We support the Government on its initiatives to celebrate Barbados’ attainment of 50 years of political independence. It is an important, once-in-a-lifetime achievement, and the Freundel Stuart administration would have been doing the country and itself a great disservice had not the occasion be observed in a most significant and memorable manner.
Despite the naysayers who have criticized the spending on events that have been stretched over a period of one year, we believe that most of these critics have their own agenda – political and otherwise – for their hue and cry. We believe that Government cannot squander what it does not have in abundance.
However, within the context of what is occurring in Barbados at the present juncture, specifically at the social level, we cannot but help to express some dismay at yesterday’s public relations spoof with Mr Stuart as lead protagonist by appearance, if not necessarily by deed.
We are reminded of Emperor Nero supposedly playing the lyre and singing the Sack of Ilium while Rome burnt. But even though yesterday’s media briefing hosted by the Prime Minister featured neither flames nor music, the content delivered within the context of what is transpiring in Barbados, left one with a feeling that this was a moment of lost opportunity. And the occasion only served to leave the impression – true or false – that our esteemed political leader remains blissfully detached from the reality of his subjects.
This was a glorified press release of an event’s schedule, which at best, was within the remit of the Minister of Culture, or secondly, the scope of the chairman of the Independence Planning Committee. The importance of our Independence celebrations would not be augmented or reduced by the personage that read out its schedule of events. It is ironic that following the outlining of the schedule of events, initial answers to queries were deferred to other individuals present in the persons of Chief Education Officer Mrs Karen Best and Chief of Staff of the Barbados Defence Force, Colonel Alvin Quintyne.
But what exactly are we going on about?
There are many concerns among the Barbadian citizenry as we approach the date for which we have been preparing copiously to celebrate. There are issues related to water scarcity, especially in the north of the island, for which there appears no imminent remedy. There are concerns related to a seeming steady inflow of illegal firearms into Barbados via traditionally legitimate channels for which Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith constantly complains. There are issues related to the perception that facilitation of tertiary education – the plank on which much of our progress has been built – is under greater threat because of financial constraints.
There is growing debate on issues related to decriminalization of marijuana; legal marginalization of adult citizens because of their sexual orientation; issues as raised by Sir David Simmons related to corruption in Government; issues highlighted with understandable emotion by the likes of Minister of Commerce Mr Donville Inniss and businessman Sir Charles Williams about the frustration of doing business in Barbados and which originates in the offices of officialdom. There are issues related to the perception that the Town & Country Planning Department unnecessarily hurts more than helps enterprise and other development initiatives. The state of the economy is a never-ending grouse – of the type not likely to fly away anytime soon. The list of concerns appears endless.
Surely, with 44 days to go before that grand landmark on November 30, this was an ideal occasion, especially within the context that his is a voice not frequently heard on social issues, for Mr Stuart to have seized the moment, addressed burning issues, allayed fears, encouraged and engendered confidence, discussed strategies, projections, possibilities and probabilities. Instead, we were subjected to a public relations exercise where the media were – on instructions – not allowed to extract information from the country’s leader on matters of pressing public concern.
Of course, the media as an institution cannot set the agenda of a Prime Minister. But the media are comprised of ordinary citizens, similar to those affected by water shortages, crime, and the other bugbears that presently prevail. We too seek to have our fears allayed. We too as individuals desire our confidence to be bolstered. This was not fortified yesterday by a room of important people gathered to view a Prime Minister basically fulfill the role of a communications officer.
In the tale of another famous emperor who marched fully clothed in nothing before his subjects, his ministers for fear of being deemed unfit or stupid, also saw the emperor’s splendid attire. However, we prefer to be the boy who recognizes nakedness. We would have preferred Mr Stuart to have used yesterday’s opportunity to give the Barbadian people something more tangible to grasp as our Independence Day draws nigh.