The George Brathwaite Column – Ethics and Morality
James Madison, one of the founding fathers shaping the American Constitution, asserted that: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” From the outset, ethical behaviour is social and constituted through norms and standards of behaviour that are generated as partial responses to the pressures created by the force of being accountable. Put differently, political ethics calls for mechanisms to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong and propriety from impropriety in governance.
For these purposes, a system or code of ethics is put in place to moderate behaviour from elected public officials, and to more generally govern the conduct of public servants while serving the national interest. Establishing norms are indicative of how things ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ be for the common good of Barbadians. Public office holders exercise powers and distribute resources entrusted to them by the governed, so that holding public office is a matter of public trust.
To that end, ethical behaviour in public administration leads to good governance; and must be reinforced with effective supports, checks and balances. In Barbados, both elected and appointed public officials, must act by doing the right things and for the right reasons on behalf of the citizens and residents. Barbadians have perceptions of behaviour which are expected to meet their expectations; and these are the consistently shared values that are phased into a system of ethical behaviour.
The huge difference between ethics and morals is that the former is collective and institutionalised while the latter is individual and personal. Thus, today is not more of a moral moment than at any time in Barbados’ history. Barbadians are certainly concerned with the conduct of elected officials and their surrogates in the public administration and governance. The bedrooms of individual citizens and residents cannot reinforce good governance.
Therefore, it is fallaciously mischievous for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) which, was popularly elected in 2008 and less convincingly returned in 2013, to bamboozle Barbadians. It is irrational and a dangerous ploy for the DLP to invade or suggest intrusion into the privacy of the individual but leave the public administration and conduct of individuals to shades of grey.
Barbadians may recall the front cover of the 2008 DLP Manifesto which is picturesquely graced and carries the phrase: “I would never lie, cheat or steal.” On hindsight, the CLICO fiasco clouded the good governance model to which Barbadians ascribe ethical significance. Likewise, the DLP’s 2013 Manifesto remarkably divulges on page 50 that: “Barbadians of all ages and from all walks of life often perceive the political system as corrupt, ineffectual and not serving their interests. There is a need to restore the image of Government in Barbados to one of decency, ethical behaviour and serving the interests of the people, instead of the interests of powerful groups and politicians themselves.”
If the DLP’s main strategy for winning the next general election is to ignore good governance best practices, and instead try to sully and rebuke Barbadians for exercising personal choices, then on what basis should that party be re-elected? Maybe we do live in a surveillance society, but why would the DLP be peeping into people’s bedrooms to determine sexual preferences or lifestyles?
Barbadians prefer that the DLP’s gaze is on fixing an economy which has been critically ill for the last seven years. The defiant wounds comprise foreign exchange leakage, inefficiency, wastage, mounting national debt, high taxation, and the sustained printing of money. For nearly 10 years, DLP initiatives demanded great sacrifice, but brought no joy to the majority Barbadian population.
Yet, there are some DLP spokespersons that are fascinated by the stigmatising of this nation’s citizens. They are prone to maliciously insult or denigrate individuals and groups contributing to the national good. Is the interest of the nation being served when the Minister of Environment and Drainage, whose portfolio leaves much to be desired, ridiculously implies that persons affiliated with a political party are making ‘a legislative call for same-sex marriage’? Dr Dennis Lowe is unlikely to substantiate the claim because there has been no advocacy for same sex marriage by any of the political parties in Barbados.
However, if Lowe believes in ‘the biblical way of life’, rather than berating the ‘childless woman’, he should allow his Christian spirit to come to the fore and crush institutionalised and all forms of discrimination. Additionally, consider the rash statements about the ‘bald-pooch cat’ and its targeted disrespect; or the invidious invitation for a fellow honourable Member of Parliament to run down Broad Street naked; and what about the ‘enemies of the state’ or the guttural censure of trade union leaders?
Equally perplexing, must be a Prime Minister of Barbados presiding over the uncharitable statements by Cabinet Ministers to citizens and residents without any admonishment. Many of the same Ministers will likely claim moral authority over others, when they live in glass houses, have opened windows, and a dirty ‘welcome’ mat at the door. Indeed, there is likely to be the presence of unisex clothing in wardrobes, but those things ought not be the business of elected state officials nor their surrogates. Where is the ethical standard? Is unethical conduct excusable on the fallible grounds of preserving morality?
Perhaps, one day is coming soon when aberrant conduct in public office will be exposed, punished, and discontinued. Surely, the Barbadian public perceives that there are elements of governance under this administration’s purview which necessitate forensic investigation, if only because decision-making and power have led to unusual outcomes.
From the proverbial falling from the back of trucks, shielded information has led to alarming discoveries. The unethical concerns run as deep as the chaotic transportation system and piles of garbage defacing Barbados’ image. Had the DLP legislated an unequivocal code of ethical conduct to be part of governance reform in Barbados at any time after 2008, the nation’s fingers may not be pointing in the direction of an imploding and distressed DLP.
Still, Barbadians remain in the dark. There are simply too many issues and contentious matters that have not been adequately addressed by PM Stuart or Cabinet. When one listens to the ‘morality’ chatter coming from the DLP, clearly, there is a disconnect between the governing and the governed, between what the DLP government wants to say is normatively right and what Barbadians observe to be performatively bad.
Undoubtedly, the Stuart-led Cabinet is one whose credibility remains in tatters but whose utterances signal the absence of ethical conduct. Having a warped sense of morality without institutionalising ethics does no one in Barbados any good. An ethical code is needed for good governance to obtain in Barbados. Yet, the DLP appears more interested in political gain than in ‘clean’ governance. The recent gibberish from the lips of a DLP longstanding member is another example painting a dismal picture of a political party desperate to win at all costs.
This abject nonsense is precisely why the DLP has become moribund with its chronic failures. Why must the DLP with its self-proclaimed moral uprightness choose to empty mischievous chicanery on registered voters? Certainly, gutter-politics should not go un-reprimanded by Freundel Stuart. Prime Minister Stuart must recognise that his silence may be misconstrued. Is it an endorsement for the reprehensible and unethical behaviour being pursued by DLP operatives?
Finally, the feminist Emma Goldman established decades ago that: “Morality has no terrors for her who has been raised beyond good and evil. And though morality may continue to devour its victims, it is utterly powerless in the face of the modern spirit, that shines in all its glory upon the brow of man and woman, liberated and unafraid.” Barbadians must demand high standards and commitment from all candidates and political parties. The liberated, yet unafraid holds the key to future reforms.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)