Last Tuesday, Minister of Education Ronald Jones made statements in the House of Assembly which could be interpreted as suggesting that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party was engaging in conduct that could foment insurrection in the country.
We focus on two specific things the minister said:
1) “There are persons who have no respect for democracy, they have a right to talk, but when they believe that right spreads to the creation of a groundswell to breed insurrection Mr. Speaker you will be calling on the military forces of Barbados, the Royal Barbados Police Force to bring back law and order. “Who will be the Complaints Authority then? There will be thousands of complaints because by necessity in order to restore order you have to crack some heads, you have to shoot some people, let’s understand this reality. Nineteen thirty seven in this country many persons died, some that we can’t account for even now, so let them speak.”
2) “Those who light the fire will be consumed by the flames, simple as that. It is all well and good to want to lead a nation, nothing wrong with that. If you are in this House there is nothing wrong in wanting to lead a nation, but there is a time and place for everything under the sun, your time too will come if it is God’s will, of course. “Those who plant the seeds of destruction those seeds of destruction will come on them. All I am appealing to is good sense, good judgment.”
We are reasonably sure that by now Minister Jones has recognised that whether or not what listeners got was the message he intended to send, it rubbed a number of Barbadians the wrong way.
We also recognise that the minister is no political novice, neither is he one to back away from speaking his mind freely when he believes such is necessary — and as a result he is no stranger to being on the receiving end of strong criticism from large segments of the population.
At this time, however, we will avoid the temptation to jump into the debate at that level in order to give the minister time to offer a clarification, correction or apology, as has been called for from the Opposition and others.
However, what we will do is ask Minister Jones and his colleagues in the Cabinet, to consider carefully the circumstances that have led to criticism of the Government by the Opposition and so many other sections of the community — and in this instance we refer specifically to the business community.
The first thing that the members of the Freundel Stuart Cabinet ought to consider is that if they fear popular unrest at this time — just under four months after winning a general election, it is hardly likely that it is taking its momentum from the Opposition.
The Opposition leader, savvy as she is as a politicians, may be riding on the wave, but she surely did not create it.
It might also be in the Government’s interest to look at the voices that were screaming prior to the election, which went silent during the campaign and immediately afterward, but have been rekindled in recent weeks. This Cabinet, by and large, and this Prime Minister in particular, may not be talking a lot, but we would find it hard to believe they are not hearing.
By our crude recollection, the only significant representative body that has not had much to say on the current hardships facing Barbadians is the church — and surely the Government must have heard the repeated messages. We, like Minister Jones, fear the very thought of civil unrest, but there is much merit in the old saying the nature abhors a vacuum. There is a gaping hole of leadership in this country that the Freundel Stuart Government is constantly refusing to fill. Note that we did not say is incapable of fulling!
As we have said before, it is okay to speak at a conference, at the official opening of somebody’s new offices, at some social gathering, or even to issue a statement after an overseas trip — these are generally issue specific. What is glaringly absent from the management of the affairs of this country is the sense of engagement and involvement of the people. It is as though Barbadians are to be comforted with the occasional “all will be okay” statement.
Which family or organisation in a crisis can survive with such an approach?
So we return to the Jones statement of last Tuesday and make the point: Whatever the crisis Barbados and Barbadians face, it is the management of the situation that will determine whether it spirals out of control. And if those with the responsibility of managing don’t do an effective job, it is pointless blaming others who highlight their shortcomings.