Following a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) mass canvass of the three St James constituencies back in October 2012, four months before the last general election, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made a statement which many have subsequently applied to define his political persona.
To loud applause from supporters who had participated in the voter mobilization exercise, he told reporters: “The Spaniards had a saying that when God wants to punish us, He answers our prayers. There are those who were praying to see the sleeping giant of the Democratic Labour Party awakened. That giant has now been awakened.”
There are various interpretations and conclusions which can be drawn from an analysis of the statement. One is that the DLP organization, which has provided the political administration of Government since 2008, was asleep up to the time of the mass canvass and had only been aroused through prayerful nudging.
It is obvious when someone is asleep. Silence, everyone would agree, is a defining characteristic. The exception, of course, happens to be those cases where the person is in the habit of snoring or, in some cases, talking in his or her sleep. Since silence has been a trademark of this DLP government since David Thompson’s death, it can be taken as confirmation of the correctness of Mr Stuart’s statement.
What, however, was most ironic about the statement was its prophetic accuracy, not only in relation to opponents of the DLP but also its supporters who would have also prayed for the sleeping giant to wake up. Given the traumatic sequence of events following the DLP’s razor-thin re-election on February 21, 2013, the conclusion can be drawn that the pain subsequently unleashed upon Barbadians in the name of economic stabilization, was divine punishment for disturbing the sleeping giant.
The punishment, which has had the effect of pauperizing most Barbadians, especially the middle class created by the now late Errol Barrow, came in the form of public sector job cuts, a hefty increase in what was already a heavy tax burden through the imposition of the now scrapped Consolidation Tax and Municipal Solid Waste Tax, as well as increases in the cost of living resulting from raising Value Added Tax to 17.5 per cent and now the two per cent National Social Responsibility Levy.
And who can forget – surely not those young people whose future has been derailed – the introduction of tuition fees for Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies that has caused student enrollment at Cave Hill to plummet. This fundamental policy shift was effected even though Mr Stuart had stated in the feature address to the 2011 Barbados Community College graduation that tertiary education would remain free across the board as introducing tuition fees would be “a retrograde step”. A case of a man’s word not being his bond!
Well, it seems that the DLP giant is asleep again. A baffling piece of advice which Mr Stuart gave to the embattled Barbados Water Authority (BWA) earlier this week certainly had the effect of triggering such mental images. Mr Stuart’s advice came as public outcry mounted over worsening water shortages in central and north-eastern sections of the island. As this DLP government tries to avoid taking responsibility for its poor handling of the water crisis and other major problems facing the country, Mr Stuart’s advice to the BWA was “improve your public relations and your communication with affected customers”.
Coming from Mr Stuart, this advice was indeed hilarious for the simple reason that he himself has been heavily criticized for ineffective public relations and poor communication, especially his tendency of maintaining deafening silence on burning issues. He therefore lacks credibility when it comes to calling for improved public relations and communication. Jesus’ advice to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” seems apt in this particular instance.
If the BWA’s public relations are not up to scratch, as Mr Stuart is suggesting, then the logical conclusion to be drawn is that this state agency is simply taking its cue from the political directorate running the country. But that is far from the case with the BWA. What was particularly astounding, though, is that Mr Stuart seemed unaware of the sterling efforts of Ms Joy-Ann Haigh, the BWA’s hard-working and dedicated communications officer.
The criticism amounts to a public slap in her face. I have never met Ms Haigh nor have I ever had occasion to speak with her but, from observing her in action, she deserves the highest commendation for often going beyond the call of duty to ensure that not only consumers are informed, based obviously on the information provided by her superiors, but also reaching out in direct and touching ways through various initiatives.
She obviously has a great love for people. Unlike Mr Stuart, who has not yet seen it fit to visit St Joseph, St Thomas or the other communities starved of water to get a first-hand account from residents of their experiences, Ms Haigh has gone into their homes and would have occasionally experienced their wrath, which is what Mr Stuart and his Minister for Water Resources, Dr David Estwick, should have done long ago.
Besides, the crisis has reached a point where communication alone now will no longer suffice. What is required to fix the problem is more decisive action at the level of central government, specifically by the Cabinet and Mr Stuart himself. But the DLP sees itself as spotless as a lamb and therefore above blame. In January, in an address to the first Chamber of Commerce luncheon for this year, Mr Stuart said don’t blame his government for the deterioration in the economy.
The positions we have witnessed lately from Attorney-General Adriel Brathwaite in relation to gun crime and Dr Estwick in relation to the water problems, are not surprising when examined against this backdrop. Their “don’t blame me” responses are simply a case of following the leader. The disappointing record of the DLP underscores the need for Barbados to have a government of men and women who believe in accountability and understand that their fundamental function is to fix the country’s problems, whether or not they created them.
The problem with sleeping too much is that the person or organization can sometimes suffer the fate of Rip Van Winkle, the fictional character who slept for 20 years. When he finally awoke, he was shocked on realizing that the world around him had fundamentally changed and he could no longer relate.
In less than a year and a half, Barbadians will be voting again in general elections. If the DLP giant is again sound asleep, as it was until four months before the last general election, it may be in the best interest of Barbadians to simply let the sleeping giant sleep on.
Given the development challenges before us as a nation, we need a ruling party and, by extension, a government, which is wide awake, takes responsibility for the problems that rob Barbadians of their happiness, and is determined to wrestle these problems to the ground, to use Mr Stuart’s favourite cliché, by providing effective leadership and meaningful solutions.
So blissfully sleep on, DLP giant! When you wake up next time, you most likely will find that Barbados has moved on and that you have been consigned to the oblivion of political purgatory because you were weighed in the balance and found wanting.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: reudongmx.com)