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**

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee!

I am not a journalist by training, but I guess that by writing on almost a daily basis, I have become a journalist by practice. I am not an investigator by profession, but I do like to probe and my professional work has always been about finding answers or at least trying to ask the right questions. So, if I put those elements together then I suppose I could be called an 'investigative journalist'. In a few lines I have created my new employment category, at least for today.

With my new mantle, I feel ready to tackle the charge being levelled by Barbados' prime minister. I have to first thank a real journalist, Ricky Jordan, for reporting the story, and having spent time at Holders Hill listening to the PM give an account of his government's first year in office. I thank Mr. Jordan mainly because I was spending the time following world financial affairs and the Australian Open tennis, which due to the large time difference means that I should sleep by day and be up at night. Owls can do, so why can't I? But I'm actually up much of the time and will try to catch sleep next week.

The PM was reported (see Nation report January 27) to have said, 'Barbadian professionals, especially journalists and lawyers, must break the silence regarding several scandals left behind by the former Government.' To be fair, the gauntlet thrown down against professional journalists had in fact been thrown down already by fellow untrained journalists on some of the local blogs such as Barbados Free Press and Barbados Underground. They had in their way tried to show how the task should be done.When in today's paper, Mr. Jordan reports further on the meeting my heart skipped several beats. Why? He reports the PM as saying:

'Pointing to "a conspiracy of silence and indifference" across Barbados, he urged the mass media to take a look at itself in light of administrative scandals that remained un-investigated', and that, the PM also said,

"No editorial writer or columnist has to date commented on the squeaky clean Government we have run. No person doing business with this Government can accuse us of unfair practices," noting by contrast the "wastage" of $3 million in Hardwood Housing Inc., the Rural and Urban Development Commissions; contracts awarded without tender; houses built but not accounted for; as well as rampant cost over-runs to the tune of "hundreds of millions of dollars".

I know that these points have been taken up by some blogs, and yes NOT much by the editorial writers or columnists in the local papers. I am not claiming any special reward or prize, but before going on I will say that recognition is due to that group. Their style may not be pretty or polite--and I have my sparring with some of them when it comes to the tone of commentary that they tolerate, but they control their forums, but their approach is not a buried head in sand or gaze away in indifference approach.

Apparently--thanks again, Ricky--in a speech charged with accusations, the PM called for an end to hypocrisy ("Let's hear an Amen!"), stating "we have reached the sad, sorry stage in Barbados where people, in order to curry favour with a displaced political oligarchy or to position themselves for future handouts and benefits, would compromise all standards, ethics and principles on issues of transparency, accountability and morality".

In another article (see Nation report, January 27), the PM reportedly:

'also blasted lifestyles that were unseemly for people in high office, stating this had "everything to do with ability when the person or persons personifying Barbados are discredited and disreputable". Ho-ho! Those who listen to the radio call-in programs will remember that famous Sunday in 2007 when a certain minister decided that he did not want what he felt was public lynching and ran from the studio rather than deal with a question about 'millionaire lifestyles' on a government minister's pay.

Mr. Jordan adds, 'The Prime Minister also urged Barbadians not to be indifferent to the issue of rampant wastage, where rundown hotels were ill-advisedly purchased, renovated and supported at a cost of over $400 million, but which currently have a market value of only $40 million,' and that,

'Thompson boasted that a significant achievement of his Government had been the stamping out of corruption, the pursuit of transparency and the practice of accountability.'

Now, I do not know Mr. Jordan or the PM personally. The tone of the articles are friendly and I suspect that before long I may hear that Mr. Jordan is some DLP lackey or know BLP hater, which is why he has given all of this paper space to the PM's hammering on the drum of anti-corruption and responsible journalism. If that is so, it does not necessarily detract from the essence of what is being said and being called for.

My working life has been all about accountability. I was not necessarily in the public eye much of the time, but I was doing my public service and knew that the money was not mine or my friends and family's and that there was a certain duty of care and honesty that had to be preserved. Had I become a lawyer or politician--they do live in the same skin, often--I might have seen that my black-and-white view on honesty in public service needed to be shaded. I tried to do a good job and give good service. These are not concepts well accepted in Barbados.

Taking the word of our latest Superman, President Obama, which was already one of my own, "Look!". It's simple. You get what you deserve if as a people, public, society, or community, you put up with shoddiness and do not put feet to the fire for poor service, administration, governing, hygiene and more. More so if you say you run a service economy.

A letter I wrote a few weeks ago about the absurd activities of LIME/C&W, was published in the Sunday papers, and it elicited a call last night from an acquaintance at the company who having read the letter was incensed that the newspapers had dragged up a story from over a year ago to embarrass the company. When the first instance had occurred in early 2008, this acquaintance had resolved the problem I cited with painstaking patience with those in the organization and a sense of customer care that is virtually unknown here. So, over a long conversation, I had to explain that this was indeed a fresh instance. She gasped and was appalled that colleagues could not think through "how to serve the customer" as she put it. Much of the time she was in silence, and I imagine shaking her head.

Those of us who have decided to rail against bad or poor quality anything in Barbados--which is setting itself up as a place of excellence--know of what we speak. The PM's call may ring hollow because the general approach here is not to probe and dig and fight to correct, but to dissemble and shuffle and mutter and say "It's a mistake".

A friend called me twice within the past two days and began by asking me, "Dennis, tell me if I am over-reacting." She told me of a visit to the cinema during the weekend, with a group of children. Everything indicated the film would start at 3pm: the newspaper, the recorded message on the cinema phone line, the printed time on the tickets that she bought. But after sitting in the theatre for some 30 minutes she wondered what was happening. Cutting a long story short, she was told, "De flim goin' start at 3.30". When asking why this was so, she was told that the change had been made nearly a week ago and all of the films due at 3pm were now at 3.30pm. "Is a mistake. We neva change de recording or correct de newspaper ads or reprint de tikit." No one had said anything either when the tickets were bought, and no signs indicated this change. So, company policy? Let the poor paying suckers pay and waste nearly an hour because we are too lazy or uncaring to even put up a simple chicken scratch notice or say boo. Next.

Her second call was about UWI, where she enrolled for a course. SHe had heard nothing about her application. The response: "We have not heard from the dean of admissions". So, one day after the course was due to start my friend does not know if she should be studying in classes! As we say in Jamaica, "Is wha kin' a foolishness dis?" This is the foolishness that takes time to develop and you nurture it by being indifferent.

So, as I told my friend, write a letter to the cinema and UWI. Also send a copy to the newspapers, who may or may not publish it. Also, write about it on the Internet: that is free airspace and its contents are known and picked up; if you put in the key word 'Barbados' it may also get picked up by international interests and before you know it you are on Google's first page.

But, will any of this pushing against mediocrity make for change? The mantra of President Obama needs to be sung loudly in Barbados. This country must change and make that change seriously and soon.

1 comment:

Kim Young said...

Well because we had no choice, we had to hear a whole lot of slander by the DLP on its platform on Sunday last. What a lot of rubbish to be broadcast far and wide and disturb my peace and natural right to the aesthetic of quiet.

Be that as it may, the DLP cannot ask journalists (well they can ask) to investigate the behaviours of the past administration alone. They are in power, they must have convinced somebody that the BLP was not the party in whom the Barbadians (and I am not one) should entrust the next five years.

I would like to see a general actual real -life investigative journalist for once actually write something analytical about anything including government policy on either side that is intelligent and not bordering on defamation. The fact is, the DLP has not done this country any good whether in 1991 onwards when we were left with three weeks of foreign reserves to now, a complete reversal on their promises to control prices et al. Have a look at their MANIFESTO. In all my years of media (27 to be exact), I have never seen a more hateful party. It lives on gossip, innuendo and nastiness and I will not listen to it from them , a journalist or a nosy neighbour. Indeed, I will not read the BFP or BU. I do not subscribe to yellow journalism and I am waiting for a once decent paper, no two - the Nation and the Advocate to return to their glory days back in the early 90s.

Why bother?

The press here is impotent in my view. I have abandoned even buying either newspaper simply because I cannot find anything to read except almost verbatim reportage, not analysis as we read in the London Times or NY Times for example. while I respect my colleagues, the blame can and possibly should be placed at the feet of the owners and controllers (as they set the agenda and determine what news actually should be) and there seems to be a God-awful lack of understanding of what constitutes news. A slew of gossip and nonsensical articles on who had a stroke after a break up takes up two pages of a paper when there a serious financial and other global issues which will affect Barbados (so Madam Governor of the Central Bank says) in the coming months.

So frankly, I do not think any PM should ask anyone to dig deeper into the past administration or any other issue, why does he not ask the reporters to investigate their own behaviour "keeping them honest" as CNN would say.

Professional journalists cannot be held hostage by a government. That is the beginning of a dictatorship and I see a real obvious leaning of both newspapers and state TV being "controlled" by the DLP. I would no and I speak without fear of victimization. In addition, the fellow who left due to the lynching was not being asked tough questions and ran out of the studio; indeed a journalist asking about the type of house and car a minister drives is insinuating some misbehaviour and whether it is a BLP Minister or DLP minister (given the Barbados culture of gossip) one has to discourage this kind of nonsensical questioning. David Ellis did not impress me one bit and to this day, he does not!

Investigative journalism is just that and journalism is a profession that should be devoid of political affiliation by its members (at least in print and actions). I know of an editor in a media outlet in the region who is the active girlfriend of a Minister of the incumbent government. Can this be right? Sure, but should she be an editor deliberately reporting in favour of that government? NO!

so frankly, I am fed up with journalism in Barbados. I would rather cover the opening of tennis!