What are we to make of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s favourable response to the embattled Democratic Labour Party (DLP) regime’s SOS to help extricate the Barbados economy from the terrible mess they have created largely through unsound policy decisions, despite repeated warnings, including from Arthur himself, that they were taking the country down the wrong path?
The question can be examined from two perspectives — one economic, the other political. From an economic perspective, it certainly makes good sense for the Dems, who have suffered not only a significant erosion of public confidence but also credibility over how they have run this country, to tap Arthur’s proven expertise and track record in economic management even at this eleventh hour. Key stakeholders, especially the private sector, have confidence in Arthur.
Why? Because during his 14 year tenure as prime minister and minister of finance, the economy surely prospered. Even though critics blame him for heavy borrowing which they say has contributed to the present debt problem, business boomed and Barbadians experienced a general improvement in their quality of life. And, from a political standpoint, that ultimately is what matters most to the average man and woman. Having money in their pockets.
From a political perspective, however, the move is akin to the Dems committing suicide, even though some, especially the Tommy Tucker type, will call it a masterstroke. But by running to Arthur for help, especially after seeking to discredit his credentials as an economist throughout his tenure in office, the Dems are essentially admitting his greatness and tacitly conceding that they were playing mind games with Barbadians all along.
It has to be an exceptionally sweet vindication for Arthur in the twilight of his successful three-decades-long political career. Not only have the Dems finally come around to providing a ringing endorsement of his economic management credentials but their seeing him as a saviour of sorts, indeed, amounts to a triumphant coronation for a once-vilified politician who sees his staunchest opponents crawling on their knees, eating humble pie and begging, not once but twice, “Please, please, will you come to our rescue?”
It is quite apparent that the Dems operate on a premise that Barbadians have short memories. So, for public benefit, here is a reminder of how none other than Prime Minister Stuart himself savagely denounced Arthur’s brand of economics during his contribution to the 2008 Budget Debate.
He said: “For the last 14 years we have had a version of economics, I don’t call it economics, I call it arithmetic which started from the position that as long as you fatten people from the top, there would be a spill-over and people at the bottom would necessarily get the crumbs from their table. The so-called trickle down variable of economics ”
He went on: “I believe the liberal economist J.K. Galbraith put it beautifully when he said that trickle down economics is another way of saying that if you want to give the birds more feed, you have to give the horse more oats. And that is really what has governed Barbados for the last 14 years.”
However, the greatest self-inflicted damage, from a political standpoint, at a time when their popularity ratings have to be at an all-time low, is the fact that the Dems are admitting failure on a fundamental issue, months before they are expected to face the electorate in a general election which they claim they will win but which, from all indications, they are now even more likely to lose because of further erosion of their credibility. Credibility calls for consistency of positions. You cannot be saying one thing today and saying something fundamentally different tomorrow without justifiable reason.
When people vote a government into office, they do so with one main expectation. Namely, that the incumbent will provide meaningful solutions to the major problems they are facing so that they can get on with the pursuit of happiness through steady improvements in their quality of life. It is fair to say that this critical objective has largely remained elusive under this government as Barbadians watched the fortunes of their beloved country steadily slipping from bad to worse.
However, in what appeared to be a clear attempt to dampen public expectation that he somehow can wave a magic wand at this eleventh hour and repair in short order the serious damage done by the Dems’ mismanagement over the last four years in particular, Arthur, during an intervention on VOB’s Down to Brasstacks yesterday, indicated that the Dems waited a bit too late to do what they are doing now.
In fact, a most interesting point which he made was that the Dems had pretty much decided on economic policy for the coming year and that it will be unveiled during next week’s presentation of the Estimates. This being the case, it begs the question what really is the purpose of appointing a new Council of Economic Advisers. What specifically will be its role? What will it advise on seeing that policy has pretty much been already decided? Doesn’t it seem like a case of the cart being placed before the horse? Or, are we dealing here with another DLP distraction?
Barbados, because of the indecisiveness of the Dems, finds itself like a cancer patient who missed the opportunity to receive more effective treatment when the illness was at stage 1 but expects a miracle now that the cancer has reached stage 3. I contended last week that that this government has lost the moral authority to govern. A political solution, in the circumstances, must be the crucial first step towards solving the economic problem.
Stuart’s weak and lacklustre leadership is really at the root of the problem. It does not motivate or inspire confidence which is a prerequisite for economic growth and prosperity to occur. In the political culture of Barbados, effective leadership from in front has always mattered. I make bold to say that if David Thompson were still with us, Barbados would not have come to this sorry pass. He would have reached out long ago, right across the political divide, and brokered a national consensus that would have formed the basis of an effective economic recovery strategy which enjoyed public buy-in.
I weep for Barbados but I do not feel any sympathy for the Dems. For being stubborn and hard ears, they deserve to get a good flogging and I have little doubt, based on my reading of the current mood of Barbadians, that voters will do so with their X’s whenever Stuart decides to call the next general election. The stinging effects will be felt for years during what will be a lengthy sojourn in the wilderness from which the Dems may not even survive because their political brand is so tarnished and discredited.
So please, without further delay, ring the bell! Barbadians, as the shareholders of this democracy, are eager for the opportunity to provide the political solution. In the national interest, let’s get it over and done with so that the country can settle down and focus 100% on revitalizing the economy.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)