IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Lowe and behold . . .
THE PERFORMANCE of the Freundel Stuart Government since it was elected in 2008 has not been such that even the most generous assessors would hold it up as a beacon of what exemplary leadership should be.
There are a few members of the Cabinet who I would probably grade “B”, but left to me the vast majority would have to settle for somewhere between a “C-minus” and an “F”.
There are just too many gaps, even craters, in their performance to be awarded anything else. But then again, their performance may not be a reflection of their ability, but the standard of accountability to which they have been held.
By now most people know that I am no great fan of Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe – and it is not personal, because I know nothing personal about him.It is just that he has shown by his performance that if there is one portfolio that can be eliminated from the present Cabinet without any loss of capacity it would be his.
The country stink
The Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) is in a mess, with no articulated plan for its resuscitation. The country is stink, with garbage all over the place. Household refuse is not being collected with any regularity – something that once occurred with such efficiency Barbadians never gave it a second thought.
The headway that was made not so long ago in cleaning up our gullies and green spaces has been reversed, largely by the introduction of a landfill tipping fee that was only a problem because it was implemented so badly.
Our parks and other recreation spaces that once invited occupancy are crying out for upkeep.
A new restaurant has been under construction at Barclays Park for what seems like a lifetime and is still not done. Across the street, half the park benches and tables are so derelict they can’t be used. All along the Ermie Bourne Highway trees that were once pruned continuously have literally taken part of the roadway.
At Folkestone Park, a section of the beach area has been surrounded by boarding for years, with no signs of work taking place. And these are just a few examples.
And why do I not put the blame for this squarely on the shoulder of the minister? In a word: leadership. Or perhaps more appropriately, the lack thereof.
Lowe’s lack of leadership is overshadowed by the lack of leadership that holds him accountable. But why do I raise this now when the minister has been performing this poorly from day one?
It occurred to me recently as I was reviewing our publications that I have seen no stories involving Minister Lowe for some time, and prior to that they appeared quite infrequently.
There has been very little of him speaking directly to the media, or the more common practice of recent times, issuing statements via the Barbados Government Information Service where they are free from the probing of news reporters.
The last time we saw Dr Lowe in the news was on Friday, August 12, when he spoke at the launch of his ministry’s biodiversity website at his office in Warrens.
I made it my business to do some probing, only to discover that Minister Lowe had been away from office ill for some time. He was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on September 16 and was a patient there until last Saturday.
I sincerely wish the minister well. We are all human and subject to the frailties of life. Illness will visit us all from time to time and only the cold of heart and dumb gloat at the misfortunes of others without recognising that their day will come.
My problem, though, is that we continue to perpetuate a system in which Cabinet matters are treated as no business of the people. Too often ministers leave the island with no notice that they are going, and return with never a word about why they travelled, even though it was at taxpayers’ expense. By the same token, a minister, unfortunately, falls seriously ill and is hospitalised, and those who lead the country do not believe it is anybody’s business to say so.
Contrast that with what is going on in the United States presidential election race where both candidates are bombarded with questions about the state of their health and whether they are fit for office based on their medical histories.
A Government can’t complain if the population does not hold its Cabinet ministers in high regard or see them as critical when the holder of a portfolio can be hospitalised and therefore indisposed for an indeterminate period, yet we hear not a word about someone acting for him, or his duties being temporarily redistributed to other ministers.
Is it unreasonable to conclude that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is telling the country that the prolonged absence of his minister of the environment is really no big thing? That the garbage crisis is no bother? That the absence of equipment at the SSA and its impact on workers and morale are not worthy of the attention of anyone else? That we have lived with the problems of the NCC for so long we can continue to put up with them a while longer?
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe it’s not that Lowe’s ministry is not important, but that the population is not. Maybe there has been an acting minister all this time, just that it is not our business so we don’t have to be told.