Monday’s demonstration in protest against the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) was a sign that Barbados was “coming into its own” as it relates to participatory democracy, according to one of the island’s newest political parties.
Against the backdrop of the protest led by the island’s four top trade unions and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), and which brought an estimated 20,000 people to the streets of the capital, the leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Lynette Eastmond said it was a good thing to have people “air” their concerns in a democracy.
Eastmond, who did not participate in Monday’s march, told Barbados TODAY she had long advocated for greater participation in the democratic process beyond simply voting in a general election every five years.
“That is something that I have been advocating three years ago when I held two lectures dealing with elections, the law, the citizen and the state. I went through the whole process of explaining to people that apart from voting every five years, there are other things a voter can do in a democracy which Barbadians never get involved in. I always felt that Barbadians needed to get engaged in more activities like demonstrations, sit-ins, write letters to the press and draw up petitions. There are all kinds of things a citizen can do,” the UPP leader said.
“I believe that we need to improve the structure of more people participating and I think that in order to do that you really have to look at strengthening community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations,” she added.
The BPSA joined with the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers, the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers in staging the march, aimed at bringing Government back to the table for talks on the country’s economy.
The unions had also been demanding a 50 per cent reduction in the NSRL, which jumped from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of domestically manufactured goods and on goods imported into Barbados, or to implement some form of subsidy to help workers cope with the tax.
A growing list of Barbadians have also been critical of the measure, which formed part of an austerity package announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on May 30, which also included increases in the excise duty of petrol and a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions.
Political leader of Solutions Barbados Grenville Phillips II supported the rights of the trade unions and other organizations to express their concern by participating in demonstrations if they felt other avenues of dialogue and discussion had been exhausted.
Phillips, who also did not participate in today’s march, said the turnout was an indication that people were unhappy with the Freundel Stuart administration.
“Clearly there is some disenchantment with the ruling party. It is useful to march. It is much better to march than to commit violent acts,” he told Barbados TODAY.