START WITH the oath. Each Government swears to “do right to all manner of people” and to do so impartially “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
How does that square with reports of ministers blocking journalists they do not like on social media? Picking and choosing which reporters get interviews? Selecting who gets information on the basis of assumptions about political allegiance?
Granting interviews to only their favoured scribes? Leaking matters of huge public importance to a deliberately skewered group? Having no clear policy on who gets in the door, whether to virtual events or Whitehall?
Here is an open secret: all governments like to talk about transparency and accountability. Yet each and every one of them would prefer to block scrutiny in the name of political expediency.
It is true things are better than they were in the past.
Dr Eric Williams, frequently referred to as the Father of the Nation, was notorious for blocking efforts to interview him. In fact, it is said he spoke with only one particular reporter over the course of decades.
The media are not perfect and never will be. Anyone aggrieved by them can issue a reply, demand a correction or take legal action.
But if the media are flawed, so too are politicians.
Very often, the same public officials who expect reporters to jump at their every beck and call are the main culprits when it comes to frustrating access, whether through ignoring basic queries or declining to reply to freedom of information applications.
Finessing accountability is frustrating accountability. Finessing transparency is frustrating transparency.
The result: a severe undermining of public trust.
Democracy, over time, is thus corroded.
The irony of the controversy surrounding Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s tweet last Friday is that the objective of removing taxes on laptops is supposed to make it easier for people to get access to information and to public services.
And yet Mr Imbert’s own reputation in terms of access is far from sterling.
“Our mandate was clear,” the PNM notes in its recent manifesto document. “We were required to provide the country with an honest, clean and transparent administration.”
But as Mr Imbert’s use of his personal Twitter account to announce a Cabinet decision reveals, it is unclear whether there is any official state policy when it comes to ensuring parity in how official communications are managed.
At a time when the Government is heralding an unprecedented turn to the digital, this goes well beyond the management of social media accounts and extends to the use of e-mail accounts and even communication devices.
Lack of policy leaves even more room for the already pervasive culture of secrecy and patronage, betraying the notion that going high-tech automatically means making progress.