No loose lips

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It’s the darndest thing – the remarkable way in which this administration mirrors the ways and thoughts of its Big Brother, the Trump administration. Seems, those great minds think alike. Recently, we have been hearing talk of the president wishing that members of his Cabinet would not address the media without first getting his approval and blessing. Apparently, he wants to sensor or muzzle those in his administration who might veer off-script with independent thoughts and pronouncements. In that regard, you can imagine that political pundits were casting bets as to how long the US Attorney General, William Barr, would last after he indicated that President Trump’s tweets were “Making it impossible for me to do my job.”Barr was clearly trying to cast himself as being independent of the president. Of course, we cannot forget that the president recently fired two ranking administration officials, Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman, for their testimony during the impeachment trial. Trump thought that their testimony was not helpful to his cause, and that they’d spoken unflatteringly of him, and he axed them, rather unceremoniously.

Sadly, in the grand tradition of President Trump, this Antigua Barbuda Labour Party administration is also intent on making sure that none of its officials speak out of turn and veer from their administration-prepared texts. The scripts must all be vetted by Cabinet. No damn dog shall dare bark, yelp, whimper or growl anything other than that approved by the almighty Cabinet. Of course, the consequences for straying from the path of righteousness could be quite severe, as evidenced by the embarrassing put-down of MP Michael Browne as a “novice,”whose letter voicing concerns about the Global Ports Agreement was rudely dismissed as “making no sense.” To add insult to injury, the good MP Minister of Education had to make a presentation in Parliament disavowing his own thoughts and writings. Indeed, it was quite sad to see a grown man engaging in a public debate with his own mind, and his own convictions and conscience. Yes, the good learned minister had to as much as suggest that it was not him, but rather, it was his mind. Good grief! That day in parliament is a pusillanimous day that will long live in infamy.

Then there was the more recent case of MP Dean Jonas, he who dared hew an independent line by publicly questioning the veracity of certain statements from officialdom and criticising his own staff and bemoaning a lack of resources. Again, this supposed loose talk by MP Jonas was something that the Boss of All Bosses could not abide, and he summarily relieved him of his portfolio.

Not surprisingly, because of recent statements by ranking officials that might have strayed from the official narrative, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda met for its weekly confab on February 26, and issued the following edict: The Cabinet listened to a report on the progress being made by the PLH project on Barbuda, and determined that all major controversies facing any project shall first come to Cabinet before any official makes his/her findings public. The Cabinet is aware that unauthorised and deliberate leaks may be pursued by officials; however, all officials are put on notice that the final arbiter within the law is the Cabinet (reads Minister). A stop order, wrongly and unlawfully issued by the Barbuda Council, attempted to usurp the authority of the Development Control Authority; though the request has now gone to the DCA, it cannot proceed with a stop order before consulting with Cabinet, it was agreed.” Hmmm!

So the very experts that Cabinet brags about bringing in to meet with Cabinet on various matters, dare not utter a word to the public on those very matters that are their purview, and on which they have been trained. This certainly smells stinky to us. This appears to be a rearranging/tailoring or suppression of the inconvenient facts in the name of political expediency and the administration’s self-serving narrative. So every blessed thing coming from the mouths of experts and officials will have the whiff of a political agenda. It can no longer be trusted!

Recently, our Minister of Health, the Honourable Molwyn Joseph, voiced his support for the new meet-the-press/public protocols, and he suggested that these measures were to ensure that the concerns of the various ministries and ministers were taken into consideration before any pronouncements on any matter from the experts. Sigh! In other words, everybody must sing from the same hymnbook! Talk about “knocking one head,” as we would say in the vernacular. We believe that these protocols will have a chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and information. We also believe that the information disseminated to the public will be skewered in favour of the administration’s positions.

Folks, notwithstanding Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s protestations that he is not being dictatorial, as has been suggested by Senator Damani Taboranda host of concerned citizens, we believe that the colluding in Cabinet will stymie transparency. We further believe that raw data from the experts will be adulterated so that dubious projects will be able to proceed unencumbered by environmental and other legitimate concerns. To hell with the environment! Everything will be sacrificed on the altar of protecting investors and their money.

But don’t take our word for it. Take a peek at the Prime Minister’s recent remarks on what he deems to be underlings stepping out of their lanes and exceeding their authority: “It’s the Cabinet on the advice of the environmentalist that will make the decisions; they don’t decide for us, that’s the point I’m making. And they should not think that they have the right to exercise that type of power. They are technicians! They advise us! Do your work, advise us what the risks are, and we decide. We are not going to make any. . . and let me tell you the difficulty too: when they stick their heads out from the beginning, and they make certain derogatory remarks, and they publish these information in the public domain, what they do is that they undermine the project, even in terms of financing. So I may have a project, for example, that I am pursuing, next thing, some environmentalist decides to publish something saying that if you build the project, people going die and investors going to lose their money; you’re killing the people’s project. You should be sitting down with them, to find out exactly . . . look, let them know, hey, we hear these risks, how are we going to mitigate these risks? And on the basis that they are unable to mitigate the risks, then you come back to the Cabinet and tell us, look, we do not recommend that you approve this, based on these risks. But you don’t go and publish on your own, and go on radio programmes, and go and say that you not approving this and you not approving that; when it comes to that you need to resign! Let me tell you nuh, the people elected us to run this country, not no technician; technicians advise!” Ouch!

There you have it folks! If you thought that it was difficult to get officials to comment on issues prior to this Cabinet diktat, it will now be next to impossible. Remember, many officials and technocrats here in Antigua and Barbuda were already scared to face the media and the public; they always had no comment. Talk about a climate of fear! And make no mistake, the handful of technocrats and officials who will now face the public, will all be singing the same Cabinet cantata – GLORY, LAUD AND HONOUR! Clearly, there will be no loose lips to sink this ship! Everybody will be muzzled! Pass the duct tape!

O haste, the proposed whistle-blower protections!

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