There was an interesting development yesterday in the American state of California which, on the face of it, seems to have no bearing on Barbados.
The online transportation network company Uber, headquartered in San Francisco, California, launched its self-driven cars in that city, and hours later, the state’s authorities ordered the cars off the road. The reason? The driverless vehicles were caught running red lights.
A video posted by Charles Rotter, an operations manager at Luxor, a traditional cab company, shows one of Uber’s driverless cars plowing through a pedestrian crosswalk about four seconds after the light turned red. Elsewhere, a photo from a San Francisco writer showed one of the Uber vehicles entering an intersection against a red light.
“People could die,” Rotter said in an interview later.
We all know that driving through a red light is fraught with danger, with the potential for catastrophic endings.
There are times when Barbados feels like one of these Uber cars: driverless and going through the red light – in terrible danger.
One such example is the current sewage crisis. It is true that every now and then someone from Government makes a statement here and there – the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education revealing it will cost $1 billion to fix the problem; the Minister of Tourism stating Worthing Beach should never have been closed in the first place, the Minister of Health complaining that the Opposition is talking a lot of, well, waste – but no one appears to be in charge.
How else do we explain the December 6 statement by the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport explaining that it was out of an abundance of caution that a decision had been taken by the Ministry of Health and the National Conservation Commission to temporarily close Worthing Beach? Up until that point we had not heard from the Ministry of Health on what is clearly a health crisis.
The statement was a poor attempt at reining in a problem that had long got out of control.
How do we explain Mr Sealy’s comment that the beach should not have been closed, even though he did not provide evidence to support his conclusion?
Mr Sealy and Minister of Health John Boyce must have thought when they invited the media to watch them take down the “Beach Closed” sign and take a dip in the water, locals and visitors alike would have been satisfied that all was well and the problem would have gone away.
Clearly, this was a serious miscalculation on their part because, sadly, the sewage mess is getting messier.
Mr Sealy must have thought that their orchestrated public relations stunt would have placated prospective tourists, many of whom had taken to social media expressing doubt about their planned visits or about coming to Barbados anytime soon.
However, we do not know if any potential visitors who saw photographs or videos of the ministers in the water felt reassured. What we do know is that tourists are cancelling either their holidays, or, at the very least, their reservations on the south coast.
Just yesterday, this newspaper yesterday quoted Manager of Gentle Breeze Apartments in Worthing, Christ Church Emily Long as reporting a number of cancellations and, equally disturbing tourists indicating they were considering changing their minds about coming in the New Year.
A British couple due to arrive here on January 10, 2017 for a two-month stay also confirmed to Barbados TODAY they had changed their minds. This is evidence that the island’s primary money earner is beginning to suffer from the sewage mess. It should spur Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to take charge of the crisis, unless the administration does not believe it has a crisis on its hands, as its actions seem to suggest.
Instead of the public relations stunt by Mr Sealy and Mr Boyce, Government and Barbados on a whole would have been better served if the authorities had gone into crisis management and communication mode.
In this case the administration would have admitted there is a problem, accepted responsibility, expressed concern for everyone affected – residents, businesses and visitors – and outlined step by step what it was doing to not just remedy the situation, but to, at the very least, radically reduce the risk of it happening again.
Also in crisis communication you never blame others, something the administration does not seem to realize in this case.
If it had followed these simple steps, it would have restored people’s faith and there would have been no need for the premature dip in the water.
Uber first rolled out its driverless cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September, and in one instance a vehicle drove the wrong way on a one-way street.
We hope this is not what is happening here with the sewage crisis.