These are troubling times in Barbados. And what makes it even more disturbing is that with the exception of perhaps one senator, and a very few others, there is a wall of silence from erstwhile vocal social commentators, now willingly emasculated, and a reluctance of academics and some legal brains to speak on matters of national importance likely to impact the lives of ordinary folk.
It is with utter consternation that we read Chief Magistrate Ian Weekes’ revelation that he can no longer deal with COVID-19 cases, as directed. Though he did not specify who had removed that responsibility from him, taking into consideration the separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judicial arms of Government and the constitutional arrangements therein, one can only ponder why was it done and by whom?
One might not have always agreed with the dispensation of justice by the Chief Magistrate as it related to sentencing and the remand of persons brought before him, particularly when comparison was made between treatment meted out to visitors and Barbadian citizens, but this development still baffles. However, here is the bigger picture.
Barbados is divided into jurisdictions with respect to the assignment of magistrates and the adjudication of matters. From time to time a magistrate might be reassigned to a different jurisdiction. From time to time, because of some conflict of interest or perhaps an objection from the defence, a magistrate might have just cause to recuse himself from adjudicating a matter. These are all established principles. But it is almost unprecedented for a magistrate to be barred from adjudicating non-indictable matters once jurisdiction has been established.
In Mr Weekes’ case, not only is he the Chief Magistrate, but the responsibility for adjudicating COVID-19 cases has been assigned to a magistrate who is subordinate to him. Who made that decision, we ask, though cognisant of the maxim of the separation of powers? These are troubling times in Barbados.
The situation at the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) is seemingly a mess. The warning signs of the problems in existence there were brought to the attention of Barbadian citizens by previous chairman Anthony Wood in his highly publicised spat with former political colleague and Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir.
Further fuel has been added to the flame with the situation surrounding recently sacked BADMC chief executive officer Dr Brian Francis. The matter involving Dr Francis has been taken to the law courts and is sub judice. We will stay away from specific commentary on relevant details. But an incident not related to specifics of the case has emerged that is quite alarming.
During Tuesday’s debate on the Estimates, Mr Weir, from the safety of Parliament and adorned in all the privilege that the Lower House offers, sought to defend the BADMC’s actions in the matter with Dr Francis. But during his contribution he was reminded by Speaker of the House of Assembly Arthur Holder that the case was sub judice and that he should refrain from speaking to matters that were under the determination of the law court.
To this Mr Weir responded: “I agree Mr Speaker, but I am cognisant that it [the case] is not there [before the courts] yet.” The Oxford dictionary defines “cognisant” as having knowledge or understanding of something. We will not speculate on Mr Weir’s level of understanding, knowledge or appreciation for what the word “cognisant” means. But what we can state is that it is a matter of record that the BADMC issue on which he spoke had indeed been lodged before the court on March 19, is sub judice, and as advised by the Speaker, he should not have used the safe haven of Parliament to address the controversy. Mr Weir had ample opportunity to address the media on this issue before it reached the law courts and refused to do so. These are troubling times in Barbados.
Perhaps the most disheartening of the issues facing us is that which has unfolded at the Government Industrial School (GIS) and the sacking of the board of oversight. And this is distressing due to the involvement of some of our nation’s young people. The reality is that many if not most wards at the GIS are only there because their ages preclude them from being sent to Her Majesty’s Prisons at Dodds, St Philip, for their various infractions.
The facility seeks to rehabilitate wayward persons under the age of 16 but it must be understood that it is also correctional. If there are guidelines which spell out degrees of punishment and they are adhered to, then one can have no problems with those who administer them.
If there is a problem with the degrees of punishment in the guidelines, then those guidelines must be critiqued and amended. There have been instances before where escapees from the then Glendairy Prison were made to sleep in the nude in their cells as punishment for escaping. Perhaps, that is or was prison policy. What policy exists at GIS has not been publicly articulated.
The point is that reports of photograph of a young girl were leaked and these occasioned a furore. If the punishment was within the rules then the indignation should be directed towards the rules and efforts made to have them changed.
If the punishment falls outside the rules of GIS then the persons who overstepped their authority should be held accountable. But an interesting thing has happened, which has become typical of our country. Had not this situation been brought into the public domain by the leak, there would have been no abhorrence, no discussion, no attempt to rectify any perceived problems.
Yet, the whistleblower has been excoriated rather than praised, the board that does not function on site on a day-to-day basis has been axed, a new board that has raised several eyebrows has been installed, the staff at GIS remains the same, and the question of the rules and regulations with respect to punishment have not been publicly addressed. These are indeed troubling times in Barbados.