I have just returned from St Vincent, where I participated in a campaign to secure the re-election –– for a fourth successive term –– of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his Unity Labour Party (ULP). And I can tell my fellow Barbadians that when we compare the record of Prime Minister Gonsalves and his ULP administration with that of our Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration, we Barbadians are forced to hang our heads in shame.
You see, over the past eight years of economic decline and hardship, all that we have heard from Prime Minister Stuart (and his predecessor –– the late Prime Minister David Thompson) is the pathetic excuse that Barbados is a small and vulnerable nation that is caught up in an international recession and that there is nothing the Government of Barbados can do about Barbados’ predicament.
But while Prime Minister Stuart and his DLP colleagues can see or conceive of no solutions to Barbados’ state of economic stagnation and decline, Prime Minister Gonsalves, on the other hand, has inspired and motivated the Vincentian people with a constant upbeat message of hope and optimism, and has used his intellect, imagination, energy and initiative to devise creative economic and social development projects and programmes that have driven St Vincent forward and upward.
The record shows that Prime Minister Gonsalves and his ULP administration did not permit the “international recession” to stop them from constructing –– among other things –– a $600 million international airport at Argyle on the St Vincent mainland; a jet airport at Canouan in the Grenadines; and a modern medical centre at Georgetown in St Vincent. Nor did they permit the “international recession” to prevent them from launching and sustaining an “education revolution” that has dramatically increased access to secondary and university level education for the people of St Vincent, and a “housing revolution” through which the government is transforming the housing conditions of thousands of working-class Vincentians.
The record also shows that the Vincentian government has not engaged in the unconscionable and destructive practice of laying off public servants, or of cutting the welfare provisions which the most indigent and vulnerable citizens depend on.
But as we all know, the record in Barbados is just the opposite! Not only have Messers Stuart, Sinckler, Inniss, Jones and company dismissed some 3,000 public servants, but they have also imposed tuition fees that have caused some 3,200 working-class Barbadians to drop out of tertiary education at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, and have cut the welfare provisions of the most needy Barbadians.
In addition, they have built no major Government capital project over the past eight years, while at the same time plundering the citizens of Barbados with a slew of new and excessive taxes.
The difference between Ralph Gonsalves and Freundel Stuart is that –– like the late great Errol Walton Barrow –– Ralph Gonsalves possesses the gift of “creative imagination”. Gonsalves is therefore not simply a victim of circumstances!
In the face of an international recession, he does not settle into a posture of helplessness and make repeated pathetic excuses. Rather, his creative mind and spirit enables him to find new and novel ways to raise resources, galvanize his people, and get things done.
The truth is that when the international economic environment is difficult –– as it has been over the past eight years –– a country needs to have creative, visionary, energetic, inspiring and determined leaders, if it is to overcome developmental challenges and go forward. Sadly, this has not been the case in Barbados for at least the past ten years.
I don’t claim to be an Errol Barrow or a Ralph Gonsalves, but it is clear to me that there are a multiplicity of economic initiatives the Barbados Government could have taken over the past eight years to stave off the recessionary conditions and drive our country forward.
Over the past several weeks, I have outlined some 13 of these initiatives for my readers, and I have promised to outline the following additional seven initiatives: new environmental protection projects; a new relationship with Latin America; engagement with the African Union; solar energy development and expansion; utilization of dormant financial and human resources; a national research and development programme; and a special initiative to get the entire Public Service involved in projects that add value
to our economy.
The purpose of these articles is to send a message to my fellow Barbadians to the effect that there is no need for us to feel dispirited and hopeless. The challenges we face are not insurmountable. All we need is a little creativity and leadership.
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)