A week ago all were consumed with the worrying crime situation in Barbados, as within eight months the total number of murders had surpassed the 22 that were recorded for all of last year, amid a worrying situation with illegal guns on our streets.
Of particular concern was the brazen nature of the recent acts, which not only marred this year’s Crop Over climax but have served to rob Barbados and Barbadians of the traditional peace of mind that they once took for granted in terms of being able to walk anywhere on this 166 square mile rock — particularly in daylight hours — and not feel as if someone literally is about to put a gun to your head.
So terrifying has been the situation that even our goodly Prime Minister, who hardly ever addresses this country on anything, was roused to address the worrying gun situation as the centrepiece of his presentation to the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s annual conference last weekend, at which he promised that legislative changes would be coming as part of a stronger arm on gun and other crimes.
“A suite of legislative and other measures, all within the constitution, to confront this issue is engaging the attention of Cabinet at the moment. These measures, the Royal Barbados Police Force has assured us, will enhance considerably the capacity of the force to deal with this scourge. Stay tuned,” Stuart said while noting that it was a “small segment” of the population that now sees the possession and use of a high-powered firearm as the best symbol of personal empowerment.
A week after that glorious speech there has been little by way of noticeable decisive action, with the eyes of Barbados and the international community now focused on the northern Caribbean and the untold death and destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.
Ironically, it was only two weeks ago that the region’s artistic community came together here for a celebration of its culture by way of CARIFESTA, and the week before that we were all jumping and waving together for Crop Over — the one period outside of Christmas and the nostalgia of our November independence celebrations when we dare to forget our many and varied problems and simply feast on all that is good and wholesome around.
But then reality hits home again and we are forced to face up to the challenges of life, be they economic or social, at the individual or national level, manmade or of nature.
In this context, we would hope that out of the current tragedy facing the hurricane-batted Caribbean will evolve a new spirit of regional cooperation and action that will silence regional skeptics once and for all, that stubbornly refuse to accept that united we stand, divided we fall.
Seemingly lost on us all, with Irma and now Jose on everyone lips, is little to nothing is being said about our own economic mess following the massive march by the trade unions and elements of the private sector in July, and the national consultation that was convened by the Prime Minister.
We were hoping at the very least to have arrived at a national consensus by now on the way forward for the economy. But alas! It would seem that nothing of substance has occurred since the August 11 meeting of the Social Partners.
If anything, we have taken one step forward and two back, with the trade unions and Government still bickering among themselves about who said what and when, and workers still not assured of anything, be it a salary increase after nine years or coping subsidy to help them deal with the dreaded National Social Responsibility Levy.
The head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mr Eddy Abed said as much in this month’s Chamber Biz newsletter, in which he sought to explain why the Chamber essentially boycotted the march, which was led by the island’s four major trade unions and the Barbados Private Sector Association and attracted an estimated 20,000 people.
Abed acknowledged that as a result of the march, Government did agree to bring forward the meeting of the full Social Partnership by one week and that coming out of the August 11 meeting, three workings groups were established on Fiscal Deficit, Growth, and Sustainability and Social Responsibility, that were mandated to investigate and advise on improvements to state owned enterprises, reforms, better tax administration, business facilitation, fast tracking new projects, among other areas.
However, that was where the action, which we were told was urgently needed to stabilize our economy and reduce the deficit, has seemingly ended.
If it is not so, we apologize in advance for saying that our entire Social Partnership, including Government, seemingly went off on holiday in August and appears to be stuck somewhere in the Florida Keys waiting out hurricanes Irma and Jose.
Whatever the reason for the current malaise, after what has been a long, hard summer, we need to get back to issue number 1.
And for those who still don’t know what that is, we say it is the economy, stupid!