Wednesday, April 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: Need for informed public opinion on governance


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The events of the past week or so have been like a public tutorial on our system of government. The issues of Cabinet collective responsibility, and the role and purpose of the Public Accounts Committee have been raised to public consciousness and are, so to speak, confronting us directly in the established Press.
So too are subliminal issues about the role of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister in relation to budgetary matters, given that in the nature of things finance issues are a detailed study in which many of the finer details are frequently within the exclusive domain of the Minister of Finance. But civics is not taught in our schools!
Yet none of this has been as critical as an option raised by Dr David Estwick, and put, so to speak, on the table.
One of those options, he says, could be his resignation from the Democratic Labour Party and his joining the Barbados Labour Party, if certain circumstances touching the fiscal policy of the Government and the retrenchment of workers persist, given his proposals, which he thinks could provide a less draconian solution.
Presently, the situation is still fluid; but given the knife-edged make-up of the House of Assembly in which the Government has a slim two-seat majority, there is need for an informed public opinion to comment and shape these events.
With increasing frequency nowadays, social media is awash with comment on these issues; and while there is no guarantee that those comments are authentic, they are powerful shapers of public opinion.
Our democracy cannot any longer operate on the basis that the people who are the most important cogs in the wheel are largely ignorant of the rules of the governance system. Very relevant questions would be: why did Dr Estwick not raise these issues around the Cabinet table? Were Budgets debated in Cabinet before Budget day, and were the alternatives not thrashed out?
If they were not thrashed out, why not?
Cabinet secrecy is an excellent tool for protecting the public interest and allows for the most robust of discussion around the table before a decision is made and publicly defended by every minister bar none. Was this done?
We think two aspects of this matter must specially concern Barbadians. What are the Prime Minister’s options in dealing with this matter? Can he reshuffle, or should he bite the bullet and dismiss Dr Estwick ?
In the last resort, these are issues for Mr Stuart only; but an informed people could support the exercise of discipline against the minister, or it might take the view that what
Mr Estwick is saying makes more sense to them because it seems to suggest a more broad-based approach than anything previously presented.
For the public to influence these decisions in a decisive manner in their democracy there has to be broad general understanding about the rules under which we are governed. There is not now that level of public understanding and the country is the poorer for it.
Questions apart, one thing is certain. A withdrawal of voting support from the Government by Dr Estwick places the Government at the brink of collapse. Surely such critical matters call for an informed political citizenry; for in the  final analysis, informed public opinion is the best check on the exercise of all aspects of political power.


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