“The least we can expect from our leaders is to deal with the ‘issues of real life’, [and] provide at the very least … shelter, health-care, education, sanitation, and transport” – Senator Dr. Jerome X. Walcott, 2016).
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) performed sufficiently impressive to put Barbados as the number one developing country in the world by the end of 2007. Between 1994 and 2008, the BLP managed to reduce unemployment from a very scary 26.5% to as low as 6.5%.
The BLP, as a team serious about governing and running the affairs of Barbados, met numerous challenges, scaled many hurdles, and maximized the opportunities that would boost Barbados’ socio-economic fortunes. Arthur remains the longest serving Prime Minister and, arguably, the most adept Minister of Finance in post-independence Barbados.
Throughout his tenure as prime minister, Arthur stood tall on the democratic socialism of Sir Grantley Adams. He was emboldened by the embrace of JMGM ‘Tom’ Adams, and encouraged ‘only the best’ for Barbados. Even Errol Barrow’s thrust for ‘friends of all, satellites of none’ helped Arthur to carve a developmental niche for Barbados that was compatible with the needs of the country and satisfying for the expectations of the people, regardless of their social status.
The BLP’s public policies and programmes offered increased socio-economic prospects and the scope of much legislation was captured in the cloth of higher earnings and distributive justice. By global indicators, the BLP had in three election cycles placed Barbados on the verge of stepping up to a higher status of economic and social development.
Then came 2008 and a politics of uncertainty that seemed lopsidedly incestuous. Divisiveness replaced the politics of inclusion and determined leadership. Thousands of Barbadians presumed that they would have been better off with the re-entry of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to the governance arena. The politics of innuendo, was emotively practiced by David Thompson, and won the day over the diminutive leader.
For almost a decade under the spectacle that ‘Barbados is more than an economy, it is a society’, the DLP has been a beleaguered government. The DLP has dodged and wobbled regarding Barbados’ development. The signs have pointed to an economic shallowness that is compounded by policies which induce societal backwardness.
The DLP’s choices and policy preferences superficially appear paternalistic, but have more regularly been dismissive of critics. In effect, the DLP government under its current leadership, has largely denied and dampened the expectations of Barbadians through inertia, threat and control mechanisms. The result is that Barbadians are poorer and worse off in mid-2017 than in January 2008.
The abject disappointment for the Barbadian population regarding the DLP’s approach and actual performances in public policy can be realistically set against a series of unending tax-grabs, and the several botched fiscal initiatives which have become characteristic of the DLP’s return to government. Failure abounds in many places, and the DLP has created multiple ways to pursue a blinkered focus of development in which unsound judgements have made progress a pitiful lament.
Social services have become appalling and under-financed by the DLP.Access to basic social services appears more difficult and disconcerting for Barbadians. For example, the provision of basic services, such as providing clean water and proper sanitation, has been acutely problematic and prolonged. The troubling experiences of residents in St. Joseph and other northern parishes, cannot be hosed away by any momentary gush of water.
The fact is that for too long, these rustic folks were unable to consistently access clean water in their homes. On the issue of sanitation, workers of the Sanitation Services Authority (SSA) deserve medals of commendation for their work, despite evidence of a terrible dereliction of duty by this DLP government. On several occasions and sometimes over months, the garbage build-up in Barbados became unbearable in terms of size and stench.
Today, Barbadians are fighting to escape the clutches of inter-generational poverty. Young men and women are doing their best to cope with the vagaries of underemployment, and the exploitation that has become commonplace in badly skewed power relations. Low and middle-income families are trying to adapt to lifestyles which negate the terrible effects of non-communicable diseases.
Yet, these same people are forced to live through depressed earning capacities and lesser disposable incomes, while being kept at the periphery of tertiary education. Bright young minds hang on through bursaries but they simply cannot keep abreast of the inflationary DLP policies that pushed the prices of food, medicines, and daily maintenance through the ceiling.
Shamelessly, DLP Ministers and the parliamentary group continue to shout down those who disagree with their antics or are critical of their long list of short comings. Just recently, Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett, instead of utilizing his energy to address hunger, homelessness, and joblessness which are all affecting his constituents and thousands of Barbadians throughout the urban corridor, preferred to pitch his tent on the party mound. Blackett, accompanied by several DLP surrogates, mocked the reality that is suffocating the masses. Blackett carried his charade ‘into the constituency to distribute the FACTS’ according to the DLP’s propaganda team. Despite boasting that the DLP has a‘stellar record’, the Minister has had little or nothing to show that has improved the lot for the aged, the poor, hurting parents or the many childless women who lack anyone to come to their welfare assistance.
DLP supporters are themselves finding it difficult to remain silent on public policies that have brought about more pain than gain for Barbadians under the Stuart-Sinckler combination. In another display of castigation from the DLP, it was Senator Jepter Ince’s turn to demonstrate the type of behaviour that can occur when ignorance conflicts with haughtiness. Ince insulted the private sector when he shortsightedly ranted that the sector is “an extension of the public service and a parasitic plant in the bosom of Government.”
Ince made no apology or even worthy qualification, although he felt it necessary to say that entities comprising the local private sector “have no grounds for complaining.” Indeed, things are becoming harder and unbearable under the austere vice-grip of Finance Minister Sinckler. The DLP’s severestrangulation and/or reduction in the provision of social services to the citizens and residents are alarming.
The seemingly uncaring or badly incompetent DLP government continues to make a deplorable mess in public transport, on top of the deficiencies seen in sanitation, education, health-care, and other needed services. Even with the heavily subsidized public transportation system, bus-shortages and inadequate designation of routes are like daily slaps in the faces of the poor masses who depend on public transportation for maintaining their livelihoods.
Who can forget the moving and deceptive DLP advertisement in the lead up to the last general elections? It ultimately floored Arthur and a realistic approach to discussing privatization and people empowerment.The DLP must realize that the adequate provision of basic social services is an input into aggregate economic activity and national productivity. Prime Minister Stuart is Barbados’ National Productivity Champion for 2017. It was Stuart who asserted productivity is“the pivot on which the entire society spins”.
Consequentially, Barbadians, young and old, struggle daily to stave off the punitive and counter-productive measures of Finance Minister Sinckler. Doubtlessly, conceit, vanity, and failure have become synonymous with the post-2008 DLP Cabinets. The DLP’s dodge ought to bring its demise in the next general elections.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: [email protected] )