more than ‘noise’
There has been considerable discussion and disquiet about the Government’s decision to ask students to pay for their tertiary level education, and this shift in government’s policy has been followed by the imposition of the municipal solid waste tax, which has generated its own band of dissenting voices.
The resulting coalition of voices on various aspects of policy may cause even the stoutest of hearts among us to wonder if the things are falling apart. We do not share that view.
Yet, there is an old saying that sometimes it is not what is done, but how it is done that matters more. This expression may be applicable in some respects to aspects of current policies of the Government.
It may not be a result that will please everyone but the announcement on Friday by Minister of Education Ronald Jones that some 3 000 UWI students will receive Government bursaries will help to alleviate the stress upon those Barbadians who have been studying while their parents are still living on the fringes, or in the centre of what might be called genteel poverty. This policy is welcome news.
No deserving student should be prevented from continuing or starting tertiary level education because of financial stringency. History, here and elsewhere, is replete with sterling contributions made to their societies, by some who, without state funding or philanthropic assistance, might otherwise never have had the benefit of higher learning.
But the Minister is reported as making some remarks while announcing the policy which should raise more than the proverbial eyebrows. He is reported as saying that he might have been remiss in not speaking about this policy earlier, but said he was “really tired” and criticised some of the figures which had been reported on the issue. He said that maybe he was to blame because he had not spoken enough to the issues, but there is so “much noise in your ears”, so much confusion that he wanted to seriously allay some fears.
Free speech in a democracy empowers voters to make “noise” in their Ministers’ ears and it is the duty of a Minister to clear up confusion about policy in a timely fashion if he or she thinks that the “noise in your ears” arises from unclear or misunderstood policy.
The solid waste tax has generated its own chorus of dissenters as we have said but we do not recall the Minister responsible talking anything about “noise in your ears” nor has he remarked anything about being “tired”. Neither, for that matter has the Minister of Health in the face of the latest disclosures about the situation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Both these Ministers have responded to the voices raised about matters under their ministerial responsibility, and from their public responses appear to have taken the criticisms of dissenting opinion into account.
We have no doubt that the Minister of Education means well. He often says that the welfare and concerns of students and education professionals are dear to his heart; but if the price of freedom is eternal vigilance then orderly lawful and peaceful criticism and dissent so vital to any democracy, is not ever “noise in your ears”.