THINGS THAT MATTER: Discipline: Children, Audits and the Courts
“Why is the prospect of a well ordered and disciplined society, where laws are adhered to, so elusive?” (Editorial, The Barbados Advocate, November 9, 2017)
Definition of Discipline: Training that makes people more willing to obey or more able to control themselves, often in the form of rules, and punishments if these are broken, or the behaviour produced by this training. (Cambridge Dictionary) and: The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience (Oxford Dictionary)
My first quote above is from the incisive Advocate editorial of Thursday, prompted by the current distress over the bad, violent behaviour of some wayward children and the continuing distress over that of public service vehicle drivers, who are apparently protected from the law. What has happened to our once disciplined society? Our widely recognised work ethic, orderly and law abiding behaviour seems to have “gone through the eddoes”. It applies to the lack of discipline characterising many of our children and their undisciplined parents, our government departments and statutory boards, and our court system, as well as to general management and maintenance of roads, government buildings, CBC, agricultural land and “bush”. This column will address just the first three of these Things That Matter.
First, the bad children. Many of our children are in fact superbly focused and doing well in many areas – academically and in sports. But as the Advocate editorial says “Bad children or young adults do not just wake up and emerge as threats to themselves and others. They mimic actions and behaviours and react to images and realities which they face”. And the editorial goes on: “Attitude is a major part of the problem. The notion that actions do not have consequences is troubling …”
These children are influenced both by incompetent, irresponsible and undisciplined parents and by what they see around them. As the late Professor George Nicholson said: “Children are raising children” with no concept of how to raise them, and most often with no father figure around. And as Major Walcott of the Salvation Army said in Thursday’s Daily Nation: “Some parents prefer to jam all night at fetes rather than give their children a sandwich to take to school …” and again: “Some would quicker go to the hairdresser than give their children a meal … we see it!”
Some of our media indulgence in vulgarity must share some of the blame. A current advertisement repeatedly shown on CBC-TV’s Seven O’clock News for an “Ultimate” Harbour Master cruise highlights simulated sex (wukkin up) between two couples. We are now immune to vulgarity and pretend surprise when children emulate what they see in public, the media and social media. It seems anything goes and we have become a largely mindless and irresponsible society.
Considerable evidence confirms that the creation of a sense of honesty, ethics, discipline and social behaviour at the early age of four or five produces the best citizens. PAREDOS has been doing yeoman service in supporting good parenting but it cannot do it alone. A great deal more effort needs to be directed at the problem, and urgently – perhaps a think tank of school counsellors, PTA and church leaders could lead the way.
The second big concern is that of the scandalous disregard for public accounting. I mentioned this in last Sunday’s column, only to be shocked that very day by the report that the latest Auditor General’s Report “contains a litany of horrors concerning the inefficient financial accounting and record keeping of departments of Government and statutory corporations” (Editorial, Sunday Sun, November 5th). Things appear to be getting worse rather than better. As the Editorial said: “It is nothing short of a major national scandal that public funds extracted from taxpayers are so cavalierly treated.” And there’s the effect on society’s mind-set. As Dr. Trevor Shepherd wrote in Wednesday’s Advocate: “I’ve always been proud to be Bajan …that status has long been synonymous with qualities like intelligence, integrity, common sense, hardiness, a great sense of humour and a love of the simple life … Half a century later, that pride is dripping away. The immediate cause is reading the Auditor General’s Report … it is impossible for any reasoning, reasonable, rational person to excuse the horrific state of public financial affairs documented in that report. What is worse, nay unforgivable, is that the powers that be can tolerate this year after year after year.”
The report itself says: “The late submissions are contrary to statutory requirements and can create an environment where fraud can thrive and remain undetected.” While the examples quoted of apparent gross failure of accounting and gross negligence are not proof of fraud or, to use the popular euphemism, “infelicities”, we are left to wonder at this widespread irresponsibility in positions of responsibility, the disrespect for the law, and the absence of any action by Government to correct this major national scandal. “Barbadians must demand better care of their money”, and as retired PS Mr. William Layne said on Friday: “The Public Accounts Committee must have teeth” (and use them!)
This week’s third major concern is the horrendous state of our courts system, where cases are dragged on with postponement after postponement for years and years, accused are on remand for years and years, and no one takes the rap except the untried victims. Attorneys, magistrates and judges alike have all been airing their views on this unacceptable situation that is nevertheless passively accepted, and has reached the attention of both the Caribbean Court of Justice and others in the region. Queen’s Counsel Hal Gollop is reported in the Daily Nation to have said: “It is not unknown that several matters in the civil courts have gone on for in excess of ten years. That cannot be a happy situation for someone seeking justice … Justice delayed is justice denied” (Nation, June 6, 2017).
My own limited experience in the courts was not encouraging. On the first occasion, having arrived as requested at 9 a.m., we waited and finally those assembled were told at 10:30 a.m. by an official that the case was being postponed to another date some weeks away. On another occasion we waited until almost 1 pm to be told that the accused had not been brought to court – no explanation for this either – and another date was set. Meanwhile the ill accused had been sitting in a wheel chair at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital main entrance awaiting the official transport which never showed up until lunch time, at which point, the judge having departed, he was transferred to Dodds without sympathy or a hearing. Clearly there are a multitude of reasons why delay after delay occurs, through errors, inadequate staff, incompetence, illness or irresponsibility at many levels in the court system, from marshal and clerk to attorney and judge. It seems there need to be more judges and magistrates, who need organisational skills, knowledge and use of modern technology, competent human resource support, and the entire system needs both revision of procedures, use of alternative dispute resolution, and serious effort to overcome an alleged culture of delay and inefficiency … in Bajan terms “a lackadaisical approach”. There are scandalous cases, protracted for many years, while some offenders flee the country and go free.
It was reported on Tuesday that the Attorney General says there are about 500 out of some 900 inmates at Dodds who are on remand awaiting trial. He did not say what the average, incomplete stay on remand is – it has been said, whether correctly or not, that some are for years. These men and women are being treated as guilty, when some may not be. As Mr. Gollop said: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” What is being done about it? Who will bell the cat?
(Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenryfraser.com)