By Machela Osagboro
United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Damani Tabor is of the view that the recent gag order put on all officials working with the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) project in Barbuda is “a threat to democracy”.
The opposition senator was responding to a directive from the Cabinet earlier this week, which stated that all “all major controversies facing any project, shall first come to Cabinet before any official makes his/her findings public”.
Tabor, who was a guest on OBSERVER AM on Friday, said that the inclusion of the proclamation in the Cabinet notes was a very bold and a clear sign that the government is proving that it’s a “dictatorship”.
“If a professional in the Public Service sees something illegal, you cannot muzzle them and tell them that they simply cannot say it. That is unacceptable and is a sign of dictatorship creeping into this country,” Tabor said. “This new Cabinet directive suggests that the Director of Environment would not be authorised to come to OBSERVER or any other media house and say to the public ‘this is illegal; they don’t have permission’.
“It is a threat to all public servants,” he added. “The implication is that any public servant who exercises freedom of speech and engages the press and gives official comments on matters that are within their expertise, will be punished by this dictatorial administration.”
The public has been widely critical of the decision and senator questioned how the public will react. “The question is, will Antiguans tolerate this local dictatorship and show their love for democracy by repudiating this new and very troubling development?”
Soon after, on the same programme, Minister of Health and Environment Molwyn Joseph sought to explain the reasons for the decision taken by the Cabine.
“This is a very important issue that the public must understand,” he said. “You have on one level technicians, and the other, the Cabinet to design and implement measures in the interest of the general public. And quite often public servants do not exercise care in how they conduct themselves in public. The civil servants and the technicians don’t always get it right and so they must contact their ministers and the Cabinet on these matters before going to the public.”
The Minister also clarified the position of Chief Environment Officer, Diann Black-Layne, who is seemingly at the centre of the Cabinet decision. “She, too, must subject herself to policy directive and her job is not in jeopardy, but she must seek directive from her minister in the way she puts information out into the public,” Joseph said.