This is second week we have been presented with results of the Nation CADRES poll, and for the second week they have confirmed what we know about the current state of Barbados.
Last week, the polls showed a willingness of the Barbadian electorate (at this time) to go with Barbados Labour Party,in the next election. This week, the finding indicates an anxiety about the economy and a lack of confidence in the government’s management of such.
So much has been said and will continue to be said about the poll, but I think we need to recognize that we when we analyze the poll as a set of data alone, we miss the real world implications. This is more than data or the makings of a political debate; this is not a topic about which Barbadians are merely passionate or by which they will not be affected. It is not Bashment Soca vs. Classic Kaiso; instead it’s about quality of life and economic survival.
Eighty four per cent of those polled believe the country is in economic crisis. Not only is the number astounding but it reflects the inability of the Government to convince Barbadians that they are effectively handling our economic woes. Further, the fact that a collective 59 per cent of those polled suggest the budget measures are not likely and definitely will not achieve the objectives is indicative of a crisis of confidence.
Political and economic uncertainty are common even within democracies, but a belief that that we are in crisis is troubling. Troubling because we are bearing the burden of austerity and taxation with no indication that it will get us any closer to the light of economic restructuring or resurgence.
I have heard persons, well meaning individuals, time and again since the budget say that Barbados and Barbadians have survived challenging times before, so as to imply that we will survive this period as well. In some ways that is correct; we have survived the dark days of slavery, the unrest in the 1930’s and the uncertainty of a burgeoning democracy in the 1960’s.
However, to say this and to believe this serves to let the people whom we have entrusted with the responsibility of charting a path for this country, off the hook. Additionally, the narrative of survival even now belies a particularly middle class orientation; it negates the reality that some people have been surviving for the last nine years and have no other comforts or amenities with which to dispense in the name of getting by. This is it.
As I have said before, we have not found enough space in our public analysis since the budget for the realities of the most vulnerable among us. In some ways, the analysis has focused on the middle class almost exclusively. For some, the foreign exchange levy is hard to grasp when they have not yet figured out the challenges of keeping themselves and their families fed.
In the midst of a crisis, it is imperative that our leaders articulate a way to adapt; they are tasked with planning progress. However, it seems as if they are not sure what that plan should be. They have dispensed with the idea of formal International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment and official devaluation and have heard time and again that these new levels of taxation will get us no closer to growth.
A line of connection must be drawn between the leadership numbers released last week and the country’s economic hardship. Notwithstanding his other misgivings, if the Prime Minster were to fix, or maybe appear as if he was actively engaged in the work of economic rebuilding, his numbers would increase.
Barbadians have clearly grown tired of the disengagement by Stuart and most of his team as they have been holding the strain of increased taxes, rising debt, falling foreign reserves, and an increasing trade deficit. The current Cabinet of this country has so underperformed, it is hard to find a single ministry in which we are excelling.
It was hardly a surprise, therefore, that former Prime Minster Owen Arthur, a man who is on the final stretch of a political career, outperformed Stuart. I do not think we should make too much of the Arthur numbers, but what should be said is that they are indicative of a career in economics and most definitely the perception that the Arthur years were years where leadership was engaged and the economy was well managed.
The poll should concern the Government because, at the very least, it indicates that the message is not getting through. The attempt to make the forthcoming election about morality as of yet is not taking root. The attempt to make Stuart out to be a man who says little because his head is down working on the real issues is not sticking. Barbadians are seeing through the effort to win in the absence of work.
Ten months in politics is a very long time, and so who knows if these trends will hold. However, whatever choices Barbadians are moved to make at the next poll better be in our best interests because this crisis should not be allowed to continue.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s Degree in International Trade Policy and is currently pursuing a law degree.)