Sunday, April 21, 2024

EDITORIAL: Debate should not dodge the big issues


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SOME YEARS AGO a former Prime Minister of Barbados, while some segments of the community were expressing concerns about the absence of a Budget at the traditional time, noted that the real budget was the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, and that’s what the country should focus on.

The current Minister of Finance has also characterised the Estimates, on which debate began in the House of Assembly yesterday, in the same manner.

Judging from the comments of some experts in the fields of economics and governance, it would appear that a growing number of citizens are recognising the importance of this process to national success.

It is against this background that we want to caution the Democratic Labour Party Government against continuing a practice that predated its return to power in 2008, but which the Dems have apparently embraced with great vigour.

We refer to the tactic of selecting some of the most inconsequential “heads” for discussion and flogging them for hours with the clear intention of limiting or even eliminating the time for debate on the areas of greatest interest to the country.

It would be nothing short of insensitive if we suggested that welfare services, for example, were not important and should not be debated. After all, in the current economic climate, too many Barbadians depend on these services for them not to be taken seriously.

But when those who are responsible for the debate set up their programme in such a way that for an entire day MPs talk about welfare and there is less than a full and worthwhile debate on education, for example, the country is cheated.

Given the shortages in our school system, the concerns of teachers and their unions and the near neutering of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, a full and frank debate is essential.

The same can be said for health, and particularly the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, an area of Government business that impacts just about every Barbadian. The state of agriculture and the near collapse of the sugar industry at this time also suggest that Barbadians would want to hear the two sides debating the issues.

The state of our roads, the failure of the Government up to this time to put in place a plan that would give commuters confidence in the Transport Board, and the absolute absence of any discussion on managing the now commonplace traffic gridlock all suggest that the Transport and Works “head” should come under the microscope.

We hope that under the circumstances Government will not once again employ tactics designed to avoid scrutiny of areas where its performance has been deemed less than stellar by Barbadians, or where the conduct of a minister might draw exceptional fire from the floor of Parliament.

This growing tendency towards naked manipulation of the Estimates debate to avoid necessary scrutiny suggests the existence of weakness on the political front. Those who choose this path may see themselves as “smart” but they ought to know that Barbadians are on to their trick. Avoidance and escape are not necessarily synonymous.


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