A golden opportunity was squandered to respect international norms of public discourse

Dear Editor,

Reference the news item yesterday ‘Experts for Cabinet caucus on oil future’, a question or two and a few brief remarks. Why was this briefing by a panel of experts not extended to include members of the parliamentary opposition, civil society and the various interest groups that have evolved in the wake of the oil discoveries? Surely it would have been possible to at least hold a general session initially before a discussion in camera with Cabinet?

1. The items on the agenda (SWF, national security, etc) outweigh any partisan political divisions and speak to the future of the nation. While these issues transcend the current political matrix and the moment, the meeting is prisoner to both.

2.  Public funds have presumably been used to underwrite this meeting and to transport the various experts from their respective corners of the globe. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect that the expertise made available to the Cabinet also be made available to the citizenry.

3. Did none of the experts or the organisations involved think to enquire as to whether there would be an opportunity for public engagement? One wonders how reports of this exclusive caucus would play with their respective constituencies, employers and funders at home. Chatham House, for example, maintains a commitment to open debate as well as ‘private discussions’ in its mission statement. In this case, apparently, the former has been forfeited in favour of the latter.

4. The current administration holds power by a one-seat majority, the slenderest of margins. What was arguably an ambitious coalition of disparate groups is already showing signs of fraying at the seams. Many commentators have pointed out that, if only for the sake of survival, it needs to govern inclusively and to seek to build alliances across the political spectrum, particularly on issues such as these. Here was a golden opportunity squandered.

5. This, it seems, is the first of several such gatherings. One hopes that, in the future, the convenor and the distinguished list of invitees will make a more concerted effort to respect international norms of public discourse.

Yours faithfully,

Isabelle de Caires

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