Last Saturday the hall of Harrison College was packed with Barbadians and non-Barbadians who wanted to make their voices heard. This was the public forum hosted by Dr Ronnie Yearwood and facilitated by a number of volunteers including Shantal Munro-Knight, Joseph Herbert, Teshia Hinds, Krystle Howell, Corey Lane, Lisa Gale, Jason Carmichael, Jeanelle Clarke, Troy Lorde and myself. The MC was Mackie Holder and the forum was coordinated by Stacia Brown. The whole team worked well together to ensure that people everywhere heard about it.
As with the lecture by Ronnie Yearwood on Governance and Truth, the audience defied categorization into particular demographics, because both male and female of all races, ages, professions and economic backgrounds were present. There were even members of political parties present. It was apparent that people wanted to make their voices heard and even the threat of rain earlier in the morning did not hinder them from coming. After a few opening speeches, the attendees split into groups of their choice where they could put forward their solutions. The five groups were:
• Economic management for an equitable society
• Meeting the new challenges of governance
• Partnerships for the future: people, public and private
• A country that works
• Building a meritocratic model for Barbados
Not surprisingly, one of the most popular groups was the one on governance. After all, many of the issues we are facing in the country are the result of poor governance. And while we tend to focus on governance in the public sector because it directly impacts us as citizens, I have become shockingly aware of the need for proper governance in the private sector, particularly in publicly traded companies and financial institutions.
I say “shockingly” because I read the report on CLICO last weekend, which I assume has been made public since I found it on the Internet. I will not go into the details of the findings, but suffice it to say that I was speechless. To tell the truth I am at a loss to articulate how I feel about the blatant nepotism and quite frankly, greed, that contributed to the downfall of that institution and the loss that hundreds or thousands of policyholders and depositors experienced.
I recently saw that the Brazilian President is facing charges for corruption. I’m not a lawyer, but surely we have legislation in Barbados to bring some of these culprits, who have failed to provide proper governance and have abused their power to the detriment of others, before the law courts to answer for their deeds. That is why I am looking forward to reading the full document of the solutions put forward in the forum which will be publicized in a few weeks. While we had presentations afterwards summarizing the input from the various groups, we did not have time to go through everything and since I was facilitating a group I didn’t get to sit in on other groups. I would have loved to have been in the governance group.One of the suggestions that stood out for me was to create an office called the Contractor General. The purpose of the Contractor General would be to remove the power of awarding contracts from ministers and to have an independent person or group to oversee the process of awarding government contracts. That would include ensuring that contracts go through the appropriate bidding process and awards made on the basis of those bids and not, for example, to contractors who submit bids after the close date and still get awarded the contract although their price is higher than the other bids. Read the Auditor General’s report.
Another suggestion was to have a national consultative process for the development of a long term strategic plan for the country. In my speech I stressed that we need to have a 30 – 50 year vision for the country and then work backwards to put things in place in the educational, legal and business sectors to achieve the vision. Otherwise we are just groping about in the dark and hoping to hit upon something that works.
I have not heard of one person who was not glad to have made the effort to come out to the forum or who was not glad to have participated. I even had a friend of my parents, who is a lawyer, call me to say she was so sorry that she missed it because she heard it was very good and it was something she had been trying to get the Bar Association to do for years, unsuccessfully. She, along with many other people, are already keen for the next one, which I am sure will be even bigger.
Another question people are asking is what next? First of all, we will pull together a document of all the suggestions put forward which we will make public via social media and then we will go from there. I am very encouraged that everyone came out and made their voices heard. This is only the beginning, but at least it can no longer be said that Bajans are passive. We will make our voices heard and put pressure on the politicians and civil servants until we see change in our country.
For those people who missed it you can watch various clips and read articles on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/Your-Voice-Your-Choice-1672606826381050/?pnref=story
Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She is also the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014 – 2016) and the Barbados Facilitator for the InfoDev WINC Acceleration Program.
Contact her at [email protected]