Writers, historians and academics seized the opportunity of a book launch to call for regular releases of Government information, and bemoaned the absence of a Freedom Of Information Act.
The occasion was the launch last night of former MP Wendell Callender’s book Prime Ministers Of Barbados, which was hailed by all speakers as a primer for more such work to come, as they noted the difficulty in compiling such publications in Barbados’ culture or restricted information.
Journalist Eric Smith said: “We need to address these challenges if we are to encourage more local writing and, importantly, writing that offers historical and cultural insight.”
Smith, managing editor at another of Barbados’ daily papers, The Nation, continued to much applause at Almond Bay, Hastings, Christ Church: “I believe that sufficient time has elapsed for political scientists, historians, researchers and journalists, among others, to have access to the Cabinet papers of Prime Ministers Barrow, Adams, St John and Sandiford. Surely, the public has a right to know what transpired on issues of historical significance ranging from the Black Power and energy crises of the early 1970s to the Cubana airliner crash off Barbados a few years later and the economic crises in both the early 1980s and 1990s.”
He contended that it was for this reason it was important to have the informed views of people former politicians, civil servants and historians in order that the current and future generations could have an accurate view of political and other developments in Barbados over the past 50 years.
“Mr Smith, you have my full support,” stated featured speaker and former UWI Cave Hill principal Sir Keith Hunte.
“We have to do a far better job over the next decade in order to ensure that the people, the electorate, are in a position to make informed choices that are not only about which political party will be Government for the next term, but even more importantly what programmes and policies should be supported . . . ; and that can only be done if you have a very well informed Press.”
He said the news media could not create the stories from nothing.
“One has to get as quickly as possible to the sources. Yes, there are sensitive areas that will have to be protected for a time, but no Government is claiming that these have to be protected forever. But I do feel that information has to be looked at from time to time and the boundaries extended.”
The featured author Callender spoke of the repeated, numerous and sometimes fruitless calls made to sources of information for his book.
Historian Trevor Marshall mentioned an attempt many years ago to chronicle the work of the Magnificent Seven – Barbados’ two Premiers and the first five Prime Ministers. That incomplete manuscript, he said, is now shelved.
Author and former Nation editor-in-chief Harold Hoyte congratulated Callender on having “the courage to dare to document aspects of the contribution of the various Prime Ministers of the past and our current Prime Minister.
“I myself entertained the thought about writing about them some time ago. I have skirted around it because I believe that any work of this sort will require access to information . . . which will enhance the book with some real meaning.”
In this context he referred to the troubled economic times of Barbados in the early ’90s.
“I hold very strongly the view, for instance, if we could have some of the papers particularly with that period when it was so difficult for [former Prime Minister] Sir Lloyd, that we would have a completely different appreciation of his contribution.”