Two recent events again suggest that words emanating from the mouths of some of our leaders carry as much substance as a fleeting breeze. Unfortunately, those with welcoming pockets, outstretched hands and compliant craniums, too often refuse to question circumstances that stretch reasonableness and allow their various biases to inter common sense.
The University of the West Indies (The UWI) is one of the greatest contributors to our Caribbean civilization. It is as important a regional institution as there will ever be. Thus, we owe it to ourselves to maximise its profitability, prestige and performance, and in so doing, enrich our own lives immeasurably.
The Cave Hill Campus is but one of the five in The UWI firmament. It has endured its fair share of financial woes in recent years brought on in some instances by a failure of regional governments to meet certain monetary obligations. The UWI’s failure also to increase its percentage of private sector and internal revenue generation capacity, has also been a bugbear that cannot be blamed on regional governments. The question of student fees has been politicised, romanticised and intellectualised to such a degree that many have not appreciated that The UWI’s continued weaning on governments’ nipples is tied to a lack of that desired economic profitability.
The social circumstances that existed in 1963 are not the same as 2021. To ignore the different societal dynamics that have seen more persons seek to avail themselves of The UWI’s resources than fifty years ago, as well as the generational financial improvements in our Caribbean story, is a delusional fixation with the past.
In times of relative plenty, spending at The UWI did not attract great scrutiny but as the financial situation at the Barbados campus has deteriorated, current and previous spending has drawn closer attention. There are many who would suggest that the financial affairs at all the campuses scream for a forensic audit to ensure human weaknesses have not equated to monetary leakages and that structures to ensure financial best practices are functioning.
The reappointment of Professor Sir Hilary Beckles for six years has not been without debate in Barbados, as well as in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica in particular. His previous ascension to the post of Vice-Chancellor was not without controversy and acrimony in some circles. His retention now has been met with approval in many circles but there have also been those who have not been supportive, especially as it relates to procedure and personalities involved in the selection undertaking. We must for the record state that Sir Hilary has made an outstanding contribution to academia at The UWI, in Barbados, the wider Caribbean and outside the region. We believe now the dust has partly settled that those around him should work harmoniously to ensure The UWI continues to thrive.
However, we distance ourselves from those who previously suggested that there would have been some crumbling effect at The UWI had not Sir Hilary been reappointed. That is nonsense from feeble minds with their own agendas. The UWI would have failed miserably as a location of higher learning if the notion took root that over the past decades it had not produced persons capable of leading the institution other than Sir Hilary.
Still, one development at Cave Hill boggles the mind. Sir Hilary and several others have been making a clarion call for reparations. They have made stirring and convincing arguments as to how slavery has debilitated millions of African descent both physically and mentally. The message, which has been preached in the region, Europe, North America, and elsewhere, has resonated wherever black men and women are to be found. It is therefore somewhat ironic and hugely perplexing that in choosing a principal for The UWI, two eminently qualified applicants for the position and children of African extraction in the personages of Professors Justin Robinson and Ian Boxill were beaten to the post by a Caucasian European. We do not cast any aspersions or doubt on the credentials and abilities of the individual who has been selected but the chirping that has been coming from The UWI previously and the appointment of Professor Clive Landis seem at odds. We tend to be convenient talkers but often fail to present muscle when the opportunity arises.
The second matter is the recent birth of the Department of Public Affairs. Though it might mature into functional political adulthood, it is an administrative absurdity and ought to have been aborted when first conceived. There is already in place a Ministry of Information. There is already in place the Government Information Service. There is already in place a Director of Communications and Social Media attached to Government and then there is a Press Secretary. Virtually every Government or statutory department has its own public relations office, whether it be the Barbados Water Authority, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sanitation Service Authority, National Housing Corporation, Barbados Revenue
Authority, Grantley Adams International Airport, et al. With Barbados in the throes of a recession, a devastating pandemic, an International Monetary Fund programme that is stripping the lean off Barbadians, even to the point of targeting their hard-earned pensions, massive unemployment and stifling taxation, it is unconscionable that this duplication of “services” provided by a team of publicly known political operatives is being foisted on Barbados at this time.
We acknowledge that the greatest strategy of all politicians is to control the public narrative, indeed to fashion it. In the early 20th century Walter Lippmann and others, as part of President Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information, were tasked with encouraging Americans to join the army, accept war bonds and generally spread the gospel of the American government. It worked! Charles Masterman and the War Propaganda Bureau served a similar function in England, spinning tales on behalf of the ruling Government. In the mid to late 19th century, the likes of Frederick Ross and Augusta Jane Evans wrote volumes to justify slavery and its divine acceptance by God. That worked too!
Most politicians tend to know their history and the power of propaganda machines. Barbadians ought to pay very close attention to this nebulous Department of Public Affairs. Many decades ago, the people of Germany failed to do so with the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
The rest is history.