Optimism for an improved Barbados may be found in the lyrics of the Barbados National Anthem. There is the affirmation and conviction that “we write our names on history’s page, with expectations great”.
There is ample gravitas serving as reinforcement for the image of Barbadian character, and for lifting the profile of Barbados’ national identity. The inspirational values are concentrated around adaptability, resilience, growth, and the shared sense that we live in a dynamic world in which change is inevitable –– providing opportunities while helping us to effectively and confidently respond
Barbados has had many outstanding accomplishments, and its people have done extraordinarily well, both in nation-building and in demonstrating its potential to the international. Barbadians possess “a pride that makes no wanton boast”. However, many among us are acutely concerned that our standards, in many areas, alarmingly have dropped. The fact is that in recent years, a culture of mediocrity has seeped into Barbados.
Stemming largely from crises emerging in governance, and a society that is being inundated with numerous social ills, Barbados, at this juncture, is weakened. There are increasing claims of corruption; charges of less than acceptable parliamentary representation; and huge deficiencies in terms of transparency and accountability. In the broader society, there are growing concerns about violence and crime; for many, there is widespread hopelessness. Yet, Barbadians have become seemingly satisfied with the fermenting culture of mediocrity.
However, the Barbados National Anthem offers inspiration. Clearly, “in plenty and in time of need” there is the impetus for overcoming the current shortcomings which have been occasioned by the prolonged macroeconomic sluggishness and policy failures. Economic tantrums have become the harbinger of the society’s fall in which the growth of poverty and rising unemployment are prevalent. These things are negatively impacting the nation. Barbados has dropped into a comfort zone of accepting low standards.
There are prevailing situations in which some civic and national leaders prefer silent means of spurring national engagement. The emerged culture of mediocrity involves the perpetuation of inferiority in national endeavour. It is debilitating and destabilizes the society. Surely, Barbadians must understand we have been charged to be firm craftsmen/women of our fate!
Hence, self-reflection at this time must be a national obligation, if Barbados must once again rise to become the premier developing country in the world. It is a fact the social downturn in Barbados became glaringly evident after 2008, and would also have coincided with such things as:
Economic recession and the need for proactive and assertive leadership;
Introduction of stringent austerity measures, accompanied by lay-offs and increasing unemployment;
Crippling and increased taxation by the Government in which the incidence of poverty spread like a wild fire; and
The unwholesome social dents which were characterized by rising gun and violent crimes.
Barbados –– at least for the past eight years –– has been experiencing a dysfunctional descent occasioned by economic drift and social contortions for which the common denominator has squarely fitted within the sphere of a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) political configuration in Government. In fact, one can readily see that ideals and high standards of behaviour have been replaced by the unimpressive discursive practices instrumented by this current administration.
The CLICO debacle, the stubbornness associated with Cahill, the tardiness reflected in addressing the water woes, the prevalence of mounting uncollected garbage, the numerous and recurring problems in education, and the mounting series of industrial action all speak to a country affected by lull in leadership. There is the blatant refusal to set high standards in order to invite excellence in national performance.
Today, the depth of the societal decay is distressing, particularly, as the DLP administration is being rightly or wrongly viewed as a possible contaminant. Ministers of Government are lulled into self-congratulatory rantings on the one hand, while remaining keen to side-step serious issues.
Too many policy choices are weighted unfavourably against the poor. The procurement practices and several of the mechanisms that are mandated for shaping the relationship between the governed and the governing have become loose and obnoxiously offensive.
It is therefore arguable that the ruling DLP and even the Barbados labour Party (BLP) should carry much of the blame for the reduced standards and widespread deterioration that have emerged in Barbados.
Clearly, partisan posturing has come to redefine national achievement in 2016, although a greater burden must fall to the governing party. This is very apparent in the celebrations marking the 50th Independence anniversary in which there has been the clouding or omission of the BLP’s contributions to national development. National celebrations have been demoted in preference to the paramountcy of the DLP.
Notwithstanding, during these two consecutive terms of the DLP administration, the political elites have been drawn to respond to several controversies of one kind or another. Particularly for the DLP, it has been compelled to answer questions on the economic turbulence and the manner in which Barbados is being thrown backwards.
For example, these chaotic eight years have been marked by repeated downgrades by international rating agencies. To a large extent, the DLP’s responses have been dismissive and contradictory. In addition, there are too many suspicious relationships with preferred business elites; these have grown to become sores in the eyes of the people.
To this end, there are pronounced failures and cries of shabby behaviour when it comes to both economic and distributive justice. In terms of adherence to the Laws Of Barbados, there is now speculation as to whether the Chief Town Planner may likely be in a position to dismantle the order of things, and if the Auditor General can go beyond exposure and demand incarceration as a possible remedy.
In effect, the last eight years have produced the evidence that standards in Barbados are rapidly slipping. Backwardness rather than progress and empowerment is becoming normal. The Mirror Image concept (self-introspection and reflection), therefore, should lead us to the systematic analysis of our root problems so that we can effectively treat to the ills. Indeed, it is our collective liberation that makes us shudder to accept the oppressive things which we disposed on November 30, 1966.
Nevertheless, national leaders of recent vintage have failed in setting the bar sufficiently high so that individuals and groups can aim for extraordinary but attainable standards of performance. It would appear this culture of mediocrity has engulfed the nation. Wide gaps of inertia and complacency now prevail in Barbados.
For the record, a definite illustration shows that the DLP must take the blame for the way the constituents of St John now perceive their growing marginalization in national affairs and development.
St John residents are nowadays openly stating they are compromised, owing to a lack of effective representation both inside and outside of Parliament. Clearly, the DLP’s parliamentarian has become an embarrassment to the constituents of St John, given the high marks accorded her predecessors. That parish previously showcased the presence of two Prime Ministers, but like a lamb to the slaughter, the backbencher sits indicative of a seat-warmer or other inanimate fixture.
The bar was set low when the democratic process was pushed aside for familial and dynastic privilege, while overblown reverence for the dearly departed spoke of regal legacy.
Hence, backwardness as distinct from progress, has trammelled local traditions of democratic Government and intimidated our perceptions of the norms existing in our civic culture. The lows of political disengagement and the introduction of ill-advised programmes have combined to create this paucity and culture of mediocrity in Barbados. Surely, Barbadians must continue to be “strict guardians of our heritage”.
Barbadian citizens can no longer be accepting of a parliamentary representative or Government by default. We are compelled to reshape our values and decide our norms. We have to once again set high standards, so that in our pursuit of excellence, the voices heard in our legislature truly reflect the needs of the masses. The people of St John, and those in every constituency across this fair land need representation of the highest calibre.
Barbados must not meekly surrender the power of the people to the framed politics of truncated speeches that ebb and retreat everywhere –– except to the growing needs of the constituents.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua).