All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to pretend they have forgotten right. When good people do nothing, say nothing, when there is no form of protest from any quarter, a society unravels; it ceases to check and balance itself and anything will go.
For a long time, I have heard various commentators lamenting the current Government’s use of its Democratic Labour Party (DLP) activities as its major source of national communication. Perhaps I should admit to having been caught wanting on this issue, because I have not weighed in on it before now. However, an instance over the weekend involving the Government minister responsible for business and commerce has persuaded me to add my voice of concern about this practice.
One of the hallmarks of our 50-year-old democracy has been some separation between the two political parties which alternate to form the Government of Barbados and the actual administrative functioning of government. I almost feel comfortable to describe the divide as a superficial separation, but the fact that I am writing to lament the degradation of the separation under this current DLP regime seems to suggest the separation was more than illusionary.
Successive players in the two political parties have made an effort to maintain a separation between the functioning of their political parties and government administration, such that a branch meeting was the space for party faithful and party rhetoric and the national stage was for more neutral and far-reaching purpose. However, there has been a serious and systematic blurring of that parameter.
Government ministers now use branch meetings to announce policy, speak to the general public and, more dangerously, to dismiss the voices of perceived dissent. In a previous case, the Minister of Finance used a branch meeting to launch a slight at a senior economist. Parliament was used as the scene to complete the task.
Last weekend, the Minister responsible for business and international trade used a branch meeting to muddy an ongoing labour grievance raised by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union.
The Minister introduced an element of personal information about the parties involved in the dispute which was mischievous at best and much more malignant at worst. Barbados is a small society and we all must be able to work and live on this island with our only right to that privilege being our birth. When we sully the lines of governance and politics and then make comments which may be construed to suggest tinges of victimization, our democracy is under siege.
If we have people in Barbadian society who are willing to maintain friendships with individuals who have had brushes with the law or who are under investigation, but then others lose their jobs without seeming fair process, what are we really saying about the values we embrace? If we uphold top officials after indiscretions, do we not lose some perception of justice and fairness as central to our society? If the wives or husbands of ministers can sit on boards, why then in other matters do we make familial connections matter in the way that a grievance is resolved?
All these are the grey areas which we have yet to deal with in our structure of governance. They are the loopholes which erode transparency and lead to calls for the regulation of integrity in public office.
There is a reason why the current actors in Government prefer to communicate from political spaces. It is because their messaging has never really moved out of campaign mode and become the measured, managed message which would be more associated with governance.
Many things seem to be taking place on the level of the individual and the rules of engagement keep moving according to who the actors in the particular scenario are. There is a particularly vicious onslaught on the union leaders of Barbados. Recall the treatment of President of the National Union of Public Workers, Akanni McDowall, and the issue of his acting in a position in the public sector. All these issues are purposely and strategically put in the public domain in salacious ways so that the principle matters are never explored. The discussion is kept on the level of personality, innuendo and downright gossip.
There was good reason for the separation of political communication and government administration in the past years of functioning in our democracy. The current method of communication in Barbados, in my opinion, is fuelling the uncertainty and concern about the management of the country’s affairs. When we normalize employing people or dismissing them based on their familial connections, we are truly on slippery slope. When we expect that justice cannot be called for in a matter, based on who a person knows or does not know, we are no longer functioning democratically.
Perhaps some may argue that the things which I outline in this article are nothing new and they have been features of our system of governance for as long as we have been independent. While I understand that, my greater concern is that not only are these things happening but we seem to be bending our system further out of shape to make them seem right. That rightness is a forever shifting goal post based on the actors involved and is not tied to a just position in any strong way.
Our methods of communication, the places we choose to bring those messages from – we now seem to be letting further slide occur in our systems of checks and balances. When we talk about Barbados now and how we return it to a more stable and comfortable place, these issues are the ones we are really trying to address. It is not about names, it is not about familial relations. It is about right being right and wrong being wrong and it is about the gumption of ordinary people to say enough, when enough truly should be enough.