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SHANTAL MUNROE-KNIGHT: Let’s not be distracted


SHANTAL MUNROE-KNIGHT: Let’s not be distracted

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I WILL NOT COMMENT on the fact that we learned as a nation that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was desirous of making us a republic through his address at a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) branch meeting.

In one of the many published press stories (as far as China) there is also a reported quote from the General Secretary of the DLP on the issue.

I was a bit confused by this because I was not sure if the Republic was of concern only to the DLP and other invited guests at the branch meeting or if it concerned the rest the population. I am still not clear actually, since there have been no other national pronouncements on the matter.

However, I will not harp on whether it is acceptable that a matter of such national significance become first discussed and promulgated by a Prime Minister at a branch meeting, instead I will congratulate the Prime Minister for reportedly speaking passionately about this topic.

From the various press reports it would appear that he has strong feelings about this topic perhaps just as strong as the feelings he expressed when the notion was first mooted by the then Prime Minister Owen Arthur. We do not often hear about the Prime Minister speaking with such passion and detail on matters of national importance so kudos must be given.

My take on the republic issue is the same as it was under the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) – I want the details.  I still stand by the advice of Sir Frederick Smith when he reportedly said “I’m all for republic…. but I am not voting for a republic until I see the constitution . . .. Draft the constitution. Let me see how you’re going to select the president, how you’re going to dismiss the president, whether my fundamental rights are being safeguarded under the republican constitution”. (November 27, 2006, nationnews).

The issues of power and who will wield it, that was raised by the Hon. PM when he was in opposition are still as salient today even though his context has changed. (Just in case anyone is wondering, I found that quotation on my own it was not handed to me by a BLP or any other operative, all of the above I claim sole ownership of as fair comment).

However, I have become distracted from the main issue I wanted to discuss. It seems that this republic issue has arisen at a time when the current issues of the economy and the public service are most acute. If one is not careful one might easily become carried away by the discussion and forget the current realities.

I had reason to pause earlier this week when I read a report which suggested that very soon we could be moving to a situation where Barbadians will pay for secondary schooling. The story spoke of a dire lack of basic and other supplies in schools including the fact that some students have to take to school toilet paper. It also suggested that schools were in debt for critical utilities. Certainly, it put in context the many requests and demands that schools continually make on parents.

This situation echoes similar stories that we have been hearing about the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). It perhaps reinforces what we have known for some time, the macro –economic situation is taking a serious toil on our ability to provide critical services. While I am extremely dismayed with the state of the QEH I am just as alarmed that the situation has crept into our schools. Even moreso because I thought that the schools had a natural set of support structures which would insulate it from such effects.

I will not assume that the situation exists at all schools but certainly from the reports it suggests that there are issues of concern across a sufficient enough number. My question is what are we going to do about it? We can decide that it is the government’s business and leave it to them but we know how that goes or we can decide that the schools and the children therein are part of our national goods making them eligible for us all to pitch in and help fix.

Shantal Munroe-Knight is a development specialist executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]