EDITORIAL: Public has right to know
IT IS unfortunate that as our country develops and the national appetite for relevant and vital information grows, the inclination of agents and agencies of the State to confide in the public appears to be receding.
Too often these days the nation is confronted by ministers of Government who are not ashamed or embarrassed to publicly declare they don’t talk to the media, senior public officers who hide behind archaic laws and rules which they conveniently decide bar them from talking to the Press, and others who seem eternally fearful that if they open their mouths to speak the people’s business they will contract some kind of disease.
Of course, these same personalities have no problem showing all their teeth when they have some airy-fairy, nebulous comment to make at some inconsequential occasion; are engaged in some innocuous public relations non-event; or when some institution confers some personal accolade on them that has absolutely nothing to do with the public interest.
And so we arrive at the case of six-year-old Jahan King, a student of the Lawrence T. Gay Memorial Primary School who apparently died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital shortly after being taken there by his mother in circumstances that are now the subject of a police investigation.
In pointing to the death of little Jahan, it might not be out of place to recall that of 12-year-old Coleridge & Parry student Shemar Weekes, who apparently committed suicide at his Checker Hall, St Lucy home in mid-May. We remain hopeful that a coroner’s inquest into this unfortunate death will answer some of the many questions that no doubt dog the minds of countless Barbadians.
What do these two cases have to do with our assertion that we are building a state bureaucracy headed by bright minds, many of them schooled by public funds, who now find it a chore and inconvenience to engage the public?
There can be no valid excuse advanced, as far as we are concerned, that two children could die in such tragic circumstances, in both instances with so far unchallenged charges that concerns were drawn to the attention of the Child Care Board (CCB), and the country can’t get a hint of some kind of explanation from that agency.
We are not so irresponsible to suggest that the board or any of its officers did anything wrong, or were even negligent, but the agency has a serious public duty as far as the protection of our children is concerned and it cannot be allowed to operate as though it is a law unto itself – that it can speak when it wishes to, to which issues it chooses, and when it cares not to it stays silent.
Are the laws governing the operations of the board outdated and therefore ineffective in dealing with today’s situations? Is it a case of its staff being inadequate in number and overwhelmed by the volume and types of cases being presented? Is it that other agencies that should be involving the board are not? Have we advanced as a society beyond the CCB as now constituted and there is a need for a modern Department of Child Protective Services as exists in so many metropolitan jurisdictions?
The director of the Child Care Board may not be in a position to speak to specifics of the two cases mentioned, and indeed may not wish to since both will immediately fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner, but they both point to serious social and structural issue that should engage its attention, and by extension force it to engage the public.
Its duty to the public is too great for Barbadians to accept anything less.