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EDITORIAL: Responsible public discussion a must


EDITORIAL: Responsible public discussion a must

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The Estimates debate having been completed in Parliament, two issues which arose during the debate in the Lower House threw some light on aspects of our governance.

The first concerns Finance Minister Chris Sinckler’s apology on VOB’s Brasstacks for statements he made in the House in rebutting Mia Mottley’s assertion that the fees for NIS board members had been increased.

The call to apologise was made in Mottley’s speech at a public meeting on Saturday night last when she produced what was said to be a copy of a cabinet document to support her assertion.

This incident which has led to the BLP’s advertisement for the Saturday night meeting being reported to the Privileges Committee of Parliament resulted in Sinckler calling into the Brasstacks programme and admitting his error and apologising. That was the mature and responsible thing to do.  Politicians are the people’s servants and the minister’s early apology was an action in keeping with the high traditions one expects from an honourable member of the House.

It was equally mature of Leader of the Opposition Mottley to accept the apology when she called in while Sinckler was still on air.  This led to an important discussion between these two senior and influential politicians of their parties supporting reform of parliamentary procedure to provide more time for debate on the details of the Estimates.

This topic of reform has been aired before, but it was illuminating to hear such reasonable and responsible exchange of opinions on this topic of high public interest. We urge further public exchanges which can only enhance transparency and public knowledge and confidence in our system of governance if conducted with similar civility.

Nonetheless, it is an uncomfortable feeling that any Minister might not be aware of any decision by Cabinet. Being away on official business should not excuse a minister from checking to enquire on decisions taken in his or her absence. But to err is human and no system is perfect. Yet, given the duty of collective responsibility, is the public not entitled to assume that all Ministers are made aware of all Cabinet decisions no matter when the decisions are taken? 

The issue of fingerprinting at the air and sea ports also arose with the Prime Minister who is also Minister of Immigration speaking to the issue.

This issue is one of major national importance involving possible conflict between the personal rights of individuals and the duty of the Government to protect national security in today’s violent world. The Prime Minister’s statement was a wise and welcome official comment; especially in view of serious allegations that there were procedural irregularities relating to the laying of the relevant regulations in the House.

Similar allegations were successfully raised before in the case of train robber Ronald Biggs, under a BLP regime; and maybe there is still not enough crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s taking place within the bureaucracy.

Murphy’s law tells us that when something can go wrong, it will; and it just as well that the proposed legal challenge goes ahead, since that case should throw more light on the government’s reasons; but nothing can replace responsible public discussion to answer public disquiet on this critical matter.