I attended Combermere School from 1987-1995 when the late Keith Roach was headmaster. Spoony, as he was affectionately called by students, though not to his face (unless one was in the mood for receiving a good flogging), used to say to us quite frequently during morning assembly that “a breach of common sense was a breach of the school rules”.
This mantra has stuck with me from then until now. I hope and pray that it remains with me for a long time to come because what Barbados needs now, more than ever, is a good dose of old fashioned common sense. I have reached this conclusion because no matter where you look in Bim at the moment, nothing appears to be working and the prospects for improvement appear slim to nigh impossible. There are simply too many instances.
Let’s start with water. It is an understatement to say we’ve been experiencing water problems in Barbados for some time. Yet it made sense to the management of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), the General Manager and Chairman, along with the Minister responsible, the rest of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, to build a new headquarters at Pine Hill when improving the accessibility of Barbadians to water was a far higher priority.
Common sense approach: Delay the construction of the new headquarters building and focus instead on obtaining water tanker trucks and installing water storage tanks and pumps so that residents in the affected areas would have the benefit of scheduled and reliable water delivery and the capacity for storage at their homes. Not terribly efficient but it would have significantly eased the anguish in some of the affected communities. In addition, residents wouldn’t feel cheated by the receipt of water bills because those payments would have offset the cost of the water storage tanks at their homes.
With respect to housing, the Government continues to build houses across Barbados all at once without any clear prospects of whom will take up residence in them. It seems as if each successive Minister wants to outdo his predecessor by seeing how quickly he can exceed the number of houses built in the shortest period of time. Once again, the Minister, Cabinet and Prime Minister all agree that this approach makes sense and appear set to continue with this policy.
Common sense approach: Ascertain those Barbadians who can afford to purchase the houses, then build out the developments in lots of between 10-20 houses based on the financial assessment of individuals and use the cash flow from completion of the sales in order to help finance the next phase of construction. This way, the taxpayers are also protected and there is no drain on already scarce fiscal resources.
With respect to sanitation, I was under the impression that, as a country, we had resolved the issue of garbage collection but somehow, under this new way of management, we have gone backwards as a country in this regard. So we’re now faced with a problem of the collection of garbage (still mind boggling) but how does the Government respond.
Yet it made sense to the management, General Manager and Chairman of the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), along with the Minister responsible, the rest of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, to commence the building of a new headquarters for the SSA at Vaucluse instead of prioritizing the needs of Barbadians with respect to the collection of garbage.
Common sense approach: Delay the construction of the new headquarters building and focus on enhancing the fleet at SSA in order to resolve the garbage collection problem. Seems like a no brainer but the Prime Minister and his Cabinet seem to believe otherwise. If any of this reads familiar, I just copied and pasted from two paragraphs up and did some editing.
I hope that by now you may have gotten the subtle point about the use of common sense for the greater good but I feel compelled to go further in the event my point has been lost. With respect to crime fighting, we seem to have encountered a similar syndrome. Policing and the resources allocated for this purpose have been under severe strain in recent years. Despite the financial challenges, the Royal Barbados Police Force has been able to dig deeply and perform the task it has been assigned despite some internal disputes regarding promotions and the like.
Things got so desperate that a directive was issued to officers stating that they cannot drive marked police vehicles with their windows up because of the need to conserve fuel. So we’re now faced with a crime problem and resource allocation problem within the Force. How does our Government respond? It made sense to the Attorney General, the rest of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister to commence the building of four new police stations instead of prioritizing the needs of Barbadians with respect to fighting crime over the short term.
Common sense approach: Delay the construction of at least one of the new police stations and divert those resources to upgrading the fleet of the Force but also deploy more mobile police stations in new hotspots for crime. Better use of technology would also enhance the Force’s ability to respond for a fraction of the cost.
In all the instances I have recounted here, you may have noticed that there is one theme running through each decision. Basically, unless construction of something pretty is involved, it seems the Government isn’t interested. So we’re stuck with such decision-making until the people determine otherwise.
I am hopeful that Barbadians will see and understand my logic and conclude that such blatant breaches of common sense is not only a breach of school rules but definitely deserving of a good flogging, not necessarily literally, but figuratively at the polls.
(Ryan Straughn is a UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados-trained economist. He is the endorsed Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for Christ Church East Central.