Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Christopher Sinckler will soon give what many Barbadians hope will be his very last budget presentation.
The jury is out on whether Sinckler, with his broad shoulders and knack for political drama, ought to carry the blame for the numerous shortcomings of the struggling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the Cabinet he leads, are just as liable for a plethora of injurious and bad policy prescriptions dispensed to Barbadians.
Of course, this is coupled with the persistent fiscal indiscipline that has pushed Barbados’ debt through the ceiling. The resultant economic woes have hastened the societal disarray that is being occasioned by family breakdown, tense industrial relations, gun crimes and violence. These serious issues characterize the DLP’s troubling tenure in government.
Speculatively, the Barbados economy became endangered with a covert rush to please the pockets of an in-crowd while marginalizing thousands least able to bear the burden of high taxation. The costs of the DLP’s monumental mistakes, such as those called housing solutions or belt-tightening measures, have increased suffering across the society. Social welfare scale-back, without any hint of economic empowerment or distributive justice, netted a collapsing middle class.
The poor appeared to grow in numbers while their distress, it seemed, was ignored by the Cabinet. The thing is, economic empowerment should ensure that people have the appropriate skills, capabilities, resources and access to secure and sustainable incomes and livelihoods inclusive of access to assets and resources. Having increasing numbers of Barbadians finding themselves out of work and unable to care for their families is
both economically and socially disempowering.
Already, those willing to open doors for those left to fend for themselves are often side-lined by the DLP’s insecurities and failures to act. Overall, numerous Barbadians are numbed by the sting of DLP austerity and appear squashed by Cabinet’s reluctance to be creative in maintaining what was an envied social welfare system. Perhaps, more reprehensible, is that Barbadians from all walks of life continue to be castigated and maligned for speaking out against the malaise of the DLP’s gut-wrenching tenure. Barbadians prefer not to be taken-for-granted or labelled enemies of the state if their rights and expectations are not being safeguarded and fulfilled respectively.
Thousands of Barbadian citizens are made to feel like second-class citizens in their own country under a party that once deemed itself as the embodiment of ‘Dear Loving People’. While there may be no quick fixes to the many problems threatening the livelihoods of Barbadians, clearly, Nero fiddles while Rome burns. Most Barbadians, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, have experienced growing dissatisfaction with the DLP’s misdiagnoses followed by the overabundance of promises and excuses.
Last year, at the beginning of the 2016 budget presentation, Mr Sinckler stated that it was the DLP’s mandate “simply to set an agenda and institute policies that see after the collective good” of the Barbados nation, and to pursue those initiatives that are in the “overall best interest of the country.” Instead, the public policy arena has become bastardized with a few special interests exploiting their closeness to the DLP which has refused to be strict guardians of our heritage.
The downside is that business and civil society are trampled by the Government’s feeble attempts “to shake off the bondages of low growth, high debt, unmanageable budget deficits, and a built-in feeling of general uncertainty about the economic future,” as described by the Minister of Finance. Yet, for the upcoming budget, despite distrust, fear, loss of hope, and uncertainty, Barbadians are hesitantly grasping at a last lap reprieve.
Across the nation, parents and children, childless men and women, the disabled, homeless, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, the youth and pensioners, church goers and atheists, and the media are all wishing that apart from the political parading and the usual gaffes, that Sinckler would at least bring some economic and moral ease to those feeling the pain of almost 10 years of institutional and structural discrimination.
Institutional discrimination connotes the sense that there is a process by which people are systematically marginalized by established laws, customs or practices. Individuals and families have been excluded from the mainstream of national development, and the marginalization comes in many different guises. One need not look further than the treatment meted out to small contractors and young entrepreneurs, single parents and caretakers wanting to do the best to protect and provide for their families.
Livelihoods have been pushed backwards by unimaginative socioeconomic programmes and the lack of timely decision-making by the current Government. Individual intolerance is evident in the society, but some members of the administration continue to stalk the gullible through divisive utterances and actions. Bullying in schools coupled with attacks on teachers and their property are ongoing problems. Victimization in the workplace is unprecedented and DLP surrogates have allegedly targeted trade union leaders.
Daily, Barbadians face an increasing pauperization of many men and women, the naming and stigmatization of minority and marginal individuals and groups, and the growth of unprecedented social exclusion in the post-independence era. But no admonition or redirection comes from Prime Minister Stuart.
Social progress is now a lament rather than a reality. Barbadians have been told that programmes such as Sociology, Social Work, and Psychology are drains on the public purse, while wastage and inefficiency strangle vocational and academic ambitions. Surely, while getting more students enrolled in Science and Technology is welcomed, it is obvious that the Humanities and Social Sciences still have important functions within the society.
Hence, will Minister Sinckler facilitate positive changes and enhancements in our education system, or will he take quick retreat and leave those things including the $200 million owed to the University of the West Indies (UWI) for the next Minister of Finance to ameliorate and pay? Surely, the challenges facing Barbados are not strictly economic, but are manifestly anti-social. Remember, it was last year Sinckler admitted that Barbados’ “social development system is increasingly being compromised as the cost of sustaining it becomes more challenging.”
The trials negatively impacting on the nation are concomitant with the floundering leadership being exercised at the executive level of Government. In terms of representation, there has been sparse purposeful legislation coming to Parliament that would empower the nation’s people. Very few social programmes have been introduced that can repair the many cracks and breaks becoming exposed in Barbados’ fractured society.
Compounding these problems is the fact that job creation is not taking place at a similar rate as the glittery promises which fall from deceptive lips. DLP Cabinet Ministers are desperately banking on a couple major projects; but the public is not entrusted with adequate information nor are impact assessments worthy of the nation’s attention.
Finally, there is a wide disparity between what the DLP coughs up and the medicine that can heal this Barbados nation. Prime Minister Stuart has allowed – through his vain silence – many heartless insults and tones of divisiveness from his Ministers and team. He refuses to scold them for their uncomplimentary inferences that belittle and ridicule ordinary citizens. It seems that he has slept through the many social ills and the volumes of frustration now featuring across Barbados and directly under his nose.
Yet, Stuart and the DLP will plead for another term. However, Barbadians are growing terminally sick of the DLP’s wrong medicine.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant.
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