Following is an edited version of the address of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart at the 57th annual Conference of the DLP yesterday.
This 57th annual conference has special significance for a number of reasons. To begin with, it represents the last time the DLP family will fully assemble in conference before the next general election. It thus presents a timely opportunity for us to renew our camaraderie, to reinforce our unity in preparation for the battle ahead, and to recommit ourselves to the core principles and values which have guided our party through the years.
We will win the next election! And, with your full support, we are resolved to do so in convincing fashion. But although victory may be ours for the taking, I must caution that it is not going to come easily. It is going to call for hard work, discipline, sacrifice, clarity of purpose, and unfailing commitment to duty. We must have an effective campaign organization in place and we must have a compelling message to rally Barbadians to our cause.
Most of all, winning requires a particular mindset. Every victory begins in the mind and is subsequently brought to fruition through a set of actions driven by our thoughts. As the Roman poet, Virgil, so eloquently puts it and in words that has been used by the Lodge School in the Aeneid: “Possunt quia posse videntur” — They can because they think you can”. These words capture and affirm the essence of a winning mindset. Let us therefore resolve, to leave this 57thannual conference with a winning mindset. It is our assurance of victory, that will be our weapon for routing our adversaries and putting them to flight.
Our planning for general elections is quietly moving ahead. We are doing so meticulously and will leave no stone unturned in legitimate pursuit of our objectives. Some have interpreted our silence as a sign of inactivity and a reflection of un-readiness. Let me assure you, they are gravely mistaken. Very often in the execution of strategy, it pays to be reserve. Often, it pays also not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing until the time is right. As, in the fullness of time, we ratchet up the momentum, details of our plans will emerge through our candidates and their teams.
This 57th Annual Conference is of special significance for another reason. It happens to coincide with a watershed in world history that continues to unfold as I speak. A fundamental reconfiguration of the global landscape is quietly occurring before our eyes, amidst the political, economic and social dislocation from the worst downturn in nearly a century.
Although Barbados and other Caribbean countries have had no hand in triggering these events, they nevertheless have far-reaching implications for our future. The open and dependent nature of our fragile economies and societies, makes us vulnerable to the shocks of external events over which we have little control. This fact of life is acknowledged time and again in scholarly literature on Caribbean economic development. Yet there are those, who would wish to have Barbadians believe that somehow we are modern-day Robinson Crusoes — cut off from and immune to what is happening in the rest of the world. This self-serving political argument reflects a level of intellectual dishonesty that all thinking people should find indigestible.
Whenever there is change, especially on the scale we are now witnessing, people naturally become anxious because they feel a loss of control over their lives. This is a normal, predictable, and understandable reaction. People tend to be averse to change because it replaces what is familiar and certain with what is unfamiliar and uncertain. Humans beings derive a sense of safety and security from an environment which allows them to predict, with some degree of accuracy, the likely course of their lives.
For a significant portion of humanity, doing so has been most difficult in the face of the uncertainty of recent years. Against this backdrop, I should like to avail myself of this opportunity to address a number of pertinent issues and put them in perspective in the public interest. It is critically important that Barbadians understand the new environment in which we have to exist and in which we have to operate. Whether we like it or not the world is not going to change to suit us. This is the hand fate has dealt us. We have to play it as best as we can. In this regard, knowing the facts can be a source of tremendous power. Indeed, knowledge has always provided a sound basis on which people can study options and make wise decisions.
I should like also to share with you and the wider Barbadian community a few thoughts and ideas which underpin our vision for taking Barbados forward safely in these turbulent and uncertain times. As Prime Minister and as a servant of the people, I ask God every day to give me the strength and the wisdom to do what is right for Barbados. These past four and a half years have been the most challenging for any government since Independence. Yet, against these odds, we have scored many successes of which you and all Barbadians can be justifiably proud.
Contrary to the predictions of doom and gloom we hear so often from the merchants of distress and the purveyors of alarm and despondency, Barbados has not fallen off the precipice, about which we have been hearing so much over the last four years. This DLP government has pulled together against tremendous odds and has kept Barbados afloat. Indeed, we have done the best in most difficult circumstances. To appreciate the point I am making, you only have to look around the world to see the turmoil which countries with far greater resources than Barbados are experiencing. Despite the challenges we continue to face, we in Barbados have a lot for which to be thankful.
The first major issue I wish to address relates to our economic situation. I readily acknowledge that times are tough for the ordinary man and woman in Barbados. With fewer resources at our disposal because of the global downturn, we as a government have not been able to do everything we would have liked, or to meet every need. But if Barbados did not have a government that cared and was looking out for the interests of all Barbadians, our situation could have been even more perilous, especially for the vulnerable elements amongst us.
Barbados’ development strategy over the past fifty years has been studied by several reputable international organizations and has received high passing grades. In fact, the Barbados model has been recommended by internationally respected research institutions for study by developing countries whether of small, medium or large size. A few months ago the United Nations Development Programme released its Human Development Report for 2011. The UN report on the quality of life in one hundred and eighty-seven (187) countries across the world placed Barbados forty-seventh.
Barbados is the only small, medium or large developing country among the elite category of countries that attained a “very high level of human development”. In spite of the severe stress to which our country has been subjected by the global economic downturn, Barbados has been able to hold its own. At the end of 2010, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas were the only English-speaking CARICOM member states that had a gross domestic product larger than Barbados.
I need not remind you that Ireland, Iceland, Greece and other countries far better endowed economically than Barbados, collapsed under the weight of the current global economic downturn, and several member states of the European Union have been teetering on the brink of collapse.
The Democratic Labour Party was elected to office at a time when the economies of our major trading partners were descending into the most severe recession since the 1930’s. I refer to the economies of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Our first responsibility to Barbadians and all residents was to conduct the affairs of state in such a manner that would moderate the social and economic costs of the current economic downturn. We exercised great care to be guided by the emerging evidence and not pursue a policy and strategy based on dogma or the historical experience and conventional wisdom pertaining to earlier economic recessions that impacted our economy. It is easy to be wise after the event.
My government is ever conscious that there is no room for playing fast and loose with the livelihoods of our people. We eschewed easy solutions, always mindful that the late Right Excellent Sir Frank Leslie Walcott cautioned often that ‘easy lessons are for dunces’. We challenged our advisers in the public service, the Central Bank of Barbados, and other advisory bodies to research the issues and provide us with their findings and recommendations. We inquired of each body concerning the social costs and benefits of each recommendation. We adopt this approach to decision-making because at the centre of my government’s philosophy is the view that the acid test of the quality of economic development is the impact of economic expansion on the quality of life of the broad masses of our people.
Critics of the government either fail to recognise that the current global environment requires new and profound reflection on the challenges that confront the Barbadian society and economy, or they are being plain disingenuous. The much canvassed counter-cyclical major capital works “big push” programme is a product of lazy minds and a recipe for the bankruptcy of our economy. We organised a capital works programme that is consistent with the national financial capacity considering the government’s need to finance inescapable recurrent expenditure.
Research shows that approximately seventy to 75 cents of every dollar in domestic expenditure leaks into the financing of imports. The suggested “big push” in the current domestic and global circumstances, therefore, would in short order decimate our foreign reserves, create zero sustainable jobs, and place us in the clutches of the Washington multilateral institutions.
Several governments within our sub-region including (Antigua and Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines) have entered into varying forms of International Monetary Fund support since the onset of the current devastating recession. The truth of the matter is to be found in a review of the economic history of Barbados since Independence. Our economy records robust growth when the economies of our major trading partners, (USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom) are recording real annual growth rates in the range of 3% to 5% consistently.
The government is being criticised for setting targets and failing to achieve them. I should like to believe that our critics know better. Targets are guide posts and nothing more. In the event that the assumptions on which targets are based turned out to be flawed, effective management of implementation requires an adjustment.
Furthermore, in a global economic and financial environment in which the only certain factors are uncertainty and volatility, the appropriate methodology is the setting of target ranges rather than specific points on a numerical scale. Some of the critics of the government fail to acknowledge the limitations of their Economic training. They pretend to demonstrate a divinely inspired belief in the correctness of their normative analyses. The government understands that in the realm of public policy, choices must be made.
My approach to this task is guided by a philosophy to ensure that any choice we make maximises the net social benefits that will accrue to the society. The government’s decision to invest in taxpayer funded public transport for children of school age, and summer camps represent prime examples of our approach to decision-making. These two examples demonstrate our vision to provide a strong platform for future generations. Our professional critics pretend to be omniscient but only when they are out of government. We recognise one source of omniscience and that source is the Almighty.
The task of designing and implementing a plan for the transformation of our economy has fallen to the government of the Democratic Labour Party now under my leadership. Such an undertaking is, ordinarily, best implemented during a period of robust economic performance. For those of us who have to rely on sound technical analyses and planning to take our country forward, it is crystal clear that we are at a defining moment in our development, as a nation.
The sugar which was the leading sector that generated the surplus required for financing our infrastructural development over the years (for example the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Deep Water Harbour, new education and training plant) has been experiencing a deep structural decline since the 1980’s. The tourism and hospitality industry which has taken up the slack created by the decline in the sugar sector continues, however, to demonstrate dynamism. The government has seized every opportunity, therefore, to enlarge airlift, expand and diversify market access, diversify the industry and create new attractions. We are committed also to upgrading and expanding the accommodation plant through among other initiatives the implementation of the Four Seasons Hotel project.
We continue to provide support to the International Business Sector as well, in spite of the severe challenges posed by the OECD group. We have targeted and supported the cultural industries for development as a key foreign exchange earner and employment generating sector in the medium to long-term. Our continuing contribution to education and training is critical to the creation of an environment that will facilitate the pursuit of entrepreneurial activities by our youth, and ensure the evolution of a more highly diversified economy that is capable of ensuring that high valued-added goods and services, account for a larger share of foreign earnings and national production.
We commenced the important task of addressing the environmental and balance of payments challenges associated with the high prices of fossil fuel energy products by encouraging the use of alternative sources of energy. The government is leading by example. We are committed to equipping government buildings with the facilities that enable their utilisation of alternative energy sources. We are subsidising low-income households through the “Smart Energy Fund” to facilitate access to alternative energy sources.
The government has announced a policy to provide fiscal relief for individuals and businesses investing in alternative energy sources. We are committed to a ‘green economy policy’ which is expected to create new employment opportunities, enhance environmental quality, contribute to safer food supplies, and enable us to take our place in the world with other nations in the multi-national drive to moderate global warming. In addition as Prime Minister of Barbados, I will continue to be a leading advocate on the “blue economy”, calling for the conservation and sustainable management of marine and ocean resources in the context of the Caribbean. Measures are being put in place also to ensure that supplies of natural gas will be available to Barbadian families and businesses through arrangements with fellow CARICOM member states.
I am committed to a radical transformation of the agriculture sector, focusing on the application of best practices, and an increase in the production of high valued-added products. We have placed on the front burner the issue of food security and food safety, because I can see no acceptable reason for the consistently huge food import bill of Barbados and the sub-region.
I refuse to accept the untested notion that agriculture is destined to die because of an aging workforce, or that our good arable lands should be allocated to the highest market use. I reject these notions because they are either self-serving, or the product of lazy and undeveloped intellects. I am convinced that traditional agriculture has failed our young people, and the most effective strategy to attract youth to agriculture is the creation of opportunities for intellectually challenging, high productivity, highly remunerative opportunities for agribusiness and employment in the new agriculture.
The study of Economics is essentially concerned with choice. Every decision whether individual, group, or national, has a price tag attached. The government decided that the protection of the quality of life of families and individuals is its priority in the management of the devastating current global and regional financial and economic crisis. In a context of a contracting economy caused by adverse external circumstances, leading to declining rates of growth in revenues and foreign exchange earnings, our decision to pursue policies that minimize job losses would increase challenges in the financing of current expenditure.
We do not regret our decision. If we had pursued the strategy implicitly canvassed by our principal adversary, this land of ours would have been devastated by lay-offs and ensuing family and individual hardships, large scale business closures, and major societal embarrassments. Your government places people first, that is why we allocated the highest priority to strengthening the social safety net, and ensuring that the country could pay its bills for importation of food, medicines, and essential supplies and service our foreign debts promptly.
No one in Barbados has been refused access to foreign exchange for legitimate purposes. Barbados continues to enjoy a comfortable foreign reserves import cover. There are several countries with economies several times the size of Barbados’ that failed to deal with the current economic scourge as effectively as Barbados has done.
In our developmental thrust, however, we cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that, in the face of vastly expanded educational opportunities, there are still children in Barbados who are not doing as well, educationally, as their parents did with more limited opportunities. In the face, too, of more diversified economic opportunities, there are far too many children who are not doing as well, economically, as their parents and grandparents did. This issue requires close study with a view to reversing a trend that has steadily manifested, over the last twenty-five to thirty years in Barbados.
The CLICO saga
Against the background of a record of solid performance by the government, it is understandable that our adversaries would have to find a response. What was the nature of that response? To cast around like headless chickens in search of distractions aimed at turning the attention of the public away from the stellar achievements of the government.
Once again, the Barbados Labour Party tried to generate some political excitement over the issue of CLICO. This time over the release of a DeLoitte Forensic Audit Report on CLICO International Life.
The Prime Minister was roundly condemned for not commenting on a report that he had not seen. And he had not seen that report because at the time he was being condemned, the report was in unauthorised circulation because it had been stolen. I have never been a thief, self-confessed, petty or otherwise. I have never been an accessory before, during or after the commission of any criminal offence. I sleep most comfortably at night because there is no man, woman or child in Barbados or outside of Barbados who has any secret holding for me. In fact, there are no secrets in my life because there is nothing in the life of Freundel Jerome Stuart of which he can be made to feel ashamed. I chose to live my life that way.
The late Rt. Excellent Errol Walton Barrow could easily have been speaking for me when he said: “Those of you who have worked closely with me will know that I do not allow myself to be provoked into conducting debates on public or private issues in the columns of the press. My political and legal reputations, unlike some of my opponents, have never depended on the fabrications of the media, but rather on my direct performances in real terms. If the media do not make you, they cannot break you. Consequently, even well meaning and honest journalists find it difficult to secure interviews or responses from me as they will all confirm, chiefly because even in public life, I am a private person. If my name never appears in the press, even if I won a prize of great value, I would remain completely unconcerned”.
When, eventually, I had sight of the Forensic Audit Report after receiving a copy from the Ministry of Finance in the normal course of the routing of mail in the Public Service, I discovered that it had accused the government of nothing; had accused the Prime Minister of nothing; had accused the Minister of Finance of nothing; had accused the late Prime Minister of nothing; and, marvellous to relate, was merely an interim report stating no final conclusions about any of the matters it was investigating.
But if you were hearing the debate, you would have believed that Barbados was about to implode or explode as a result of the contents of this stolen document in unauthorised circulation.
Let me repeat for the record. CLICO does not now belong and has never belonged to the Government of Barbados. It is a private concern in which people in Barbados and other parts of the Caribbean invested money in various types of insurance products. It ran into difficulty putting some investments at risk. It is now under Judicial Management and because of its regional scope, heads of government across the Caribbean are working to resolve its outstanding challenges in such a way as to eliminate or minimize loss to investors.
My predecessor in office the late Hon. David John Howard Thompson, the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados and I have stated publicly what we intend the Barbados approach to the problem to be. The Minister of Finance has been very active in the pursuit of a just and equitable resolution of this matter but Chris has never claimed that he is a magician or that he works miracles. The best interests of the policy holders of Barbados continue to enjoy primacy of concern from your government.
No Time to Waste on Leadership Rhetoric
The next issue on which they have sought to excite the public is the issue of what they call leadership. I do not intend to waste time on this issue since I am only the target of the moment. When Errol Barrow was leader of the Democratic Labour Party, the late Tom Adams was known to describe the party as a headless and dismembered organisation. During his career, Barrow was variously described by BLP spokesmen as a communist, a dictator, a madman, a dotish old man, and an abusive mental case.
Erskine Sandiford fared no better as he was attacked relentlessly from the same quarters. David Thompson, from 1994 to the present even in death, is the target of unsparing attacks from the Barbados Labour Party. The present Leader of the Opposition could not even find it in his heart to shelve his pettiness when the House of Assembly was paying tribute to David Thompson in the presence of his wife, children and other relatives.
I do not have to remind you of “Malik with teeth”, and the “self-confessed petty shop lifter” to attack whom would amount to “child abuse”. I do not have to remind you of the nasty comment of Mr. Arthur that if he were the father of a retarded child, he could not give it the same name as that of the then DLP leader, Clyde Mascoll.
Comrades, tell me. Why should I expect that I would be an exception to all of this indecency? I do not want the endorsement of the Barbados Labour Party. I have the endorsement of the Democratic Labour Party. That is the endorsement that matters to me. I am not in search of personal validation. I settled those issues ever since I was a young teenager.
Even if I had not settled them Owen Arthur could not be my role model in politics. I have never had demons of which I needed to rid myself. I do not throw tantrums, am proud of my origins and have always been at peace with myself.
I entered politics to see what I could contribute to politics. I did not enter politics to see what politics could contribute to me. I did not enter the politics of the Democratic Labour Party to see what I could be. I entered the politics of the Democratic Labour Party to see what I could do, since the party when in government did so much for me and people like me.
I want you Comrades to listen to these words spoken in the Parliament of Barbados in the year 1993: “… I want to conclude this debate in a personal capacity. I have very fundamental decisions to make in my personal life. I have to weigh very carefully whether it is possible for me to continue in politics. This might well be the last occasion that I have the capacity to address this House in this form. I have spoken haltingly today because politics for me is a very painful experience. Much as I would like to continue in politics, there comes a time when a person has to measure what he wants to do with his life and I believe that that time has come for me… I just want to say that the question of how I live as a person is a very important matter to me… Mr. Speaker, I speak with a certain emotion because politics have become for me too difficult a burden to carry. I find myself in a position where the strain of living in this country purely as a shadow Minister of Finance and not being able to make gainful employment in a country purely because one is a member of the Opposition is too heavy a price to carry. Frankly, I have come to the point where I have to acknowledge this. I apologise to the House if my contribution today has been distracted, but reality has settled and I will have to make very fundamental private decisions on my own life which may some time in the future mean that I will have to give up my political career.”
Those words were not spoken by Errol Barrow. He had too much commitment, pride and dignity for that. Erskine Sandiford would not have contemplated those words. He had too much commitment, pride and dignity for that. Those words would never have escaped the lips of David Thompson. He was too committed, too proud and too dignified for that. Freundel Stuart has never thought of those words because I am the descendant of proud and defiant slaves.
Barbados has never won a gold medal at the Olympics but we have the only parliamentarian in the world and throughout all history who stood-up, looked a country in the face after being called to a life of service to the poor and marginalised and said to the population, including those who voted for him in St. Peter, in essence, I am not getting enough money out of this exercise, it has therefore become too painful and too heavy a burden for me to carry. I have to brek fuh muhself. You will have to get through how you can.
Such a man cannot be a role model for members of the DLP, such a man cannot be a role model for the youth of Barbados, such a man cannot be a role model for me. The Barbados Labour Party can keep him. Let the politically dead bury their dead.
Distasteful Response to Standard and Poors
And then there was the Standard and Poors recent downgrade the credit rating of Barbados. This issue was fully ventilated by the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank and myself. What was particularly distasteful about that episode was not the downgrade itself but the indecent attempts on the part of political operatives in Barbados Labour Party to create a state of panic in the society. Who can forget the newspaper photograph of four solemn faced and disgruntled political agitators looking like distressed associates seated on a bench outside a hospital ward awaiting a medical update but expecting the worse? All of this when the country is going through its most sustained challenge since independence.
Barbadians would not have been aware that during one of the world’s most prosperous periods, this country’s credit rating was regraded to negative in 1999, and downgraded in 2004 and further downgraded to a negative outlook in 2005.
Rating agencies express economic and financial opinions periodically on countries with which they are associated. They have their work to do and are entitled to their opinions. I respect fully, their right to express their opinions and of course we take note of what they say. But they are not infallible although their judgements can affect how this or that country is perceived in the global market place.
Nor has their work always been exempt from professional scrutiny. Two years ago the Congress of the United States of America indicated that it was going to investigate these rating agencies because it was thought that their advice had helped to precipitate the financial and economic crisis from which the western world is still trying to extricate itself.
More recently, the Nobel Laureate economist, Amartya Sen, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University and formerly Professor of Economics at Cambridge University expressed the view in an article in the Guardian newspaper in England that rating agencies were now a big threat to democratic governance. He thought it was a mistake that the Congress of the United States has pulled back from its plan to investigate them with a view to criminal prosecution since, in his view, it seemed as though they were trying to replace electorates.
On that debate I am sure that we have not heard the last word but we continue our efforts to promote the balanced and consistent development of Barbados in the most difficult of circumstances for all countries, particularly those in the western hemisphere.
Alexandra School and the Police Force
There are two other issues on which I would have made comments but I have thought better of it since both are sub judice and could be prejudiced by improper public comment. I speak of course of the Alexandra School and the Royal Barbados Police Force. In respect of the latter, I think that every citizen should read the column of Stephen Alleyne … if he wants to put in some kind of context goings on within and without the Royal Barbados Police Force and if he wants evidence of the kind of rascality that can take place under the watch of the Barbados Labour Party.
By trying to generate public interest around the matters I have mentioned, the Barbados Labour Party has hoped to divert public attention from the achievements of the Government. They have not succeeded. Yes, we concede that the times are challenging and that some of our families, vulnerable in the best of times, are now under pressure. But we have tried to ensure that our social safety net is able to provide appropriate and effective cover for this social category.
We have managed our fiscal deficit and foreign reserves sensibly with the result that the resounding consensus is that the country is stable.
So comrades we have nothing to be ashamed about. For sure we have not been perfect. No government has ever been perfect. But we have been faithful to the cause of ensuring that Barbados works, and that it works for the benefit of the majority of people who live here.
Not too long from now, the party will have to face a general election which we intend to win not only because of what we have to offer but also because of what we have to ensure we protect the people of Barbados from. We have a good team of knowledgeable competent and hardworking politicians who can stand up to public examination anywhere.
Now, what do I say to the party as we prepare for that event? Twenty-seven years ago in this same month of August with less than a year to go before a general election and as I am doing today, Errol Walton Barrow stood on this same platform as President and Political Leader and spoke words to the delegates to the 1985 conference which I consider as appropriate now as they were then:
“We have no space on board this shuttle for people who are looking for social status or economic benefit. The money is on the other side. The sacrifices are on our side. No candidate of the DLP is to consider that he is taking a shot at being an MP like it is some kind of “lucky dip” or “Let’s Go to the Races Sweep”. We shall have to evaluate our performances day by day and week by week. Those who are weary, those who are languid, should go to the Lord and be at rest. There will be no rest for the valiant. No turning back; no time for self-doubt. No time for self-pity. No time for mistakes…”
That Comrades, is the standard to which I summon every member, friend and well wisher of this great organisation, the Democratic Labour Party.
As the Roman poet Virgil said: “We can because we think we can”. Or as another translation puts it, “Strong we are because strong we deem ourselves to be”. I say to all of you, therefore, Onward to victory at the next general election for Great is the Democratic Labour Party and it will prevail.