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EDITORIAL: Empower the people


EDITORIAL: Empower the people

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WITH the GENERAL ELECTION due next year the political atmosphere is heating up, with the two major parties sharpening their rhetoric while emerging parties present themselves as pretenders to the throne.

These are challenging times, with much discussion of public affairs made all the more interesting with this week’s debate on the Estimates taking place against the background of downgrade opinions of the international rating agencies. It cannot be business as usual.

If governments are the people’s servants and not their masters, then the people of this country need to be empowered, with a clear understanding of the proper relationship between themselves and elected officials, and how they may hold them to account at all times.

We have to face facts. Cabinets in these small parliaments can often dominate and outnumber the combined forces of the opposition and backbenchers and this makes for a governance problem that has to be faced.

It can be confusing for the average person to follow the economic arguments in favour of this or that approach. Topics such as the fiscal deficit and the balance of payments and foreign reserves, not to mention the issue of foreign direct investment, can often seem like a foreign language to all but the keenest followers of debates on our current affairs.

In this potpourri of charge and countercharge, with a presentation on facts by the governing Democratic Labour Party and a march of disgust by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, the man (and woman) in the street is being flooded with information from all sides and is expected to separate the wheat from the chaff, and truth from the untruth.

Yet there is a large need for public education and information on our public affairs, if we are to judge by the comments and requests for explanations made by callers to radio call-in programmes.

Even if we teach aspects of civics in school, it still seems to be the case that much greater public discussion of our governance in a systematic manner is required if we are to equip the people with the knowledge and information to form sensible opinions on the management of their affairs by the politicians.

To make sense of the present situation requires focus on aspects of the economy as well as the ability to zero in on the nature and practice of our politics. As an example, Prime Minister Stuart has recently made the argument that the rating agencies can downgrade Barbados’ credit worthiness but cannot downgrade the numerous gains articulated by his ministers.

Are the people to accept this statement at face value? We think not, because it ought to be clear that our need to attract foreign direct investment exposes us to the decision-making discretion of external potential investors, who may be adversely influenced against investing here by such rating agency decisions. The collateral damage from such decisions can eventually affect the quality of life and the gains made by ministries.

As agents of the press, we can only do so much education, but particularly in the Estimates Debate the policies and decisions of the Government ought to be under the severest public scrutiny. Questions ought to be asked and answers given before the Estimates are passed and given parliamentary approval.

It would enhance our democracy if the public is better equipped to ensure that the feet of all governments are always held to the fire – and not only at election time.