Opinion: Backroom deals

POSTED: 03/12/15 12:53 PM

Backroom politics seems to be back in town. We are witnessing more closed-door parliamentary committee meetings in half a month these days than we have seen during the first four years of the parliament’s existence.

First a meeting about surveillance cameras disappeared from the public eye, apparently because the TelEm Group of Companies had things to say to parliamentarians that should not be made public. As if nobody knows that TelEm has a working agreement with utilities company Gebe about blowing fiber optic cable around the island. Maybe the public is not allowed to know that TelEm is busy reinventing the wheel and ignoring an expensive, but also comprehensive, report the Chamber of Commerce commissioned back in 2009 about the requirements for an effective surveillance camera system. Who knows?

Now the parliamentary committee for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication is going into a closed-door meeting. And what is this about? Lo and behold: the recommendation from the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report about bus, taxi and tour bus licenses. Another issue is the beach policy – apparently also a matter of national security.

We know from the integrity reports already that former ministers like Romeo Pantophlet and Ted Richardson doled out permits like kids in a candy store. We also know that there is a lively traffic in these permits and in the number plates that go with it. Ever wondered why there are school buses driving around with M-plates? Or, better, why nobody has ever done something about this?

The matter of bus and taxi licenses has always been a grateful subject for politicians who wanted to make their adversaries look bad. The suggestion that many of these licenses are actually in just a few hands – and that the drivers of these buses and taxis are among our local slaves – has been around like forever.

Subsequent governments have never done anything to remedy this situation. For one, nobody did anything to prove these stories falls or correct. Secondly, nobody did anything to take the sting out of these urban myths by – once and for all – making the register of license-holders public.

Yes, now Democratic Party MP Sarah Wescot-Williams is asking for such a public register. But a justified question is why she never took such an initiative during all the years she was part of executive councils and three consecutive cabinets?

Nevertheless, Wescot-Williams justly argues now that, as a Member of Parliament, her role has changed and from that perspective she is wholly entitled to bring up issues from a different perspective.

That committees have to deliberate behind closed doors about such a mundane issue is a bad omen. Politicians still do not understand, or do not want to understand, that transparency and openness is key to good governance.

And what is there to hide anyway? The fact that politician X, Y or Z is up to his or her eyeballs in the bus and taxi permit business? If that were true (and we do not know for sure that it is) it seems that the body politics is circling the wagons to protect its own playground.

All by itself, this again creates the impression that politics is first and foremost a self-serving business that does not concern voters. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, Abraham Lincoln already knew. Bob Marley liked that statement. So how long will our politicians continue with their backroom deals, with their secretive meetings about issues that scream for openness and with a carnivalesque press secretariat that has increased the distance between the cabinet and the people it serves by light-years?

The answer is simple: until the next elections. That is the moment when everybody promises to do better. Another possible answer is an uprising of people who feel that they have been fooled long enough – for instance by blocking the port with their taxis when there are six ships in port. We’re not suggesting that anybody do this, but such action would finally get the attention of our decision makers

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