The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – What was the week that was…
Some of my more literate readers will recognize that I have borrowed the title of today’s column from the BBC comedy show of the 1960’s that satirized the week’s developments and news stories. I do not at all possess the satirical or comedic talents of the BBC’s scriptwriters, but some events of last week do merit further exposition. Moreover, with the radio talk shows on a self-enforced break so as to take advantage of the lucrative pre-Christmas commercial offerings, I suppose that people will do a lot more reading of the newspapers and the blogs to keep themselves abreast of local current affairs.
One of the highlights of the week was the public anticipation of the decision of the Fair Trading Commission [FTC] on the legal validity of the SOL/BNTCL merger as proposed. Since I currently have the honour of chairing that institution, I paid especial attention to the populist public discourse on the matter. What struck me most about that phenomenon was the seeming consensus among those who aired their views publicly that the merger should not eventuate into approval by the FTC.
So much so that when one newspaper suggested, even before the decision was published, that the sale had been approved, it provoked comments that I consider defamatory of myself from one source, clearly without the slightest clue as to the law relating to fair competition, that “integrity needed to be returned to the Commission” while making mention of the last two years, the period that coincides precisely with my tenure as Chairman. I have accordingly referred the matter to my legal advisors and will say no more on that for now. His was clearly a purely partisan view, based wholly on the perceived sentiments of those to with which he may be politically aligned.
There seems for some reason to have been a general public anticipation that the sale would be approved or maybe it was the case that there had been some misleading leak of the Commission’s deliberations, since another section of the press, not the Barbados Advocate, also boldly suggested in its Tuesday edition that the “FTC [was] set to okay the BNTCL sale.” On the subsequent publication of the decision to the contrary, that section of the press, to my best recollection, did not even deign to concede the inaccuracy of its Tuesday item. Ah, well.
It is clear, and perhaps understandable, that some members of the public perceived the issue as a partisan political matter. If approved, a victory for the DLP, if not approved, a regrettable loss. This is indeed a pity, but par for the course in Barbados, especially at the current time when much is viewed through partisan lens. I am pleased to relate that both the technical staff involved and the members of the Board of the Commission dealt with the matter judiciously as one of applying the relevant law and economic theory of fair competition to the proposed agreement between the parties and took all relevant admissible evidence into account.
A work of art
Another divisive event that took place during the week was the re-decoration (I put it no higher or lower than that) on the eve of the observance of our 51st anniversary of Independence of the statue of Lord Nelson in Heroes’ Square in the national colours. It seems clear that the occasion was chosen with some care, to highlight no doubt, the incongruity of the substance of the next day’s celebration with the prominence of the Nelson statue in the equivalent of the national pantheon.
In this context, public reaction again varied, though not necessarily on partisan political lines this time. Rather, it lay in the unstated but nearly palpable distinction among those who wondered how we would appear to others if we were to permit the destruction of national monuments with impunity and who therefore appealed for condign punishment for the culprit(s); those who view Nelson as some totem of the whitish Barbadian and for whom his removal would be anathema; those who consider the statue to be a blot on our current national ethos undeserving of such geographical prominence; and perhaps those who do not consider the current placement of the statue to be even worthy of contemporary discussion.
Officialdom, of course acutely sensitive to the majority public opinion at this time, came down safely on the side of law and order and cowered under the promise of a national conversation on the matter; as if these ever result in anything other than an intermittent resumption of the debate every six months or more. Whither, one may ask, the “national debate” on formal constitutional republican status for Barbados? Whither the “national debate” on the execution of the death penalty? Whither the national debate on corporal punishment in schools?” All kicked down the road until the next time with a promise of an imminent national discourse. Given our cultural penchant for talking over doing however, [with of course the exception of the Nelson decorator(s)], it may be just as well.
Of course, the apt democratic mode of resolution would be to refer the matter to a plebiscite but, given the unpredictability of these and the natural fear of a governing administration to have any substantive indication of being out of step with its electorate, this seems most unlikely.
As if this were not sufficiently heady, a local historian managed to introduce another intriguing angle to the entire debate. According to Dr Karl Watson or, at least, the newspaper headline, “Nelson was not pro-slavery”, a proposition not at all proven in the text of the published article that appears to suggest rather that the Admiral acted merely as a tax collector on the island for the British government and points to no utterance of his or other evidence that might support the assertion in the headline. More debate is expected.