Barbadians are a proud people. And perhaps we have had good reason in the past to be so. We certainly have not been shy over the years when it came to boasting about what we have been able to achieve.
One of those boasts has been the fact that tourists from all parts of the world have for decades marvelled at how beautiful our country was, and how clean we kept it. The presence of a healthy agricultural sector, buoyed by a vibrant sugar industry, gave our country the appearance of one huge garden.
When you added to that the fact that our people believed in keeping around them clean, Barbados was without doubt a place to be admired. The little chattel house might have been very modest by North American and European standards, but the rich and the famous had to pause in awe at how well kept it was and how much attention those who lived within paid to the little flower garden outside.
In fact, there was a time when each household saw the sidewalk and gutter closest to their boundary as their responsibility to keep clean. We were indeed a community.
Last week, however, on the eve of the 46 anniversary of our Independence, Minister of the Environment Dr. Denis Lowe, like every minister who has held that and/or the health portfolio in recent years has done, went public to express his dissatisfaction with how we are treating and keeping our country.
Unfortunately, his comments referred equally to public as well as private entities and individuals. Whether or not we want to hear or believe it, we have become one nasty country.
“It has to be managed,” Minister Lowe said about the state of unkempt lots across the country. “I want to make it abundantly clear that as the minister responsible for the environment I intend to do whatever is necessary to have these persons look after their properties.”
What could have gone wrong with our sense of values, our sense of duty to each other and community that in less than a generation we have changed from the “garden state” to one of naked filth — figuratively speaking, of course.
We are no less dependent on tourism today than we were in the 1970s — in fact, with the agricultural and manufacturing slide, we are even more dependent — so why do we try so hard to present a negative face to our guests?
Is it because our public institutions are failing so miserably in their duty to keep public spaces clean that the rest of the population believes it is their right to do the same with their own lots? Look at our highways and byways — they have never been so overgrown; and when those who are responsible manage to cut the bush, our shame grows because the volume of debris expose is just abominable.
“I have been given the assurance by the Minister of Housing that he would continue to put in the effort to clean up their areas because the Government always has to lead by example,” Lowe said. “It would be rather misplaced for me to address the general public on this issue not acknowledging that there are cases where there are lots owned by the Crown that need to be addressed as well.”
We suggest the minister have a similar conversation with his colleague in the Ministry of Transport and Works.
But we don’t want to be unfair in our criticism of public agencies because, quite frankly, we have a national problem to which most Barbadians appear to be willing contributors. Unless we recognise that our achievements in health were not just the result of the construction, equipping and staffing of institutions like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the network of polyclinics across the country, sooner or later were are going to face a shocking awakening.
Illnesses and diseases don’t start at the doctor’s office. Our communities are often the incubators. We had better wake up to the monster we are creating!