Partisan political appointments and dismissals have been part of the experience of pre-independent Barbados. The practice has continued in post-colonial times under the administrations of prime ministers Errol Barrow, Tom Adams, Sir Bernard St John, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, Owen Arthur, David Thompson and Freundel Stuart. With the traditional media in place and now social media, along with the tiny demographics of the island and its largely close-knit communities, this deleterious aspect of our political reality hardly goes unnoticed.
But one often wonders why politicians feel comfortable in the practice. Why does administration after administration perpetuate these acts though aware that the knives sharpened, inserted and twisted, are entering the backs of their fellow Barbadians? The answer perhaps rests in their knowledge that this is precisely what the people expect, indeed, it may be argued that this is exactly what the people want. This age of social media has provided prima facie evidence that the practice of the crowd baying for blood to be spilt in the political coliseum is alive and well. This era of technology has brought unseemly partisan political sentiments to our phones, laptops and the like. Social media have revealed to us a degree of public cannibalism that fuels the conduct of politicians.
But in the midst of this political blight, then Opposition Leader Mia Mottley brought Barbadians immense hope that there was the possibility of a paradigm shift. She offered the possibility that an age-old, universal practice could be buried – at least on these shores – and a new brand of politics could emerge. In the face of political tomfoolery from late Democratic Labour Party leader and then prime minister David Thompson who sought the resignations of Barbadian Government employees simply on the basis that the Government had changed in 2008, Miss Mottley made one of her most profound interventions. She had this to say: “I would like on behalf of the Barbados Labour Party to state categorically that we will not support any such policy.
“Further, that we do not believe that persons who have been appointed by a previous administration should be dismissed other than for cause. Any future BLP Government will not seek to dismiss other than for cause and will appoint persons in these positions based on qualifications, experience, record and potential.
“In any event, I fundamentally believe to dismiss someone because of whom they support politically is wrong. I have never supported this type of action since coming into public life.
“It runs counter to the Constitutional right afforded to Barbadians for freedom of association. It is also for this reason that we have consistently over the last few months spoken out against the numerous unwarranted dismissals that have taken on the character of a witch hunt.
“We call on Barbadians to publicly reject this policy and to let the Prime Minister [David Thompson] know that he ought to be securing the rights of individuals, not seeking to restrict their employment opportunities.” Those erudite sentiments made many proud of Miss Mottley’s maturity, sense of fairness and willingness to see beyond the narrow confines of specific political parties.
But, the legacy bequeathed by former leaders Barrow, Adams, St John, Sandiford, Arthur, Thompson and Stuart has seemingly proven stronger than the nationalism, courage and idealism expressed those ten years ago. Some politically appointed public workers have been given their marching orders since May 24 and others reportedly are in the offing. Some have been praised for their service during their tenure and have been extended best wishes in their future endeavours.
And this begs the question. If these Barbadians performed to the extent where they were praised by the new administration for their services to the country, were they “dismissed for cause”? Conversely, were those Barbadians who replaced them employed on the basis of superior “qualifications, experience, record and potential”? And, lastly, was any consideration given to the fact that if there was no professional “cause” and no superior “qualifications, experience, record and potential”, that to dismiss them “runs counter to the Constitutional right afforded to Barbadians for freedom of association”?
Recently, Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson evoked memories of late prime minister Thompson when he called for the resignation of the entire Police Service Commission (PSC). A similar type of call for Barbadians to end their service to their country had brought condemnation from Mr Hinkson’s political leader ten years ago. While we can understand why a politician might have an issue with an opposing political operative in the person of Mr Guyson Mayers being at the helm of the PSC, it is somewhat mystifying as to what is the sin of the other commissioners, other than not being appointed by the current administration. If Miss Mottley of 2008 is to be believed, then she does not condone or support such a stance by Mr Hinkson.
But in the midst of all this, the deafening silence in the country to the dismissals, appointments and public sector reconfigurations, suggests that this is an aspect of political conduct with which Barbadians have no real quarrel. The Dems do it, the Bees do it, and Barbadians accept it, and some seemingly wring their hands with glee when their less-than-favourite public servant gets his or her marching orders.
For a moment there, we dared to dream about paradigm shifts.