This week, there were two separate calls –– one directly, the other indirectly, and made within hours of each other –– for fundamental restructuring of the institution of Government in Barbados. The calls came from a leading businessman, and a leading politician who may be in a position to effect such change, depending on the outcome of the next general election.
It is an encouraging development in the sense that it suggests that the political class, on the one hand, and the business class, on the other, are in agreement on the need for resolution of a critical issue –– namely, inefficient Government. Resolving this issue is important for the continued progress of Barbados in a changing environment.
Addressing a public sector leadership conference sponsored by the Cave Hill School of Business, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley told participants: “The most important task is the reconstruction of Government which can only happen when you deconstruct it. Every department and every ministry literally have to be deconstructed . . . .”
The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader pointed to a situation that exists not only in Barbados but also in other Caribbean countries where populations, by and large, are living in and grappling with 21st century reality while governments, on the other hand, are stuck in the 20th and, in some instances, the 19th century because of existing structures.
On Wednesday, at the monthly luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, senior vice president Eddie Abed indirectly addressed the need for restructuring Government. He did so by calling for a balanced national budget, among urgent changes to the economic model, to improve efficiency and competitiveness.
“Our Government’s current account deficit remains too high and cannot be sustainably maintained . . . ,” said the Swan Street businessman.
“We need the political will to balance the national budget. But how do we get that political will in an environment where popularity is directly related to more and more social services and more subsidies?” he asked.
Mr Abed called for urgent discussion on these issues as their resolution was critical to improving efficiency and competitiveness; areas where he said Barbados was lagging behind some of its Caribbean neighbours.
“Such a change would lead to improved investor confidence and could lead us out of the prolonged stagnation that we are experiencing,” he said.
A kind of symbiotic relationship exists between politics and economics because political decisions made at the level of Government always have some impact on economic performance. These decisions shape what is known as the “enabling environment” in which business is conducted.
In turn, economic performance, especially when growth results in high employment and other public benefits, has an influence on politics, especially a ruling party’s electoral chances.
The economic crisis which has been facing Barbados since 2008, and the search for solutions to restore vibrancy which is necessary for growth, has brought the relationship between politics and economics into focus. Appearing earlier this year as a panellist on the VOB’s Brasstacks Sunday discussion programme, political strategist and Barbados TODAY columnist Reudon Eversley made the relevant point that “fixing the politics is necessary for fixing the economics”.
In other words, the sustainable recovery we yearn for will only come through economic and political restructuring occurring together. While the urgent need for restructuring Government is indisputable, political restructuring is also badly needed at the party level. Our political parties too are seeing the reality of the 21st century from the perspective of the 20th century. And having this perspective, if they happen to be in power, inevitably compounds the problem at the level of Government.
Restructuring our political parties, therefore, is critical to nurturing a mindset of change which they can then apply when given the opportunity to serve in Government. Besides promoting modernization of existing structures and approaches, political party restructuring, more than anything else, must seek to build internal capacity in public policy, the main tool used by Government to provide solutions to national problems.
It is important that the country engages in a serious conversation on these issues. Following the lead of Miss Mottley and Mr Abed, other business and political leaders should come forward and share their views. Such debate is healthy for the country. We look forward, therefore, to a widening of the discussion on the options before us as a nation.