There is an old saying that it takes a big man to apologize. If this argument truly holds water, then it stands to reason that Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs Senator Jepter Ince, though of short stature, is a big man indeed.
Over the weekend, it emerged that Mr Ince had apologized –– or rather expressed regret –– to the business community, via a June 26 letter addressed to the Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association, Mr Charles Herbert, for denouncing its membership as parasites feeding off Government.
Mr Ince’s stinging rebuke, in remarks to Barbados TODAY, immediately followed the weekly lunchtime lecture which he had delivered on June 16 at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). It came against the backdrop of a draconian 2017 Budget last month for which the Freundel Stuart-led administration has come under intense criticism, not only from the private sector but also other major interest groups, over hefty tax impositions and its overall management of the economy.
After accusing the business community of not pulling its weight, Mr Ince told Barbados TODAY: “I am going to give you a phrase that I use to describe the private sector of Barbados. I have been criticized for it and it doesn’t bother me one way or another. I have said it before and I will say it again and I want this written as Jepter Ince say so. The private sector of Barbados is an extension of the public service and a parasitic plant in the bosom of Government.”
The private sector, quite understandably, took offence with Mr Herbert making it clear that nothing but an apology would do.
Fortunately, Mr Ince has complied.
However, given the uncompromising and unapologetic nature of his original remarks, the question has to be asked:
Did he freely apologize, or was he forced to do so?
Either way, it was the decent thing to do.
A parasite takes but does not give. That the private sector contributes significantly to Barbados, makes Ince’s characterization most unfortunate indeed.
Had the issue remained unresolved, it certainly had the potential to sour the relationship between the Stuart administration and the business community, with strains already evident at a time when the role of the private sector, as the engine of economic growth, has become all the more critical to the national recovery effort.
In his letter, Mr Ince said the statements were made “in a moment of unguarded excess” and “do not represent my personal views or that of the Democratic Labour Party of which I am a member. Neither do they represent the views of the Government of Barbados in which I serve”.
He also said “the use of such words would be totally incongruous with the respect that the political party to which I belong and the Government in which I serve, hold for the private sector as an integral part of the institution known as the Social Partnership”.
That having been said, it is worthy of note that the DLP has traditionally harboured mistrust about the private sector. It stems from suspicion, the basis of which DLP spokesmen have never convincingly explained, that private sector members somehow generally favour the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and are against the DLP.
However, we respectfully suggest that it would better serve the DLP’s interests to commit itself to working to improve that relationship. It may be surprised at the results.
Hopefully, Mr Ince has learnt some important lessons which other politicians also would do well to heed. One lesson is that if they are prone to having moments of “unguarded excess”, they should speak from a prepared script, to avoid what they say later coming back to haunt them.
Another lesson is that regardless of how powerful some politicians believe they are, they are still dependent on the support and cooperation of others, especially key stakeholder groups such as the private sector, to deliver on their agenda. Their words, therefore, should have one overriding objective: To win over these stakeholders whose support and cooperation are crucial to their success.
Words hold tremendous power. They can have both positive and negative impacts. They can build up and they can tear down. The can stir up anger or they can be instruments of peace.
As Barbados approaches what many observers predict will be a fiercely fought general election, our hope is that the language of the campaign will be tempered for the maintenance of harmony among Barbadians, regardless of their political differences, and the preservation of civility and peace.