Barbados celebrates its 49th anniversary of Independence next Monday, not in the best of shape compared with most of the last five decades, but definitely in better shape than a lot of countries, some with far greater resources.
Despite the various political, economic, social and other challenges Barbados currently faces and the disappointments of citizens, it is still a great country in which to live. Whereas citizens in other parts of the world move around daily in fear of being the next victims of a terrorist attack, Barbadians thus far have been spared such anxiety.
For these and other priceless blessings, we must be grateful.
From a collection of largely poor, working class villages, Barbados has undergone fundamental transformation since November 30, 1966 when we took the bold step as a sovereign nation to manage our affairs and chart our destiny in pursuit of a better future for ourselves, inspired by the ideal of a good and just society.
Though still a developing country, Barbados favourably compares today in many ways with some developed country in terms of quality of life. The traditional chattel house, which dotted the national landscape 49 years ago, has been replaced for the most part by wall bungalows with modern amenities.
Going to the village standpipe to fetch water for use in the home or to take a bath, going outside to use a pit toilet, or wearing patched-up clothes – norms 49 years ago – are now alien to the Barbadian experience. These examples reflect the scale of the transformation in the quality of life of Barbadians since Independence.
The biggest successes, though, arguably occurred in education and health care. Despite current funding and other challenges which have resulted in the controversial decision to introduce university tuition fees, our public education and health care systems are second to none, providing largely free access to citizens. Needless to say, there is always room for improvement.
It is these types of achievements which enabled Barbados to be ranked highest for several years among developing countries on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). These achievements provide more than enough reason for every patriotic Barbadian to celebrate our Independence with a deep sense of gratitude and pride.
Admittedly, the past seven years have been tough economically. National output, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has either contracted or struggled to achieve growth which has stubbornly hovered below one per cent, as will be the case again this year.
As growth has been identified as the single most important determinant of a country’s success, pulling Barbados out of the current quagmire calls for Government to be more innovative in its search for solutions, especially in relation to boosting investment and business activity which are critical to a turnaround.
Earlier this week Professor Andrew Downes, a leading economist attached to the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, said an annual GDP growth rate of four to five per cent is what Barbados should be striving to achieve. While it has remained elusive, even in the best of times, its attainment is not an impossibility.
Instead of leaving the development of economic policy largely to public sector technocrats, Government needs to reach more and tap the expertise of knowledgeable and skilled persons in the private sector, recognizing that some of our brightest brains are outside the public sector.
Public spending cuts have been a downside of the economic crisis, triggered by the need to contain mounting public debt. This policy decision has hit certain segments of the population, especially the poor, extremely hard.
A homeless man breaking down in tears earlier this week whilst being interviewed on a live radio broadcast, serves as a vivid reminder that many people out there are really suffering and finding it hard to make ends meet. Despair because of inability to find employment may also be a contributing factor to rising crime and deviance among our youth.
Though in need of urgent solutions, these challenges do not subtract from the fact that it has been a generally good ride for Barbados these past 49 years. Next year will be the 50th Independence anniversary, a major milestone which Government intends to observe with a year-long programme of celebrations.
We hope that by the time November 30, 2016 comes around that Barbados will be in much better shape, that the mood of citizens will be more upbeat, and that they will have reason to be more hopeful in relation to the future.
Meantime, happy 49th anniversary, Barbados!