ALL AH WE IS ONE: A numb public
When asked last week by a Barbadian media house whether the fiasco surrounding the non-availability of promised bursaries to Barbadian students announced by the Minister of Education was enough to warrant the dismissal of the minister, I could only answer that whilst it was indeed punishable by firing, so used had the Barbadian public become to governmental failure that the public had become too numb to even be moved to indignation by the infraction.
To a related question surrounding the possibility of fresh, early elections, I gave a similar response. I noted that while the objective conditions were present when measured in terms of public disillusionment, general governmental failure and the ruling party’s abandonment of its manifesto pledges, the subjective conditions for a new election were not present simply because the dominant mood of the public was to bunker down and wait for the next election, rather than to mobilise for its realisation in the present.
The response to the Ronald Jones bursary fiasco suggests that the Barbadian public has become desensitised to bad government. The people have become numb to failure so weak and inexperienced leadership is now being accepted as the “new normal”. No one appeared genuinely shocked.
Sadly, the public’s desensitised numbness is reflective of the seriousness with which the Government and its spokespersons are taken. Very few of the ministers act as if they understand that their public pronouncements carry policy weight. Reflective of their apparent lack of awareness of this reality is the habit of “saying anything”, sometimes at cross purposes with each other and even themselves.
Perhaps in the absence of concrete achievements, the ministers have resorted to “talking up” as a way of staving off the reality of failure. Jones’ public promise, laced with detailed pronouncements of maximum bursary coverage for each campus, had all the features of a public relations exercise parading as thorough policy.
All of this has resulted in much confusion and disillusionment in the minds of the public. The people no longer attach any significance to governmental pronouncements and having heard the empty cry of wolf so often, they have switched off and are no longer listening or paying attention.
Ironically, the Government, in an opportunistic way, appears to be basking in the numbed and detached silence on the part of the public. Relieved that the public has gone to sleep in hopeless frustration and to hibernate until the next election, the Government has deepened its reflexive stance of silence, afraid that by some inordinate noise it may rouse the public to consciousness again.
Amidst all of this, the official Opposition appears to be groping for a strategy to break the silence. Stunned by the reduction in its parliamentary strength, the new Opposition Leader has been coaxing others to rouse themselves.
Through it all, Barbados dies a silent death.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.