The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – A Barbadian Miscellany II
Last Monday’s delivery of the so-called “mini-Budget” by the Honourable Prime Minister and Minister of Finance & Economic Affairs has served to shift, ever so subtly, the national discourse from the analysis and interpretation of constitutional provision to that of the optimal recourse out of the economic morass in which we have found ourselves.
Now relegated to the pages of our constitutional history are issues, some left unanswered, such as whether the Prime Minister solely possesses the constitutional authority to choose the date for a general election even if Parliament has been dissolved by the effluxion of time rather than on his or her advice; whether the Constitution contemplates a prolonged parliamentary interregnum between dissolution and the general election wherein the Cabinet is responsible to no other entity; who is empowered to nominate the two opposition senators should one party win all the seats in the Lower House; whether a single member of parliament claiming not to support the government may be validly appointed leader of the Opposition; and whether an incomplete house of Parliament may legitimately pass legislation of any kind. I have written on all of these in the past weeks.
In their stead now arise matters such as the fiscal prudence of imposing additional financial obligations on the tourist trade in a destination already rated as one of the more expensive globally; the genuineness of collective bargaining by the public sector workers’ organizations that initially proposed surreal 15 and 23 per centum wage hikes to their employer and then settled ultimately for 5 per cent only from the same employer, though comprising different personalities; the fiscal responsibility of a blanket removal of all tuition fees for Barbadian students at UWI without regard to their individual abilities to cope; and the combined effect of the removal of the national social responsibility levy [NSRL] with the varied slew of taxes freshly imposed.
Of course, any public disenchantment with these matters will be suffused by the patent popularity of the new administration during its current honeymoon period. In addition, this new administration, heirs to a degree of political capital that contrasts starkly with the low level of civic trust enjoyed by the one outgone in its latter days, has astutely availed itself of this goodwill to depict the new fiscal initiatives as an opportunity for patriotic Barbadians unselfishly to wrap themselves in the flag and proudly to perceive themselves as being fully participatory in any recovery that might inure. A veritable political masterstroke.
Hence, rather than the populace categorizing these initiatives as bothersome and trying, the Barbados Labour Party and its supporters, who appear now to control the tenor of public discourse, have succeeded in portraying them rather as merely trifling inconveniences in a creative recovery programme necessitated by the allegedly dubious infelicities of the previous Democratic Labour Party administration.
To such an extent that a press conference called by three former Cabinet Ministers and a Senator in the DLP government seems to have been greeted not with any acclaim but, rather, with popular dismay at the effrontery of the members of an administration recently rejected (to a candidate), and principally so on the basis of perceived financial mismanagement, publicly criticizing negatively an attempt by a “nationally embraced” administration to “put things right economically”. To judge from popular reaction in some quarters, this partisan analysis on their part appears to have fallen flat in a polity seemingly still resentful of their party’s mode of governance.
Of course, it is not that simple, however. The DLP, whether as a collective body, a group, or as individuals, are as entitled as any other person or persons to comment critically on matters of official economic policy. To seek to deny them this right or to impose prior restraints thereupon would scarcely comport with our accepted traditions of democracy.
I recall that immediately after the similarly categorical defeat of the party by the BLP in 2003, the then leader, the late Mr. David Thompson (as he then was), convened a group of individuals to analyze the main reasons for such a devastating rejection. It is clear that the party must eventually adopt a similar course on this occasion, even though these may be early days yet. Given the degree of electoral rejection, some inconvenient truths will no doubt have to be told. It seems to me that there must be an acceptance that the disaffection felt for the government of the day pervaded the entire party and hence caused even promising talented newcomers to suffer defeat as a result.
From the ashes of this debacle, the DLP must seek, as does the fabled phoenix, to rise again so as to be a politically relevant force in our nation. Our democracy demands no less.
A common entrance?
On an entirely different topic, I queried of some colleagues recently why the publication results of the annual Common Entrance becomes a national spectacle with Ministry officials solemnly announcing a list of the top ten performers in a test for eleven year olds in basic English, Composition and Mathematics. I mean, we recently awarded a number of first class degrees in law, a discipline aspired to by some of the younger star pupils and there was no equal publicity. It does seems somewhat incongruous for there to be such a charivari surrounding the common entrance results, where the acclaimed top ten performers are earmarked for two or three schools only, and then gravely to iterate the myth, “We need to cultivate in the minds of the people that there are no top schools or bottom schools, but that all schools are equal…” Yeah, right!
A blessed Fathers’ Day to all!