An interesting development in Jamaica last week has caught our attention and has us wondering, could it happen here? We have our doubts, but nothing stops us dreaming.
On Thursday, December 10, the minister with responsibility for information Senator Sandrea Falconer officially launched the government’s first ever Communication Policy, described by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) as cementing the administration’s commitment to greater accountability, transparency and good governance.
“The policy has been developed to provide a comprehensive framework for a well-managed and coordinated communication machinery across Government institutions, and to promote the effective dissemination of official information and meaningful engagement with the people of Jamaica,” a release from the JIS stated.
Ms Falconer herself has pointed out that having a proper communication policy and a proper communication environment encourage transparency and good governance and was an important step which demonstrated that “this administration is taking seriously, communicating to our people and getting them involved in what we do.”
Surely, this is something Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Government might wish to emulate. How difficult can it be to get Barbadians involved in what the administration does? How hard is it to communicate with the people?
We have commented in the past on the painful absence of honest, open and consistent communication from this administration; and the haughtiness and arrogance that hangs like a halo over Government.
Sometime during the third week in August, the Barbados Government Information Service issued a release stating that among the matters discussed at a Cabinet retreat was “improving Government’s communications with the public”. We took note at the time, but we were apprehensive. And we asked a number of questions, one of which was, should we even believe the administration?
There were other questions too. Like, how did the members of this Government plan to communicate? What was their strategy? Would Mr Stuart finally take us into his confidence, in much the same way that we have ceded power in allowing him to govern us.
Regretfully, it would seem that our apprehension was well founded, for we have yet to see a difference in approach.
This administration appears unaware or uncomfortable with Dale Carnegie’s “royal road to a man’s heart” for it refuses to talk to Barbadians, not about the things we treasure most; not about anything at all.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing,” wrote Rollo May, the American existential psychologist and author. Again, this administration appears uncomfortable with forming the sort of community that May envisioned.
This means the concept of accountability, transparency and good governance has escaped our Government, despite the tacit admission in August that it had failed at communicating with Barbadians.
So we are left with a natural rage at all that troubles us; an internal fury and anger at our inability to find jobs, to meet our monthly bills, to fight rising crime. We yearn to understand Government’s policy on taxes, on energy, on jobs, on anything at all.
And amid all of this, as in William Yeats’ long-legged fly, our “master Caesar” sits at Ilaro Court, moved by silence.
Every now and then there is some parsing from one minister or the other, seeking to suggest that they are in communion with us, but feeling awkward about doing so. However, for the most part, the failure to involve the Barbadian public, to engage people, to have a conversation with the voters, remains the order of the day.
While George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth comes to mind, this isn’t even close. This is an inexplicable form of thought limitation by omission. The omission of information and the absence of communication.
Jamaica has taught us that there is no need to fear meaningful engagement with the people and that the way to cement accountability, transparency and good governance is to be open with the population, to give them honest and reliable information on a regular basis.
Now is the time, Mr Stuart, to move your mind from silence.