EDITORIAL: Public needs to know full details of Myrie cost
SURPRISE, SURPRISE! It is still not over.
The lawsuit brought by Jamaican Shanique Myrie against the Barbados Government stirred interest across the entire English-speaking Caribbean for many reasons. It gave the fledging Caribbean Court of Justice an opportunity to prove its independence and intellectual depth, while it also forewarned regional governments about the treatment of people in cross-border travel. In many regards, the case was about change.
That Ms Myrie won and was personally awarded approximately $76 000 is history. In this very public issue most Barbadians would have believed that all the issues relating to the Myrie case were now history. But, based on reports in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, the lawyers who represented Myrie are complaining that to date the Barbados Government has not paid them the costs determined as being fit for their legal services.
The complaints by the legal counsel in Jamaica are alarming but not totally shocking, given the amount of time the settlement of the state’s bills can take. This raises the issue of whether the local attorneys drafted in by Government to present and defend its case have encountered the same difficulty as their Jamaican counterparts. And while we are not here to put a case or try to defend the interests of the attorneys – either in Kingston or in Bridgetown – we see a much bigger picture that must be addressed.
What is disgraceful is that the public remains in the dark about the full cost of this landmark case. It is the right of the people to know all the facts in matters such as the Myrie case and indeed other issues of public interest.
We must make the plea once again for the much promised but slow-in-coming Freedom Of Information Act. This legislation is the best way to promote open government, which all administrations in Barbados have suggested should be promoted. We believe that secrecy in government is totally inconsistent with true democracy, which is why legislators, police, prosecutors and senior public officers must start trusting the public by giving them the information required. In most instances, the information being withheld neither undermines the proper functioning of any department nor is a threat to national security or personal privacy.
Attempts to get what ought to be public information can be frustrating, given the maze of bureaucracy which must be overcome. One often encounters inordinately time-consuming roadblocks or bureaucrats’ complete disregard of legitimate requests. This is not how open government should work. Neither should it be left only to the good conscience of a whistle-blower to do what is right.
Transparency and accountability by government is crucial in ensuring that democracy works. Ensuring these qualities of good governance requires access-to-information laws.