On Tuesday, May 31st, 2016, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur addressed the monthly meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and made a call for the privatization of some of the state owned entities of Barbados; the abandonment by Government of some of its “welfare support programmes”; and the implementing of new so-called “private-public sector partnerships” that – in Arthur’s words – “would allow the private sector to expand into activity historically deemed to be the preserve of the State.”
Needless to say, the capitalistic, profit-seeking, private sector businessmen and women who attended the BCCI meeting gave Owen Arthur a standing ovation.
Similarly, on or about the 25th of October 2015, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart addressed a monthly meeting of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at the Deighton Griffith Secondary School and informed his audience that the DLP Government intends to take away a number of the “entitlements” that the Barbadian people currently possess, thereby – in Stuart’s words – “leaving the State only to look after the most vulnerable people in the society.”
And although the national newspaper that reported on this meeting did not describe the reaction of Mr Stuart’s audience to this disclosure, one would not be surprised if Stuart’s compliant, partisan audience also gave him a standing ovation.
What makes these two “Prime Ministerial” speeches truly remarkable is the fact that almost exactly three years ago, in the general election campaign of 2013, both Arthur and Stuart were running all over Barbados desperately trying to convince the Barbadian people that they were totally opposed to any suggestion that state enterprises be privatized, or that social entitlements should be taken away from the Barbadian people.
Now, if I had been in the audience at either of these two events, I would have been inclined to ask some very concrete, practical and commonsense questions.
For example, I would have been inclined to ask Mr Arthur if he could identify exactly which state entities he would sell off to the so-called “private sector”. Is he proposing to sell off our Queen Elizabeth Hospital, polyclinics, Barbados Water Authority, television station, Sanitation Service Authority, Grantley Adams International Airport, Bridgetown Port, Barbados Community College, or our Transport Board?
What exactly are you proposing to sell off Mr Arthur? And when you say that you propose to sell our state entities to the “private sector”, who exactly do you have in mind?
I would also pose similar questions to Mr Arthur about his proposal to discontinue some of Government’s welfare programmes!
Precisely which programmes or services would you abandon Mr Arthur? Would you, for example, get rid of our Welfare Department, National Assistance Board, National Disabilities Unit, Barbados Council for the Disabled, Child Care Board, Geriatric Hospital, Children’s Development Centre, or the district hospitals?
Oh, please tell us, Mr Arthur, which welfare programmes or services you would get rid of, and let us see if, like the BCCI audience, we too can give you a standing ovation.
And perhaps while we are at it we could ask Mr Stuart what precisely are these “entitlements” that we Barbadian people possess, and that he is planning to take away from us.
I am aware, Mr Stuart, that our Barbadian children are entitled to essentially free education in our public primary and secondary schools. Is this the entitlement that you intend to take away? Or is it our right to seek out medical attention at our Government owned polyclinics and Queen Elizabeth Hospital the entitlement that you propose to get rid of?
Might it be, Mr Stuart, our old age pensioners’ entitlement to be transported for free on the buses of the Transport Board? Surely you would remember that entitlement. It was the one that your Democratic Labour Party featured in a number of high profile television advertisements during the last election and pledged to defend against the machinations of the ‘wicked’ Barbados Labour Party.
So please tell us which counter-productive “entitlements” you have targeted for elimination Mr Stuart, and let us see if we can applaud you as well?
And finally, to Mr Arthur’s much cherished “private-public sector partnerships”.
Of course, Mr Arthur knows a lot about “private-public sector partnerships”. For when he was Prime Minister, his BLP administration entered into a contractual arrangement with Mr Bizzy Wiiliams’ Ionics Freshwater Ltd., by virtue of which Mr Williams’ company was mandated to construct a desalination facility and to provide the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) with 27,000 cubic metres of desalinated water every day over a 15 year period.
When, however, several years later, the Auditor General’s department carried out a special investigation into the workings of this outrageously preferential contract, they discovered that:-
1) The BWA had to the ultimate detriment of the taxpayers of Barbados – agreed to pay a price for the desalinated water that was substantially higher than was merited.
2) The BWA had contracted to secure more water per day than it had the capacity to receive, and therefore the BWA and the taxpayers of Barbados had to pay the company on an ongoing basis for work that the company did not have to do; and
3) The BWA had entered into a contract that virtually guaranteed the company a massive 18 per cent return on its investment.
So why Mr Arthur would you want to saddle us with more of these types of outrageous contractual arrangements with the Bizzy Williamses, Mark Maloneys, Bjorn Bjerkhams and Martin Da Silvas of Barbados?
Fellow Barbadians, the sad reality is that the vast majority of the traditional political leaders of Barbados have totally lost their way. And if we, the people of Barbados, are not careful, they will end up destroying all that our forefathers struggled and fought for, and will deliver us right back into the hands of a local and foreign minority elite class.
It is sheer folly for any political leader to propose the abandonment of welfare services; the jettisoning of the very few precious social entitlements of our people; the dismantling of our country’s “mixed economy” model; or the delivery up of critical areas of our national system to a traditional elite business class intent on enjoying taxpayer guaranteed, risk-free, business enterprises.
Furthermore, we Barbadians must insist on Barbados being a “civilized” society. And in a civilized society, when economic conditions become difficult, welfare services are not cut; the poor and destitute are not abandoned; and the core social entitlements of the people are not dismantled.
In fact, it is precisely in such difficult times that Government must show its true worth as the principal defender of the general welfare of the people.
Some enlightened and patriotic citizen who is close to Owen Arthur and Freundel Stuart needs to pull them aside and explain to them that they are putting themselves on the wrong side of history; that they are in danger of going down in the history of Barbados as black leaders who turned back the hands of the clock, and who played a role in taking our people back unto the old plantation.
(David Comissiong, attorney, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)