Editorial: Fact will always trump fantasy

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In the old days, when a politician faced criticism or was asked a question, he or she would either ignore the issue, or deal with the matter head on – sometimes with a bit of spin added for good measure.  Today, there is a different strategy employed.  Now, the defense begins with complete denial of the facts and is followed up with an attack on the press.
A great example of this new way of obfuscating reality and running from facts was on display recently by the government’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst, when he appeared on OBSERVER AM.  When the host, Daren Matthew-Ward, brought up the topic of underpaid workers at the government’s National Housing Scheme, Hurst went into verbal gymnastics that left us listening with our mouths agape.
Hurst was asked for his response to the criticisms that have been levied in the government’s direction regarding the underpaid workers and the insinuation that the government should not be setting this bad precedent, to which the Chief of Staff replied, “Well, I think that the Prime Minister was misunderstood.”
So that we are not accused of putting words in anyone’s mouth, we will turn to the PM’s exact words.  During the recent handover ceremony, the PM stated, “You may not recognise this but the workers at National Housing, they are literally underpaid.  A labourer actually makes about $80, when ordinarily, he should be making about $120.  A skilled person makes about, maybe, $130 when he should be making about $200. And that is how we have been able to keep the price down.  So, they too, through their labour would have made a significant contribution in subsidising the value of these homes”.
Words have meaning so when the Prime Minister says “literally underpaid” we take him at is word.  And when he says “subsidising” we utilise the established definition and meaning of the word. There seems to be no room for misunderstanding, but not so in Mr Hurst’s world.  He sought to clarify what needs no clarification by saying, “Anyone who earns between $420 to $450 as an income as a labourer is not earning a poor wage.  Especially, if that person’s social security, medical benefits, education levy are also paid by the employer so that they don’t come out of the $80 per day that he or she is being paid.  Additionally, he gets three weeks vacation every year and other benefits, including a pension.  So, you are looking at really a decent wage given the skill sets which the person brings.”
In one fell swoop, Hurst attempted to turn the PM’s “literally underpaid” description of the workers’ pay into “a decent wage”.   However, the problem for Hurst is the existence of facts.  We did not start the discussion and say that the workers are underpaid, the PM did!  He did not present the situation as one where the workers are paid a decent wage with great benefits, so how are we to infer that “literally underpaid” means “a decent wage”?
It was the PM’s description that forced us to ask how a labour government could abandon one of the key foundations of the labour movement, which is “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”? Apparently, no one liked that question and so the administration has now resorted to attacking our news organisation for raising the issue.
To this end, the Chief of Staff once again stepped into his fantasy world and attempted to criticise OBSERVER, alleging we are underpaying staff. A complete fabrication of figures and scenarios to fulfill the propaganda mandate.  All in a world of, if you cannot address the facts then simply attack the press.  The PM himself has joined this narrative by attempting to post a comment to our website (and posted elsewhere) that demonstrates an ignorance of the facts, deliberate or otherwise, and ending with wording that we do not deem family friendly.  By the way, when did it become okay for the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda to use that type of language?
Attacking the press is a very worrying trend in the world of politics.  Suddenly, the press becomes a target and all that needs to be shoved down people’s throats as a good reason to do so is a made-up excuse that the organisation is on a political agenda.  There is not one shred of evidence of any political agenda but the politicians believe that if they say it long enough, loud enough and with a persuasive tone, the people will believe the fantasy.
The problem for the politicians is this little thing called a fact.  So, let’s have a look at a few, shall we?  When asked why attack OBSERVER regarding the underpaid worker issue, Hurst said, “The Observer is the one that raised it.”  That is factually incorrect.  The Prime Minister raised the issue first in his public address.  Who also referred to the workers as being underpaid?  Yup, you guessed it, Prime Minister Gaston Browne. Mr Hurst and the PM also insinuated that OBSERVER underpays its workers.  Again, factually incorrect.  We pay a market rate or premium (to market rate) to all of our staff.   Just repeating untruths do not make them facts.  And when it comes to fact checking Mr Hurst on this issue, he receives a “pants on fire” rating.
You would note that at no time were the core questions answered.  Instead, the press was attacked for following up on the words of the PM and accused of misunderstanding the words “literally underpaid”.  Because in some alternate universe, when the PM says “literally underpaid” we are to understand that what he really means is “a decent wage”.

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