No reasonable individual would argue against the view, much of it evidence-based, that development is not entirely dependent on economic growth. It’s an opinion expressed just this week by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart while at United Nations House for the official launch of the UN’s Human Development Report 2013. “It is possible to have development when no growth is taking place because structural changes are taking place that have the effect of making life better for a larger number of people; capacities are being created and flexibilities are being put in place to respond to the diverse beliefs and aspirations of as large a number of people as possible,” Stuart told those gathered at the global body’s local base in Christ Church
“We had economic growth where there was no human development; we had a phase of human development where there was little or no growth,” he added.
It would not surprise us if the Prime Minister, who is a self confessed student of history and is very much the politician, would have been in his own style comparing the tenures of Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party administrations.
After all, the mantra of the current DLP government led by Stuart, and one he inherited from late predecessor David Thompson, is Barbados is more than an economy, it is a society. It is an issue which has been a major sore point between Dems and Bees, with the DLP arguing that their political opponents are merely concerned about the arithmetic of things, fiscal deficits, gross domestic product, revenue, economic graphs and charts. Stuart and others have said the BLP’s heavy focus on monetary issues between 1994 and 2008 was at the expense of issues related to the development of people and their needs. On the other hand, the BLP has suggested that Government is not being realistic in its almost exclusive focus on the society, pointing out that building a good society requires finances and the wherewithal to pay your way in the world. And so the arguments have been and we anticipate more of the same going forward.
Unfortunately, another argument of both Bees and Dems, a view some would rightly call churlish, is that either of the two holds primary responsibility for the enviable state of development Barbados has achieved. Government, like life, is a continuous sequence and with each change of administration, progress and development have continued, even if the focus of the particular group in office has differed at times. That fact aside, the bigger issue is what more can be done within the broad category of development in the Barbados context.
We are happy for the modern buildings and facilities comparable to others owned by countries much better off financially.
Our health care and education sectors are not perfect, but when we compare aspects of them to sections of the so called first world our good reputation in both areas remains intact. But what about the difficulties people, local and foreign, encounter daily as they try to establish a business? Simple paper work, issues of registration, and other aspects of facilitation that can be completed within days in countries not considered as developed as we are takes weeks and months here. And what about the absence of ready access to information and avenues of accountability leading towards those in charge of our various state institutions and agencies?
Shouldn’t a developed country also be mature enough for those aspiring to reach its highest offices, and those who have in fact reached, to completely remove all paraphernalia related to a general election three months after it has been held? To some focussing on the so called bigger picture of welfare payments, free education, and care of the elderly, these things might appear small.
Our view, however, is that together it all constitutes development and in this regard is something that Barbados, while proudly publicising its consistently high UN rankings of human development, needs to pay more attention to. At a time when Government claims it is paying attention to every cent it spends, such “little things” do matter.