Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Dr Ronnie Yearwood
It is important that there is critique of the government’s COVID policy and generally of any government policy.
Perhaps a good place to start is to have a look at a recent critique by Dr. Melissa Goddard and a response to that critique by the Prime Minister.
In an article (23 Feb 2020), ‘COVID Surge in Barbados points to Policy Failures’, Dr. Melissa Goddard, states that, “Despite warnings from clinicians, Barbados held on to a too-short quarantine and test protocol when its borders opened last summer.
Now, a new surge in COVID cases and deaths begs retrospective policy questions . . . It seems likely that the ongoing surge in Barbados may be due to specific policy failures, frequently in opposition to expert guidance, and with attempts at correction faring little better.
The final hopes now rest in the recently procured vaccine, and that science will finally be enough to overcome fumbles where it has too often been ignored.”
The Prime Minister responded to Dr. Goddard’s article in a news report (24 Feb 2020) to say, “I felt that all views must contend, I do not necessarily agree with Dr. Goddard, but I think she has a perspective that needs to be heard and I am hoping at some point we can meet with her and hear what she has to say in more detail. But I do not know if there is much to be gained at this time from focusing on the rear-view mirror, we have to get ahead of this issue.”
A flawed response
In her response to Dr. Goddard the Prime Minister sets out an approach to policy making that I believe is flawed and incorrect. If we go by the science, this may not be the last pandemic or major national crisis we face in our lifetime.
Therefore, it is not about focusing on the rear view mirror, so much as government accepting responsibility for its policy failures, fixing the failures, addressing current issues and planning for future issues.
This does not negate any of the hard work that the government has done. However, “we are working hard”, the “crisis is global” or the “government is faced with a difficult job” are not policy responses. Governments are elected to do difficult things.
Based on the Prime Minister’s approach to past criticism a meeting with Dr. Goddard will likely be used, and I will say what many are probably thinking, to perhaps offer Dr. Goddard a government role or a place on a government committee, thus using tax payers’ money in an attempt to placate or curtail criticism of the government.
It is a fallacy to think that critique has to come “through” the government or be institutionalised by the government. Citizens are free to critique government in the public space and not come into some government institutional set up or government led conversation. That approach does a democracy and the development of Barbados no good,
even if it looks like good political strategy.
It is up to a responsible government to take note of the critique and address the issues as best as they can, instead of trying to absorb the critique from public view, while filling the air with platitudes about being “in this together” or “many hands making light work.”
Let’s us not pretend, since we all like to “keep it real”, that we live in an equal society and that we are all in this crisis together in the same way, even if we are all in this crisis together until the crisis ends.
In the national interest
Critique and probing policy can lead to changes or improvement in policy or its execution. There is always more than one way to love our country.
And anyone pushing the view that now is not the time or it is not in the national interest or its unpatriotic to critique government’s COVID policy is wrong and misunderstands the value of criticism in the public space of a democracy.
I am certain that I am part of the national interest as were all Bajans who said late last year that the COVID protocols were incorrect and not based on the science. Did critique then not cause the improvements in the current protocols?
I am certain that I am part of the national interest, as were all Bajans forced out to supermarkets in a panic, because closure was announced the day before the supermarkets were to close. Did critique then not cause more notice to be given before the current lockdown?
I am certain that I am part of the national interest as were all Barbadians, especially the elderly, who were made to stand in the hot sun and rain to cash cheques at the post offices or more recently for vaccines. Sadly, ongoing critique has not yet helped with these.
I am certain that we are all part of the national interest when people in need still have not received the “carepackages” handed out from the back of a truck.
Are you telling me we can do no better in 2021? In fact, people who do not need care packages are getting them. How is it that getting relief to people cannot be properly organised and reach the people who actually need it?
Real time critique
It is therefore key to critique a government and its leadership response to this crisis. It is important to do so while in the crisis so that lessons can be learned in real time and errors corrected quickly, particularly in a public health crisis when lives are at stake above all else.
Bad policymaking and execution in this crisis are not like getting a road repaired wrong or mismanaging public funds because there can be a direct correlation between bad policy in this crisis and the death of our people.
Criticism is key in moments like these and it is in the national or public interest. Above all else, it is the lives of our people that matter most. Critique aides the evolution of solutions.
You do not need permission
I do not think anyone should feel that critiquing the government at this time is about complicating, or adding to what is a difficult process. That is a sophomoric view.
The reason is that critique is key to democratic governance. It is a hallmark of the best of our democratic traditions, especially those of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 20 the Constitution of Barbados.
Your view or perspective does not require “permission” or approval from the government to be “heard.” It is not an accident that the framers of our Constitution baked into law your freedoms of expression and opinion.
They did this to protect us from the worse aspects of ourselves and to try to prevent the political class from using their powers to control public discourse. Stay safe everyone.
Dr Ronnie Yearwood holds degrees in Political Science, Sociology and Law. He is currently a lecturer in law at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. He is a Chevening Scholar, National Development Scholar, and Overseas Research Scholar. He is called as a lawyer in Barbados, England & Wales, and the British Virgin Islands. His areas of interest are varied and include commercial law, international trade, politics and law, education and governance. Email: [email protected]