Is it necessary to have so much soldiers In this small country? No, no, no, no! Is it necessary to shine soldier boots with taxpayers’ money? . . . . Unemployment high and the treasury low
And he buying boots to cover soldier toe. . . . He got to see ’bout me and you And most of all, all the children And stop dem soldiers from marching. –– Mighty Gabby, 1984.
In 1984, five years after the then Tom Adams Government created the Barbados Defence Force (BDF), Barbadian calypsonian Anthony Mighty Gabby Carter rendered his popular ditty Government Boots. As calypsos generally seek to do, his offering reflected the mood of many who questioned the expenditure utilized in maintaining
The suggestion then was that such an organization was an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, and such moneys could be better spent for the public good.
Needless to say, that was Mr Carter’s art. But the reality was, and is, that though the BDF had neither to repel a Sydney Burnett Alleyne invasion nor the rumour itself, the men and women of the BDF served and have continued to serve Barbados well
n several areas.
Now, 32 years later, general secretary of the Unity Workers Union (UWU), Caswell Franklyn, has added his chorus to that of Mr Carter’s. Mr Franklyn’s tune, though, is not about art.
“The truth is, them people like duh want to crack heads and shoot people, so duh putting more money in defence. Right now we could better well shut down the Defence Force ’cause it is a drain on our resources. Give the police more resources, give them a couple better stations and get rid of the damn Defence Force . . . . Right now you have soldiers permanently assigned duties with the [Royal] Barbados Police Force; and the Governor General every few months signs an order saying they are out there in aid of the police . . . ,” he said.
It is instructive that in times of economic downturn or perceived tough times, many persons in influential positions highlight institutions which they believe finances are being wasted on and suggest their abandonment.
Of course, there are many who might possibly make a valid case for the abandonment of the Senate in the interest of recouping the attendant expenses of serving that
Upper Chamber that many dismiss as akin to a rubber stamp.
Others may also find justifiable reason to abandon the entire lifeguard service. After all, we are terrestrial creatures with no actual need to venture into the sea. Those who earn a living from the sea should be able to safeguard their own existence, and those who seek leisure in our waters should be made to understand they do so at their own risk.
And who needs a Commission of Pan African Affairs? Some might ask the question: what has that agency done for Barbados in a tangible way other than be a place
for a few employees?
And what about the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE)? Some stern employers might argue: what folly is the country perpetuating by training people essentially to keep their own jobs?
Notwithstanding the division of powers, with an Attorney General and a Solicitor General, both legally trained, why not do away with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions as a cost-cutting measure?
We can, as we have deliberately done, stretch this scenario from the sublime to the ridiculous. We believe it is possible to look around the island and find seemingly plausible reason to abandon several agencies. Indeed, in such a small country, with the existence of the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Workers’ Union, what is
the need for another union?
No one can itemize what the presence of the BDF has prevented from occurring over the past 36 years and six months. But what many can point to is the role it has played
in assisting in the internal and territorial defence of the island. The BDF was not created to wage war against St Lucia, the UWU or calypsonians.
With respect to Barbados’ territorial waters, the Barbados Coast Guard has played an important role in illegal drug interdiction. With all the attendant damage that scourge creates, and in view of our coastal vulnerability, the part the BDF plays in that sphere suffices alone for its existence.
But there is more to the military than safeguarding our coasts. That institution has played an important role in assisting citizens in times of natural threat or disaster,
and aiding the Royal Barbados Police Force in the provision of internal security,
among other areas.
The discipline which it has brought to the lives of hundreds of young men and women can be quantified and qualified in like manner as to how some would suggest a healthy lifestyle can assist in reducing the expenditure utilized in dealing with non-communicable diseases. Read between the lines.
At this juncture of world history, with threats of terrorism and crime increasing exponentially, where almost every nation is looking to boost security, we find it rather amusing that what Mr Carter posited in the name of art, is now once again being posited under the guise of common sense and reason.