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, June 10, 2010

Why? Because I Say So.

Several days ago someone asked me about my lessened involvement on the radio call-in programs in Barbados. I explained that for a variety of reasons I had not been very audible for several weeks. Some of the reasons were that I needed to focus on what I do as work, and financial markets were very nervous and turbulent: I have found that I cannot concentrate on what is going on there for my benefit, and also have an ear and voice tuned to the issues coming across on the radio. Multitasking usually means that something or someone is getting short shrift, so I made a decision to limit certain distractions. I also explained that, while I may have a view on lots of things and some expertise in certain areas, one of my motivations was to encourage people who had views to express them, not to take up the airwaves with my own views and thoughts. I listened a lot to the discussions and formed ideas in my head, but did not feel the urge to express those on the air.

One thing that struck me was the repeated recurrence of particular topics and points of view and wondered how it was that this was still going on. Why do people need to use the call-in to let the water authority know that pipes have been leaking for days/weeks? Why cannot the electricity company address the issues of disputed meter readings? Why are those involved in West Indies cricket so seemingly out of touch with what the public wants of the team and its administration? Why are parliamentarians acting as if they are not being televised and broadcast live and stop what most people see as a set of boorish and uncivil behaviour, supposedly doing the people's business? Why can't a company representative give a simple answer to a simple question? Why is so much action promised and so little delivered? Why is it that things seem to get little or no action until a crisis appears? And the list goes on in my head.

In a sense, the various complaints and criticisms had not found a good ear on those who had the power to address them. What I also heard was a very distinct tone of defensiveness from decision makers. Whenever someone was being asked to take responsibility or give an explanation for why no action had been taken, up came the 'wall' of 'when the time is right, all will be explained' (or words to that effect). By and large, I find that approach very unacceptable, but I cannot speak for the general population, and if they find this 'wait awhile' style fulfilling. The other aspect that comes with that approach is a clear paternalism, that says 'we', the decision makers, know best when to tell you things that are important to your lives that we have done but not yet shared with you.

When I heard fellow economist, Tennyson Beckles, speak recently about the need for transparency in public decision making, his points seemed so obvious. Yet, here was a situation where information about a substantial addition to the public burden seemed to have been kept very close the chests of a select few. It does not matter how good or necessary the decision was/is--in this case, how to finance the rebuilding of prison destroyed by fire--the thinking seemed to be that people could not handle the nasty news that taxpayers would be on the hook for a lot more money over several years to come. That suggests that, had the public been informed, they might have said 'No, don't do it that way.'

Subjecting public decisions to public scrutiny is still not part of the Caribbean reflex. I'm not sure if that comes from centuries of having been subjected to bossiness of one sort or another. People seem to know how to ram decisions down people's throats, but not how to take people into their confidence or negotiate their way to a solution.


Carson C. Cadogan said...

So that is why you have not been writing much either. I was wondering about that.

Welcome to the club. The club of knowing when you are butting your head against a stone wall.

acox said...

Those who are in authority and who are paid to get thingsdone often seem to dont care two hoots about the customers problems. Moroften than not the pulic use the airwaves to embaress the company or companies with which they are having a problem.

Dennis Jones said...

@Carson C. Cadogan,

If it were just butting my head against the wall it would be no problem: I've done that for a living for decades. It's more the sense that people do not want inquiry that's disturbing.