Government exists to serve one overriding purpose: to promote the collective well-being of the citizenry through its various problem-solving interventions and, by so doing, contributes to the overall happiness of the nation.
This interpretation of the role of government within the context of a democracy, which is the operative system here in Barbados, can certainly be applied to Abraham Lincoln’s well-known explanation of popularly elected government as “of the people, for the people and by the people”.
This argument can be taken further and examined from the perspective of Christian theology which informs many fundamental values underpinning Barbadian society. These values have generally shaped mainstream understanding and views on many issues.
The Christian influence on our Government is seen, for example, in the fact that Government departments responsible for the delivery of vital services to the citizenry are called “ministries” and the persons responsible for ensuring that they do so to the satisfaction of the people are called “ministers”.
Easton’s Bible dictionary defines a minister as “one who serves, as distinguished from the master”. Hence, contrary to the understanding of a now deceased government minister in a neighbouring country who told citizens many years ago to “shut up and listen to your masters”, a minister’s role is to be a servant of the people.
As servants of the people, ministers are also servants of God. Indeed, this is reflected in their oaths of office which commit them to the “good management of the public affairs of Barbados” and end with the entreaty “so help me God” in the discharge of these duties.
Hence, ministers are duty bound to carry out God’s will for his people. And what is God’s will for his people? To contribute to their collective happiness which Jesus referred to when he said that he had come “so that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
Across Barbados today, judging by the various complaints of one kind or another, it is quite clear that Barbadians are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of Government under the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
What is equally interesting, though, is their seeming ambivalence towards the alternative being provided by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Many Barbadians, referring to the BLP’s past behaviour in office, contend that both parties are no different and actually are birds of the same feather taking turns.
What is a major contributor to the problem, and really riles citizens up, are rather insensitive statements made occasionally by elected representatives who often come across, in such instances, as dismissive and contemptuous of the people’s legitimate concerns.
A good example is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s recent comment that the numerous potholes which have cropped up on the nation’s roads are but “transitory inconveniences”. When he headed the last BLP administration, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur too was accused at times of making remarks that came across as insulting and insensitive of the feelings of Barbadians.
Against this established pattern of behaviour, many Barbadians express the view that current BLP leader Mia Mottley will inevitably be no different if she becomes prime minister. Is such behaviour a consequence of what has been described as the corrupting influence of power, as Lord Acton put it?
Perhaps it is because many persons make the observation that a leader in opposition quite often becomes a completely different person as a leader in government. At any rate, power too is transitory. How can this pitfall therefore be avoided?
Given the crisis in our politics resulting from the unprecedented level of public skepticism, it is imperative to revisit the understanding of government as an institution of service. With service comes humility, not arrogance; empathy, not indifference and insensitivity.
With a general election around the corner, it is an opportune time for Barbadians to carefully scrutinize persons offering themselves for public office. What is their real motivation? To be genuine servants of the people or to behave like their masters? Indeed, the call to public office involves a commitment to service often accompanied by selfless sacrifice.
The next general election is an opportunity for Barbadians, if they are desirous of turning a fresh page, to establish the ground rules of their engagement with prospective representatives when they come canvassing for votes.
More and more, the need for fundamental political reform to assert and enhance the power of the people against abuse by the so-called “political class”, to use a term popularized by Prime Minister Stuart, is becoming obvious.