In politics, as in the waging of war, timing is always of the essence. Choose the right time and you hold in your hands a passport to almost certain victory. Choose the wrong, and you find yourself with a passport to almost certain defeat.
“Nothing ever happens before its time”, the saying goes. The real benefit of picking the right time, which calls for the exercise of good judgement, is that it provides an opportunity, once the necessary skill is applied, for full exploitation of conditions conducive to victory.
The controversial decision of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration to reinstate the ten per cent pay cut, which Cabinet ministers and other parliamentarians took almost two years ago as their contribution to bringing down the fiscal deficit, represents terribly bad timing.
Even though it appears the economy has finally entered recovery mode after experiencing decline and stagnation over the past seven years, the country is not yet out of the woods. Besides, going by their various complaints, a lot of Barbadians are still hurting, struggling to make ends meet and believe this DLP Government does not care.
In the circumstances, the move by the Freundel Stuart administration to restore the ten per cent pay cut comes across as rather self-serving. By holding out for a little while longer and leading by example, the administration would have surely sent a signal to the country that sacrifice is still required, even though there has been encouraging economic growth so far this year.
What compounds the problem for the Government, from the standpoint of public perception, is how Barbadians found out about the move. There was no advance announcement with an explanation from Government; not even a hint it was coming. Barbadians heard of the plan from Opposition Leader Mia Mottley during the recent debate of the no-confidence motion against the Government.
In the circumstances, the failure to communicate does convey the impression, even though it would not have been Government’s intention, of an attempt to sneak the restoration of the ten per cent through the backdoor. At any rate, how could this be as the matter was laid and would have had to be debated in the House of Assembly for approval?
Nevertheless, that is the perception which it seems Barbadians generally have formed. It is unfortunate and the DLP administration only has itself to blame for failing again to communicate on a matter of obvious public interest. By not coming to the public and saying this is our intention and here is the explanation, the administration has allowed the Opposition Leader to frame the issue and set the agenda for public discussion.
She is in a strategically advantageous position. The DLP, on the other hand, finds itself having to react to the Opposition’s agenda. As the late Sir Richard Haynes pointed out when he was a member of the DLP, “politics is all about perception”.
This important point, obviously, has failed to register with the current batch of DLP politicians who, instead of moving to shape how they are perceived by the public, choose to complain about the BLP having an effective public relations machine.
Needless to say, the issue has opened up a Pandora’s box which Government will find next to impossible to close. The move has infuriated trade unions, as public sector workers have not had a pay increase in years. The National Union of Public Workers has already made it clear its members are no longer prepared to hold strain and are demanding a pay hike.
Workers see the ten per cent restoration as a salary increase which ministers and MPs are giving themselves while they have received none. Their perception is their reality. The impact of the issue is that it has only served to further erode trust in the DLP. When trust is damaged, vital relationships are also damaged. Sometimes, the damage is irreparable.
Miss Mottley has invited Barbadians to come out on Thursday and join her in an anti-Government March For Justice. It will be interesting to see what will be the response. The last march she held against the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, about two years ago, attracted more than 3,000 people, according to some estimates. A much larger turnout this time will be a sure indication the DLP has lost the favour of the people, and that it may have passed to Miss Mottley.
With less than a year and a half to go before the next general election, that certainly would be bad news for the DLP. It is said a day in politics is a long time. However, in terms of bouncing back, a day sometimes can never suffice when a party has lost significant ground to its opponents.