Letters & Opinion

‘Not My Brand Of Politics’

Minister of Education Shawn Edward Responds To Talk Of Victimization in School Transportation Contract Awards

By Stephen Lester Prescott

Talk show appearances and a House of Assembly debate by MP for Dennery North and Minister of Education, Hon. Shawn Edward seemed to suggest that members of the six-month-old Labour Party Administration will more aggressively counter what looks like a stepped-up campaign of disinformation by the main opposition.

Hon. Edwards’ unraveling of UWP untruths on contract awards in school transportation in Dennery North alone served to remind us of how careful the public should be with statements from that party, and postings by their operatives and supporters on social media.

The Minister addressed several urgent matters pertaining to the Ministry’s response to the niggling effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the school system, and the challenges for students, teachers, principals, parents, and associated stakeholders.

However, Minister Edward was sufficiently armed to repel any UWP-influenced disinformation on the work of the SLP Administration in relation to its promise to put people first.

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During the Minister’s appearance on the HTS morning talk show, ‘Out Goes In’, he was quizzed by the hosts on what was obviously loose talk about taking transportation contracts away from bus operators who were open supporters of the UWP, and unfair awarding of these contracts to SLP-aligned supporters.

Mr. Edward was well prepared:

“Some of them had three contracts. We caused two of the three to be redirected to persons who had none. But they had a contract. Some had two contracts. We took one and gave it to somebody who didn’t have any, but they kept a contract. So you had a nice mix of United Workers Party people and Labour Party supporters rolling out the transportation programme in Dennery North.”

The Minister recalled that a school bus driver of the district was warned about his behavour (which was not disclosed) on several occasions, but the practice continued, giving Ministry officials no option but to terminate the contract. Another gentleman lost his contract “by his own stupidity.”

Now contrast this exercise in social equity to the UWP’s partisan award of contracts to open supporters in the same district. According to Mr. Edwards’ account:

“In 2016, the United Workers Party won the election. Notwithstanding that I won Dennery North, what did they do? They fired every single bus driver in Dennery North who had an affiliation or association with the Labour Party.”

Unlike the UWP after 2016, Mr Edward refrained from cracking the partisan whip when he was assigned the Education portfolio in August 2021.  Instead, he lived up to his reputation to serve all the people of the constituency, and to fulfill the Labour Party’s pledge to eschew victimization.

“We could have terminated the (UWP-appointed) school bus drivers in September 2021,” he reminded the interviewers. “We allowed them to continue. They were the ones who serviced all the school routes, from September to December, the first term of this academic year. In January we said there are bus drivers who are sympathetic to the Labour Party who had been placed on the breadline for six years. Now is the time to reinstate them. And let’s give them a break too, because they pay loans too; they want to build up savings to embark on home improvements too. They have children to feed too.”

Stunned by the forthright response by Minister Edward, the host of the HTS programme remained speechless for several seconds before one of them, Stanley Lucien, was able to muster: “So you’re saying, the long and short of it is that it’s not true.’

The Minister responded with an emphatic ‘No’.

Shawn Edward’s forthright destruction of UWP disinformation with the truth and contrasting excesses under the rule of Chastanet should warn the functionaries and operatives of the opposition party that their misdeeds will be presented all the way up to the Special Prosecutor, when this government establishes such office to make people accountable for various abuses in public office.

Trust the Flambeau party operatives to play the victims. By doing so, they expect to shift the spotlight away from their unfair practices and abuses in government, and in particular, generate public hostility against efforts by a Labour Party Government to pursue accountability, and put right the wrongs of the previous administration.

Given Mr Chastanet’s dismal record in government of exaggerated statements and speaking out of turn – to put it mildly – there was every expectation that the former prime minister, now leader of the opposition, would intensify the old UWP tactic of ‘taking in front’ in an attempt to accuse the Philip J Pierre Administration of every evil imaginable. But Mr. Chastanet’s model of ‘government as a business’ (and all the financial and governance abuses that came with it) was soundly rejected at the polls on July 26, 2021.

So why the increased bombardment (by print and sound) by Mr Chastanet in recent days, unfairly comparing more than five years of his administration to just six months of work by the SLP-led government? The tactic is obviously an attempt to make-up for Mr Chastanet’s 100-plus days in absentia, following the near wipe-out of the UWP from parliament on July 26, 2021. In one of the darkest moments of his party, he did what he is known to do best – that is to take a holiday, this time an extended one, missing three meetings of parliament, including the all-important ceremonial swearing-in of parliamentary servants of the people and peaceful transition from one leadership to another.

Such disrespect adds to a list of actions and in-actions of the Chastanet government that honoured the Constitution more in the breach than in the observance.

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