Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Putting it on the stump.

Those of us who are not politicians often suspect that a large part of getting "up on the stump" is a good degree of acting and game playing. For that reason, we can more easily understand how a not-so-good Hollywood actor can become president of a country. We can also understand why that great profession of "theatre without curtains"--lawyer/advocate/attorney--produces so many politicians; we are often confused into thinking that it's because we need lawyers to frame laws. Forget it. So, I have loved some of the drama dressed up as politics while Barbados moves to have a new government budget.

About 15 months ago, I remember a great deal of "gnashing of teeth" and cries of foul by the then Minister of Tourism when asked on a Sunday edition of regular radio call-in program, Down to Brass Tacks, how he had moved from near-beggar to millionaire on a minister's salary in the matter of a few years. The precise words are less important to me than the reaction, but listen anyway.

The Minister took umbrage at the question and said that he would not "lower himself" to respond, and that it was rubbish, and he was appalled that such a question could be posed of him. He then stormed out of the radio studio. I remember being flabbergasted by that reaction. The minister later got a sizeable settlement a few weeks later (B$ 60,000) from the radio company for a libel suit brought after this incident (see Nation report).

Since those days, the government has changed, and the former Minister is one of those now "working outside the house", so to speak.

In the long aftermath to this incident, it's very interesting to see whether politicians would be prepared to put their money on the stump (i.e., let us see their money to show that they are honest and good for their word).

It is amusing to see what has happened over the past two days following the new government's recent budget presentation. A little like "strip poker", the first garment was thrown to the ground: the new leader of the opposition, Ms. Mia Mottley, showed her all to Parliament! (We'd been warned by Matthew Farley that this would happen.) She stripped in front of those male members ... and declared her "sizable" assets to Parliament. Take a breath; calm down. While she made her response to the budget she showed that he had a whopping B$ 3.5 million in assets, with liabilities of B$ 1.5 million; well this "declaration" apparently covered at least her assets in Barbados.

In the theatre of politics this was a master stroke, given that the new government had put a lot of emphasis on accountability, integrity, transparency, etc. and stated that a declaration of assets would be a must for its ministers. It has not happened yet, so they stood bare naked for not having honored that pledge. Then, to show good political solidarity, the former PM, Mr. Owen Arthur, also declared his assets, though by limiting the details showed us a big "but". But, for the "record" he is worth about B$ 1.3 million (if I get the figures right), with liabilities of about B$ 0.5 million.

They should both take a bow, and wait to see if the government can do better in the "show-and-tell" that should follow.

I am no lawyer or accountant, but I know that laying some document in front of Parliament or making claims don't necessarily meet the tests needed to confirm that all is as it was declared. But let me not pick too many nits right now. There is no framework or obligation in Barbados for politicians to declare their assets. The declarations will and should be dissected and if they are found to have been "economical with the truth" (to use the words of Margaret Thatcher) then we will see where the axe falls. However, some "standard" has now been set for politicians to be open about what they are worth, and how they accumulated their wealth. It is a legitimate set of information about someone who is given the public's trust to handle and oversee the nation's assets. If a politician or public official takes umbrage at request for that information--no matter how it is phrased--then there is inevitable suspicion cast on that person.

In the realm of US politics, where a lot more money is involved in politics, we see politicians rushing to get the leg up by declaring their assets, getting their spouses to declare their assets, even their children if they are old enough to possibly have assets and not represent just a set of heavy liabilities. In modern democratic countries, strectching through Europe, Asia, and some of Africa, and Central and South America, being open with the populace about wealth is more the norm for politicians than the exception, though it's not universal. It's still not the norm in the Caribbean, and that should change.

1 comment:

Carson C. Cadogan said...

How do we know that what they declared is the truthful position of their assets?

Would it not have been better for them to declare their assets when first forming the last Govt. and when they left office?

To my way of thinking that would have been more meaningful.