A hallmark of good governance is keeping the public informed about activities of the state, large or small.
In fact, it stands to reason that since Barbadians elected their parliamentary representatives, and in turn the Government, they are entitled to full disclosure and transparency on national issues, except matters of national security.
In its 2013 manifesto entitled Continuing on the Pathways to Progress, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) listed good, honest governance as pillar four of its policies.
The document acknowledged that “a most worrying phenomenon in our country was the alienation of people from the political system. Barbadians of all ages and from all walks of life often perceive the political system as corrupt, ineffectual and not serving their interests”.
The DLP underscored that “good governance is characterized by the principles of participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equity and inclusion and the rule of law”.
But recent actions on the part of the Freundel Stuart administration indicate that it must revisit its own pledge to the people of this country.
At the height of severe water woes, revelations emerged from the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association meeting in Trinidad and Tobago last Thursday that the Government had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in April 2015 with a Surinamese company, Amazone Resources (AR), to ship two million litres of surface water here in flextank by the end of this month.
AR’s Chief Executive Officer Auke Pike shared the information with Trinidadian journalists, and Barbadians got word of the deal. If not for that and the subsequent news coverage, the public still probably would not have found out about this arrangement.
Still, even after this faux pas, local authorities appeared reluctant to comment on the “mysterious” arrangement. It was only after being probed by journalists, that they attempted to clarify the information which they had withheld in the first place from the Barbadian public in the first place.
Minister of Water Resources Dr David Estwick told this media house it was not a done deal, but investigations were being carried out to determine the feasibility of the arrangement.
Forty-eight hours later, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) issued a statement clarifying that it was the Authority and not Government that had signed the arrangement with the Surinamese company.
The BWA further explained that it had only signed the MOU last month and it was agreed that the water shipment was only a test run.
Test run or no test run, why was the deal shrouded in secrecy?
At a time when water-starved Barbadians were desperately seeking answers, why didn’t authorities who signed an MOU, no matter the date, think it not prudent to share that it was exploring the possibility of importing potable water on the premise that drought conditions would not improve?
Transparency is not a slogan. Barbadians who pay monthly water bills, whether or not they have water flowing from their taps, have a right to know, especially on such a sensitive issue. Disclosure on this matter should have been standard.
Citizens are now left to wonder if they will have to wait on external sources to inform us about the outcome of the purported tests.
Secrecy on this matter benefited no one, particularly since officials would have us believe it was a mere “test run”.
The importation of water is not new, as suggested by Dr Estwick, and it may very well be one of the solutions this island may have to explore seriously, especially in light of predictions that prevailing drought conditions are unlikely to improve.
But the lack of information has already triggered mistrust and speculation, and the authorities only have themselves to blame.
The best way to put to rest those suspicions is for Government to be transparent so the people know what is going on and can make sensible decisions. Government has a duty to. And it is for every Barbadian to hold them accountable.