Every time there is a contentious or divisive issue in our bit of paradise, we get peppered with rhetorical questions. It is an interesting phenomenon because people seem more interested in giving the illusion of a debate rather than actually engaging in one. Maybe it is a case that they are unwilling to defend or advance their position for fear of losing the argument or possibly, it is the fear of retribution. Maybe, as some have advanced, it is simply cultural. The thought being that we do not have a long history of free debates and true acceptance of other people’s opinions.
Whatever the case, the rhetorical questions were abundant following the Prime Minister’s recent “get a life” response to the question of whether he was present at the cabinet meeting which discussed his son’s concessions. PM Browne has attempted to spin the matter as OBSERVER making much ado about nothing but the facts will not support that narrative. Interestingly, the rhetorical question posed by both sides has been the same: “what did you expect?”
The red Kool-aid drinkers have come out in support of the flippant response by prefacing their question along the lines of ‘put yourself in his shoes’ or ‘he is being attacked so he is fighting back’. None really addressing whether the response was what we expected from the leader of our country?
On the other hand, the blue Kool-aid drinkers have prefaced their question with more personal attacks on the PM’s character. Some along the lines of ‘petty dictator’ while other along the lines of ‘thin skinned’. Of course, when it comes to personal attacks, Antiguans & Barbudans, in general, seems pretty adept at it, so the variety is great. However, beyond the personal attacks, there was nothing added to the debate.
Although we understand that, by definition, rhetorical questions require no answer, we feel that we will do so anyway, as a way of advancing some intelligent debate on this and other matters. So, here is our expectation of our country’s leader when asked a simple question regarding whether he was present at the cabinet meeting and the wider issue of transparency.
Journalist: “So, Mr Prime Minster, were you present at the cabinet decision when the concessions for your son were discussed and the decision to grant the concession was taken?”
PM: “Thank you for your question. I am happy that you asked the question and more than happy to answer it because transparency is the hallmark of my government. First off, we have an established protocol that dictates that in any possible instance of a conflict of interest, even if it is only a perception, the conflicted cabinet member must excuse him or herself from the debate and decision making process. In this case, I was not on island, as I was away doing the people’s work. I am informed that the remainder of cabinet met, discussed the issue, applied the well-established rules and law related to concessions and came to a decision on the matter.”
That is the kind of response we expected to come from the leader of our nation. He could have then smartly pivoted to expand on the ‘all investors are welcome’ rhetoric and used the opportunity to inform the press and the nation of the reasons he was away and the benefits that the country would derive from his trip abroad. Something that he attempted to do after he flippantly dismissed the question and the mole hill became a mountain.
Some have suggested that the Prime Minister was likely frustrated with all the questioning but that is really irrelevant. First, there was no barrage of questions on this matter and secondly, it should not matter. If the PM or his handlers find that they are being questioned on any matter repeatedly, then they should offer some form of press statement that provides a detailed response that seeks to answer most if not all the questions. From there, the PM or his entourage could simply refer questions to the document (if the answer is within the document) and move on to other matters.
We are under no illusion that this will remove the tinted glasses and perception of the Kool-aid drinkers but we do hope that it will stimulate better debates. Then again, it is difficult to have meaningful debates when most people are anonymous. You never know if the person behind the made-up screen name is being genuine or being antagonistic just for fun.