Anniversaries represent important milestones in the lives of individuals and organizations. Some are occasions for joyous celebration. Others trigger sad memories. In either case, anniversaries provide an opportunity for introspection and stocktaking as part of planning for the next stage of the continuing journey.
Today was an important anniversary in our recent political history, but it went largely unnoticed because it was ignored, at least publicly, by the related organization. In the general election which was held on this date eight years ago, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was returned to Government under the leadership of the late David Thompson, after spending 14 years in the political wilderness.
From the campaign rhetoric, it was supposed to have ushered in a period of change for a better Barbados, or so Barbadians were led to believe. To give one example, the DLP manifesto spoke of “a need to clean up politics in Barbados” through introducing an improved governance framework, placing emphasis
on transparency, accountability and greater participation of the people in public decision-making, among other things.
“At the moment, too many Barbadians perceive voting as a waste of time since many parliamentarians have made promises during the election campaigns, which they have not delivered. They have subsequently made themselves inaccessible and become unresponsive to the needs of their constituents,”
the manifesto observed, referring to the 14 years of Barbados Labour Party (BLP) rule.
The DLP manifesto further observed: “A major failing of Government under the BLP . . . has been its reluctance to take the people of Barbados into its confidence and explain to them what it has been doing on their behalf. There has been an absence of informative Press conferences and releases which inform Barbados about Government activities and its dealing.”
Ironically, it seems the DLP was being prophetic about itself, for pretty much the same situation exists today. Some would say even worse. Not only has the government failed to deliver on key promises, such as lowering the cost of living and improving governance, but it is also fair to say that Barbadians today feel even more alienated from the political process because of diminished confidence.
Judging by prevailing public sentiment, there seems to be general disappointment among Barbadians with the performance of the Government, especially in the post-David Thompson period. From the management of the economy, the poor level of communication with the public, the termination
of the free university education, to the seemingly detached leadership style
of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Of course, the notable exception to this view would be diehard party supporters for whom good is good, but bad is also good. Public disappointment was summed up by a former Government worker who lost her job
in the downsizing that followed the 2013 general election, despite assurances
by the DLP on the campaign trail that there would be no job cuts.
“Imagine my vote helped give them well-paying jobs, but they then turned around and took away mine and several others,” she said.
The eighth anniversary of the DLP’s 2008 election victory is significant for another reason. Having served eight years in the House of Assembly, all MPs over the age of 50 who were elected for the first time in 2008, have qualified for generous pensions. Eight years of parliamentary service is the minimum criterion. This is a major public peeve.
If the DLP therefore loses the next general election, any defeated two-term MP on the Government side –– as well as the Opposition –– is eligible
to receive a pension at an annual rate of one-half of the highest annual salary which he or she would have received during his or her tenure either as a MP
or Cabinet minister.
In the case of an MP who served three full parliamentary terms or at least
12 years, the pension would be at an annual rate of two-thirds of the highest annual salary which he or she would have received.
Constitutionally, the next general election is two years away. A day, the saying goes, is a long time in politics, far less two years. It is possible that the DLP can recover some lost ground during this period, but the odds are heavily stacked against such an eventuality, especially considering that the Dems barely made it to the finish line in the 2013 election ahead of the BLP.
Prevailing public sentiment suggests that Barbadians may have already decided the outcome of the next election and are simply biding time. Rebuilding public confidence in the political process is a mammoth task wthat lies ahead
after the experience of recent years.
It will be difficult, but can be achieved once there is a commitment by politicians to match words with action. Going forward, it definitely can
no longer be business as usual.