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THE BIG PICTURE: Bluffing all the way


Ralph Jemmott

THE BIG PICTURE: Bluffing all the way

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A friend once told me of participating in a conference attended by a number of overseas delegates. After the meeting a visitor said to him, this is quite a nice country you have here and the people are very pleasant, but there is something that worries me. How come there is so much bluffing?

Faced with so many issues and declining confidence in ourselves and our leaders, there is a growing tendency to bluff and bluster our way through. We pretend at tackling the problem, announce a grandiose plan at a grand meeting place, cameras at the ready, but no concrete steps are taken to materialise the initiative.

The implementation deficit renders the bluffing increasingly tiresome and saps the public confidence as diminishing credibility is given to what is said. The politico appears on the CBC Evening News and one is immediately prompted to press the mute button.

Some months ago, the Prime Minister announced that he was handing the National Conservation Commission wrongful dismissal case over to the Employment Rights Tribunal. In September the NUPW called for a deadline for the tribunal to “get kicking” in its mandate to resolve the issue. Dennis Clarke, the union’s general secretary, is reported as saying:

“Certainly, we can’t be happy with the process . . .

we were promised a speedy resolution of the impasse and we accepted that idea in good faith but . . . . It is a situation where the tribunal started before they were ready.”

From the beginning the sceptics contended that this was little more than an attempt to kick the proverbial can down the proverbial road. It was even questioned as to whether the tribunal was properly constituted.

Then it appears the body had to shop around for best practices governing similar institutions on which to model its procedures. But there is more. The tribunal, if the NUPW statement is correct, lacked “infrastructure”, a simple office and the material wherewithal from which and with which to operate. This is the stuff of which banana republics are made.

On July 12, Minister of Education Ronald Jones, speaking on the UWI funding issue, announced that, “in the first few years we will ‘do’ some 3 000 bursaries to help those with challenges and this has already been agreed on”. As classes got under way at Cave Hill, a senior official of the campus said that the university had received no correspondence from the ministry indicating that any bursaries had as yet been awarded.

In mid-September, Mr Jones reaffirmed that the bursaries were still in the works even though he could divulge no details. But it was later announced by the Minister of Finance that the funds were not available to underwrite the cost of the bursaries. What then did Minister Jones mean when he said, “We will do some 3 000 bursaries.” Who are we? Was it the royal ‘we’?

He also added that: “This has already been agreed on.” Was The Finance Ministry in on the agreement? Do the Ministers of Education and Finance sit on the same Cabinet as part of one DLP government? Was the question of the bursaries ever discussed at all?

Barbados is under extreme pressure to control its debt and deficit. That is why the Government had to take the politically hazardous step of introducing tuition fees in the first place. The Minister of Education must understand the urgency of fiscal consolidation.

Perhaps he is more concerned with shoring up his own political standing? The big question in all this is, where is the Prime Minister? Is he supportive of Mr Jones’ doing of 3 000 bursaries? Does he too know that the money is not available at this time? Not a word so far. Instead there is, in Tennyson Joseph’s words, a deepening of “the reflexive stance of silence”.’

As Owen Arthur notes, this speaks to a fundamental breakdown in governance and one really has to wonder how much longer this calamity can be allowed to continue. Silence some claim, is now a workable mechanism of governance.

But who is it wukking for?

Maybe it only has to work until February 2018 when MPs’ pensions are calculated? Is every minister in the Cabinet his own Prime Minister? Nature really does abhor a vacuum. Restoring Barbados is a generational challenge, but the present generation of leaders is failing badly.

The Opposition leader invokes the involvement of “civil society”. One is not sure what she expects. I agree that a numbness, a sense of resignation has overtaken the public and that “the dominant mood is to bunker down and wait for the next election”. 

There is a limit to which you can walk up and down in the hot sun, and Barbadians will never and should never contemplate anything outside of the law. While it is a gross hyperbole to say that “Barbados is dying a silent death”, in the present circumstance, February 2018 does seem an intolerably long way off.

Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator.

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