The eminent Lebanese American professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb developed the Black Swan Theory to describe an event that comes as a surprise and is often rationalized with the benefit of hindsight. In his book The Black Swan: The Impact Of The Highly Improbable, Taleb used the Black Swan Theory to explain an event or occurrence that deviates from what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.
Until the discovery of Australia, Europeans were certain that all swans were white; so imagine their shock when they discovered that black swans existed.
It was something outside the realm of regular expectations, beyond the realms of reality.
We had our black swan moment here last Friday when Government announced the suspension of plans to fingerprint everyone entering or leaving the country effective All Fools Day.
This may not be as dramatic as Europe’s dose of reality about the colour of swans, but the shocking pace with which the about-turn came must qualify as a black swan moment.
The announcement came just two days after Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made an oleaginous speech in Parliament about the benefits of the fingerprinting programme and the need to protect the integrity of the Barbados Passport.
The Prime Minister’s adamance in the Lower House seemed to suggest he had ignored concerns about the legitimacy and feasibility of the measure raised in the very House by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley. It also gave the impression he had ignored a letter from social activist David Comissiong threatening to challenge it in court. The process must go on, he suggested, because we have to protect our passport, which is ranked number one in the Caribbean and 21 in the whole world.
Therefore, imagine the astonishment that accompanied news of the deferment.
What changed in that 48-hour period that led Government to change its mind? We note that the announcement came the day following publication by Barbados TODAY of the very strong position taken on the issue by the Barbados Bar Association and its threat to support Mr Comissiong and anyone else who chose to challenge the new measure in court.
We also note that Acting Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall explained the deferment by saying the Immigration Department needed more time to “re-examine some of the issues, especially the legal issues, raised in the public arena”, and to increase public awareness about the initiative.
Now, this is a head-shaking moment for it is difficult to comprehend why Government would rush to implement such a measure without first considering all the legal implications. What were they thinking? Can their collective thinking really be this muddied, or muddled? Or was it just part of a pattern of acting without thinking?
The planned measure was destined to be shrouded in controversy and confusion. The Immigration Department never explained how it intended to avoid lengthy delays at the Grantley Adams International Airport once the system became operational. It never said how it intended to deal with the thousands of cruise ship passengers. It never said how much it would cost the Barbadian taxpayer, and it never said what it meant when it indicated that the measure would bring Barbados in line with global ports of entry.
We hope the department will provide answers to these and the many other issues after it has completed its announced review. The Bar Association has also said the measure is unconstitutional. We also hope the department will address this subject at a post-review news conference.
But experience suggests we ought not to hold our breath. After all, this administration does not cover itself in glory as it relates to openness with Barbadians. It has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to take the proletariat into its confidence.
Vladimir Lenin’s close colleague and one of the seven members of the first Politburo founded in 1917 to manage the Bolshevik Revolution, Grigory Zinoviev, wrote: “A party can be a worker’s party in its composition and yet not be proletarian in its orientation, programme and policy.”
It was his way of explaining that true Marxists did not need to consult or understand the working class, and that true Marxism was a creed that needed only obedience. Maybe the administration simply expected obedience as regards the fingerprinting measure.
We may never know. But the fact that it was jolted enough to relent is Barbados’ black swan moment.