Former American Senator, Tom Daschle, once said that “what we need is not more distrust and division. What we need now is acceptance.” This statement is applicable for Barbados, given the heightened political rhetoric and the dismissiveness that is implied in the many utterances from governing officials.
Increasingly, the Barbados society appears to be affected by a chronic failure of trust. Barbadians expect that politicians should come across as providing credible information, particularly as the national constituency relies on its institutions and elected officials for truth and facts. Clearly, in our adversarial system of governance, finding consensus is as much a challenge as choosing wisely those persons who would eventually become elected to govern this small developing nation.
It is ludicrous, for example, to hear an elected Member of Parliament suggest that citizens or groups are nuisances to development, simply because the secrecy or untenable actions of Government are sometimes challenged through the court system. One can easily ask: from whom will the country seek truth and justice? It is a known fact that, at times, the Government has acted ultra vires and effective recourse was only remedied through the involvement of the judiciary.
Barbadians have been experiencing a prolonged drift away from the civility that characterized the island’s internal affairs. Almost weekly, the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government seems at odds with one entity or another. Resolve is hardly determined by the procrastinating leadership, and the Cabinet’s arrogance often reflects intolerance to divergent views.
While intolerance is not a new dimension in Barbadian society, it is the cavalier cutting down of Barbadians and groups mounting critique by Government ministers that bastardizes governance on the island. Really, should the Barbadian people and the institutions that they operate through legitimate membership or association be demonized simply because an alternative view is presented?
The repetition of contemptuous behaviour by DLP spokespersons is alarming and is creating greater division in an already polarized society. The evidence is sighted in many recent episodes. For instance, the unnecessary verbal intrusion and imputations directed at union leaders in general, and certainly into the just concluded elections of the executive to serve the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
There is also the ongoing noise and scapegoating of teachers by an elected official who, not too long ago, himself was forcibly defending teachers’ rights. Added to these prevarications, the business community has had a sequel of turbulence in which its inputs have hardly been taken seriously. The private sector is frequently told that it has not done enough to help Barbados despite the Government has been exceptionally short on providing accurate and timely information on the state of the economy.
The ‘DLP FACTS’ mission is unlikely to reveal the truth about the things that have gone awry in Barbados. Daily, Barbadians are complaining about the dissonance happening in the economy and society. Serious crime, particularly gun violence, is setting a tone that minimizes the efforts of the police and other law abiding citizens. Disrespect for authority and the church is becoming more everyday as certain political mouthpieces hypocritically look to assert a moral high-ground although many of their actions in government are collectively debased.
It is precisely that type of governance which makes for a worsening society. Fuelled by prejudices, the political rhetoric of the failed DLP regime is being exposed by many persons who are frustrated with special interests gaining favour above the many Barbadians who sacrificed during the years of no economic growth. Why should a restitution of pay fall to the political class when our public servants are forced to languish without having had a pay increase for almost a decade?
Why should Barbadians still be crying out that they are ‘short of work for the past five years’ despite having the means and machinery to perform efficiently and contribute to this nation’s economy? Why should it appear that one entity surreptitiously get contracts for major government projects when a host of other contractors and businesses are left to wonder if they will even survive for another six months?
Policy-making in Barbados cannot continue to be informed by the kinds of institutional discrimination and marginalization that have enveloped the society over the last few years. Nor can silence be the best mode of engagement when so many facts are pointing to an economy and society hurting from the lack of effective decision-making and leadership. Barbadians must find it increasingly difficult to accept the words of a government that boasts of everything seemingly positive but is quick to rubbish anything that reflects their shortcomings or incompetence.
Incidentally, it was Prime Minister Freundel Stuart who advised last year that: “We see the family put under enormous threat and pressure; our institutions, which were supposed to reinforce our attachment to the building of a society, have been operating under untold pressure as well. The school, church, family, the labour movement, our political parties; all of these reinforcing institutions have been under enormous pressure.”
While Stuart may have placed “a very volatile global environment” as the causal factor, the perilous situation in Barbados equally has much to do with the increasing failures of Government to innovate and address the problems in a timely manner. In fact, growing mistrust in the society compounds the issues of governance. It is no respite for the DLP to commence a DLP FACTS mission when for far too long, the slippage was evident while the ‘sleeping giant’ rested in another phase far removed from ordinary people.
Admittedly, Prime Minister Stuart is correct when he asserts that: “If you have alienated people who are not feeling a part of the dynamic that is operative around them, then your society is under threat because you cannot count on these people to rise up and defend something of which they do not feel a part.” Now is the best time for Barbadians to hear all those presenting themselves as a politics of change.
Barbados needs vibrant and proactive leadership. Judging from the last nine years, the DLP has disqualified itself and Barbadians can only hope the self-determined DLP FACTS do not create more distrust and division. The alienation that comes from growing distrust will hurt us all.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)