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, November 24, 2009

Who's Fooling Who?

Even if I tried hard, I could not avoid making comparisons between Barbados and Washington DC. Now, there is very little that ought to be compared between the two places, other than each is the place where one would find a national leader who is of mixed race. But, eyes bent skyward and wondering where the sun had gone to, I landed at National Airport on a drizzly day. "Look, Daddy! Some of the trees are naked," Miss Observer yelped. Out came a good parental unit's explanation of evergreens and leaves falling and the origin of the word 'fall' in the US language. I peered to see if I could glimpse the White House as I drove along the highway; I couldn't but would try to stroll by later to see who the new neighbours were.

As we settled into our hotel home for the next week, I took a look at the Washington Post. It is always a good read. My eyes lit straight away on a headline article: Policy, portfolios and the investor lawmaker. My mind had been on the topic of integrity legislation in Barbados and how it seemed to be taking a dreadfully long time to move from pre-election promise of fast implementation to prime minister's promise of being an objective for the current term. I'm really only a natural cynic when it comes to politicians. I read the piece with great interest:

This juxtaposition of investments and policy has become more common as stock ownership has soared on Capitol Hill over the past two decades. The investments increasingly put lawmakers in the position of voting or advocating on matters that could affect their personal wealth, whether the lawmakers realize it or not.

That issue has become more acute over the past year. Congress has intervened in unprecedented ways into the private sector, allocating billions of dollars for stimulus projects, federal bailouts and health-care reform....

But growing investments on Capitol Hill, such as those in the medical-device industry, raise questions about appearances of conflict. Even if lawmakers have done nothing wrong, ethics specialists said, such apparent conflicts are troubling because it is often impossible to know whether the lawmaker is acting in the interest of citizens or their own portfolios. On Wall Street and in federal agencies, the suggestion of a conflict is often the basis for an investigation.

When I looked at the text table showing all the persons who had to declare their assets before taking office and annually during tenure, and the disclosure requirements for financial sector professionals, I knew that Barbados was a long way from being serious about letting anyone know anything about any politician's money. I'm not a voter in Barbados, but if I were I would be looking forward to roasting to good political feet very soon. Good, honest politicians should have nothing to fear about integrity legislation. But, do we have such a species in the little paradise isle? There's a topic to ponder.

My combing through the Post led me naturally to think about journalistic standards. I have little real confidence that I will ever see a good news report every day in the local Bajan papers. The Advocate of November 23 was a classic reinforcement of that. Nearly two weeks after the publication of a CADRES poll commissioned by the Barbados Union of Teachers and UNICEF to look into Corporal Punishment And Other Major Educational Issues in Barbados, it was only then that I saw a full report in that paper. (I wanted to double check online but the paper is still tweaking its archives and one can search for nothing.) The Nation had reported the story straight away and a lot of discussion has gone on since then, including a vigorous debate between the pollster, Peter Wickham, and an outspoken educator-cum-commentator, Matthew Farley, about whether the poll was aimed at making schools ungovernable. The paper also put out an Editorial on November 23, in which it noted many interesting areas for further study, including, 'Deserving to be probed is the question of the strong backing for corporal punishment being held by people described as having had lower levels of education.' So, why would the other major paper choose to leave that story on the side for so long? Conclusions too uncomfortable?

One of my perennial issues has been about the perception of Barbados and its reality. We all know that perceptions matter a lot and doing all possible to preserve an image is no surprise. Digging deep into local issues is not what one does if one wants to preserve a perception of stability and order, because naturally discovery may take you into the realm of many things that show instability and disorder. Better to say nothing or very little. But the old days of having only a few means of reporting have really changed how the perception game is played. News wires pump out their material but now the world can be informed instantly and those who do not like what is reported are immediately playing catch up.

As I think about whether the wool-over-eyes syndrome is just a national pastime, I have to wonder what is so hard about good reporting. The models are many and widely available. Is it a matter of pay? Is it a matter of capability? Is it a matter of not risking job security? Is it a matter or attitude?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the barbados media drgging it's feet when it's time to deliver the news is a combination of all the mentioned in your issue. that however is a ticking time which in the long ran would blow up in the faces of those who are supposed to be the watchmen.