With great fanfare and aplomb, the Barbados Private Sector Association, led by John Williams, recently launched its grand plan “to save the Barbados economy”.
And according to Williams, the “BPSA plan would be placed on Government’s plate immediately”, in keeping with Williams’ conviction that it is the private sector and the Government that must guide and lead the reform of the country.
Significantly, Williams and his BPSA colleagues could find no place for organised labour in their conception of who is invested with authority and power to guide and lead the reform of the country!
And what, you may well ask, did this grand plan amount to? Well, after one wades through the usual banalities and generalities, one is left with three substantial concrete proposals: privatise or sell off Government assets; terminate the system of free university or tertiary level education; and carry out “means testing” on seriously ill Barbadians who require hospitalisation or hospital-based health care, with a view to, if possible, making them pay for such health services.
None of these proposals should have come as any surprise to the people of Barbados, for as the ancient prophet Jeremiah asked rhetorically: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?”
Well, it is absolutely clear that the traditional Barbadian private sector finds it impossible to change its old, backward, self-centred world-view, or to rise up to the challenge of developing new and progressive ideas for advancing the Barbadian economy and society!
To begin with, these 2013 private sector proposals are almost identical to the prescriptions put forward by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry back in 1990 — the last time Barbados found itself in a recession comparable to the current recession.
Back then, the BCCI joined forces with the accounting firm of Ernst & Young to stage what they grandiloquently referred to as a “National Resource Mobilisation Conference”.
In effect, it was an incestuous in-house convocation of the traditional private sector interests, and came up with such proposals as:
* Eliminate free tertiary education.
* Reduce scope of welfare services including health.
* Introduce entitlement programs (means testing).
A planned programme of privatisation is desirable — targets for privation should include both profitable and unprofitable enterprises and be extended to central government services — suggested targets include CBC, (Pine Hill) Dairy, Transport Board, Insurance Corporation (of Barbados), BNB, Arawak Cement Plant, Barbados Agricultural Development & Marketing Corporation, IDC factories, revenue collection (Customs and Inland Revenue departments), Barbados Mills, the Barbados Port Authority etc.
At a time when Barbadians are desperately in search of new and innovative ideas to leverage the country’s human talent and its educational and health infrastructure to catalyse new spheres of foreign exchange earnings, and are also in search of new ideas to launch cultural industries, develop sources of alternative energy, provide high end intellectual and technical services, and to pioneer commercial and trade relations with new and emerging economies, all that Williams and his colleagues have to offer is this warmed over stale soup.
These types of proposals put forward by the BPSA are the product of a greedy, self-centred economic establishment devoid of any conception of national duty or of any commitment to the General Welfare of the nation and its people.
Apparently, the BPSA is only capable of appreciating its own narrow sectional interest! It has therefore now become absolutely clear that if Barbados is going to dig itself out of the current recession, and to go forward to claim for itself a place of honour in the new world order that is currently taking shape before our very eyes, the motor force and ideas for such an effort will not come from organisations like the BPSA!
Our salvation will have to come from another segment of our society. It is a segment that is pregnant with tremendous potential and possibilities, but sadly, a segment that has been made to feel inadequate and relatively impotent.
I refer to what we in the Clement Payne Movement see as the cooperative or people’s sector of our Barbadian economy and society — our collection of trade unions, credit unions, small businesses, cooperatives, community based organisations, university and other tertiary level student bodies, cooperatively run churches, and self-employed professionals and their organizations.
There is absolutely no reason why this “cooperative or people’s sector” should not own and control a major swathe of the Barbadian economy, inclusive of the commanding heights of the economy.
Why, for example, couldn’t Barbadian trade unions, like trade unions in Singapore, own hotels, stores, supermarket chains, insurance companies, transportation businesses and successful publicly listed companies?
Why couldn’t this cooperative or people sector — through its collective foray into entrepreneurship and business development — not become a major repository of the intellectual and technical skills of the thousands of talented sons and daughters of the working-class who annually graduate from UWI and Community College?
Why, after almost 50 years of independence, must the masses of working class people in Barbados continue to feel that they have no choice but to continue to leave the economic, and therefore political, fortunes of the country in the hands of a self-centred and backward traditional elite class, because there is no other credible economic game in town?
Well, the cooperative or people sector must become the new economic game in town, with new ideas and energy for a new age! It is time for this “sleeping giant” of Barbadian society to awaken and to take its rightful place in the forefront of efforts to generate ideas and motor force to take Barbados forward!
If Mr John Williams and the BPSA can arrogate to themselves the right to contrive a blue-print for reforming Barbados, then surely the following leaders and people’s organisations have a fundamental right to come together and to do a similar thing — Sir Roy Trotman and the BWU; Dennis Clarke and the NUPW; Lynete Holder and the Small Business Association; Sir Hilary Beckles and the UWI; Rodney Grant and Pinelands Creative Workshop; the City of Bridgetown Cooperative Credit Union; the Barbados Public Workers Co-operative Credit Union; the Barbadian Union of Teachers; the Pan-African Movement of Barbados; the Barbados Agricultural Society; the Guild of Students; Carlos Chase and the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners and the list goes on and on.
There have been all kinds of convocations and national consultations in Barbados, but there has never been one comprised of the people’s organisations — organised by themselves and for themselves! It is now time for this to happen in Barbados.
It is time for the people’s organisations in all their diversity, to come together to take their rightful place as defenders of the people and as the repository of the hopes and aspirations of our nation.
The Clement Payne Movement now hereby sends out a call to all the leaders of the people’s organisations of Barbados to come together in such a grand national consultation to brainstorm a way forward for our beloved Barbados, and to prepare themselves to become the new and most dynamic sector in the Barbadian economy!
* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.