“For far too long you have settled for an ordinary Barbados, an average Barbados. Today, together we can break that mode and aspire to an extraordinary Barbados!”
With these words, Republic Bank chairman, Ronald Harford, today challenged Barbadians to change the country for the better through constitutional and other necessary reforms to enable the island to achieve its development potential.
Addressing the 55th annual general meeting of the Barbados Employers Confederation, Harford said Barbados was “desperately” in need of constitutional and public sector reform to move to the next level of development. He also mentioned a need for pragmatic and determined leaders.
The noted regional banker, who is based in Trinidad, did not mince words as he called on the private sector and citizens to hold the Government to account and “somewhere inside there, make your voices be heard and your tolerance level be demonstrated”.
He threw out the challenge to Barbadians after outlining a vision of what Barbados could be like in 2025. He saw a booming tourism industry, a more diversified economy, expansion of renewable energy, broader highways, a new marina for mega yachts, pensioners working, a more reliable transportation system, no unemployment for those who want a job, and very little to no crime and violence.
The theme of his address was Challenging Times, Resilient Responses.
Harford proposed the establishment of a people’s initiative or referendum system to encourage greater participation of citizens in the democratic process. He noted Barbados already had a long history of a strong Social Partnership that it could build on.
“Places such as Switzerland, British Columbia and Canada and several states in the US were all successful in implementing a people’s initiative. This type of constitutional reform is desperately needed to further develop the country,” he said.
Harford said Barbados was grappling with several shortcomings and setbacks due to inefficiencies in various areas, including Government’s procurement procedures. He said the constitutional amendment would promote reform in those areas.
He also singled out the Barbados Revenue Authority, saying there was some inconsistency in opinion on withholding tax among officers. He mentioned too the Barbados Port Inc, saying there were complaints that it was “controlled by labour unions” and had high costs associated with the clearing of goods which are incurred by the businesses and passed on to consumers.
“Urgent attention needs to be paid to these shortcomings as an improvement is critical to progress and development going forward. Pragmatism with the requisite courage is definitely required here,” he said.
He added: “The power should be given to the people of Barbados through the implementation of a people’s initiative or referendum system that would undoubtedly encourage the citizens of Barbados to get more involved in political and legislative decisions that could inevitably have a major impact on their lives.”
“In order to achieve that visionary state that I mentioned, it would make sense to go forward with a proper growth and development plan. Barbadians need a growth and development strategy that would enhance productivity, efficiency, competitiveness and service excellence,” the Republic Bank chairman said.
Noting that the world was undergoing rapid transformation, Harford said it was time for Barbados to take these changes seriously and respond by taking action. Making it clear that “a score or two” of politicians could not resolve the problems themselves, he said: “We must play our part in determining our future, a grand future for our children and grandchildren. We have talked the talk long enough, now is time to walk the walk.”
“We must not wait for some sophisticated tool to be developed to come to our aid. We must use the tools and talents at hand today,” he warned. “Pragmatism should also force us to consider if the current legislative modus operandi stifles progress in the name of political gamesmanship and, if so, summon the necessary determination to bring about the needed change.”
Harford said while Barbados authorities can be justifiably proud of accomplishments in human development, they could not afford to rest on their laurels “and continue to ignore the country’s weaknesses”.
He said greater efforts were needed to improve the island’s infrastructure, competitiveness and ease of doing business. He also pointed to an inefficient Government bureaucracy, poor work ethic in the national labour force and a backlog in the judicial system as major shortcomings that needed to be addressed urgently.
“This is a clear indication that Barbados needs some structural reform in its public services,” he said.