Friday, April 19, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: Swiping’s not the way, PM


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OH NO, Mr Prime Minister Freundel Stuart! There must be a different way to publicly address matters that displease you, however angry you may be.

In my humble opinion I think you may well have done an undeserved injustice to Sir Hilary Beckles by your most surprising, irate public reaction to his recent personal “apology” to “working-class Barbadians”, hurt by your Government’s decision to enforce the cutting of tuition fees for students enrolling at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) (see Midweek Nation of April 8).

Not only the timing seems wrong – within days of the annual celebration of National Heroes Day, as observed yesterday. Your reaction also reflected a surprising level of personal political bitterness not generally associated with you, either as leader of the Democratic Labour Party or the administration you head as a second-term government.

After all, more than Barbadians are quite conscious of Sir Hilary’s outstanding intellectual talents and commitment to our Caribbean region. As a journalist of the Caribbean Community I am aware of the high esteem in which he continues to be held as a prolific writer and commentator on Barbadian and Caribbean history; long before being unanimously chosen by CARICOM governments to chair the special committee that’s currently addressing reparations for Europe’s notorious record in slavery.

For choosing to offer his apology as principal for the new fee-paying dispensation that was never envisaged by the “father” of Barbados’ political Independence, Errol Barrow – one of this nation’s ten National Heroes – Sir Hilary was to be shockingly derided by Prime Minister Stuart as behaving as one presiding over an “alternative government”.

Soon to assume his new role at the Mona Campus as the UWI’s vice chancellor, Sir Hilary had functioned, with the then strong support of a then Cabinet minister and subsequent prime minister, the late DLP leader David Thompson, as chairman of a committee of distinguished Barbadians in preparation of the report that recommended the criteria for choosing this nation’s first ten National Heroes.

Those familiar with his more outstanding intellectual contributions could easily relate to the sentiments Sir Hilary reflected in offering his personal apology to “working class” Barbadians for the painful developments that have resulted in the requirement for Barbadian students to contribute to their UWI education.

Sir Hilary was guilty of a “singular exhibition of bad, bad manners . . .”, according to Mr Stuart. And likening him as the “principal of a university descending from Mount Olympus”, Mr Stuart claimed that he had behaved as one heading “not just an institution of learning but an alternative government”.

As Barbadians yesterday celebrated National Heroes Day, they would also have been pondering on the implications of Mr Stuart’s strident warning to his party supporters two Sunday nights ago that they have to decide whether they wanted to accept the policies of the governing DLP or that of Sir Hilary.

Then followed Mr Stuart’s parting shot, as reported, that seemed so very unnecessary: Barbados, he noted, “has one government”.

When I spoke with Sir Hilary before writing today’s column, he was quite amused over the Prime Minister’s surprising intervention on his “apology” to “working-class” Bajans who are now hurting from the tuition fees that must first be paid for enrolment at Cave Hill.

Among continuing concerns to him would be the relevant actions that remain to be taken by the Stuart administration on  the far-reaching 2012 report by the “Beckles Commission on  Higher Education in Barbados”. The commission was a mandate from the Ministry of Education and this columnist was among media colleagues and other commentators who engaged in highlighting some of the very pertinent insights offered in that 165-page document. 

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.


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