What if we were to say that all of our problems would be mitigated if we were to rebuild our communities? What if we were to say that we would allocate significant government resources to do so? What if our communities were filled with programmes for community agriculture, recycling, disaster mitigation, dispute resolution, helping the vulnerable and under-served, tourism and business development?
One might very well expect Barbadians to be skeptical but Barbados can have its renaissance too. The United Progressive Party believes that community development through the strengthening of Community Based Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (CBOs/NGOs) is critical to refocusing Barbados and would give birth to a shared vision which Barbados desperately needs for its resuscitation.
We expect that the politicians steeped in the old ways would see strong communities as being directly opposed to their interests as many of them shy away from the prospect of contending with a knowledgeable, articulate, and active electorate. Traditionally the aim has been to control, bribe and bully; not to engage, facilitate, and marshal consensus.
And now that we are preoccupied with hurricanes, it would make perfect sense to turn our minds to the preparedness of our communities. While at the national level certain protocols have been established and some have done their best in serving in our District Emergency Organizations (DEOs), it is clear that our communities are ill-prepared to respond to an impact of any significant magnitude. DEOs would fare far better if they were built upon strong communities.
Facilitating strong communities is one of the most important policy platforms for Barbados at this time and the UPP has already prepared and shared its initial policy paper on this topic. One formal consultation was held on July 22nd, 2017 with a cross-section of Barbadians in different fields of endeavour. However, the policy is also discussed with Barbadians as we canvas their views. Those who sat in consultation recognized that strengthening CBOs/NGOs could be the catalyst for an improved quality of life for all Barbadians by calling on the voice and action of the people.
Many are now concerned about the gun violence which has presented itself in Barbados and many are shocked that individuals so young could have made this their way of life. Certainly our immediate response must be to ask not only about the state of our families but about the state of our communities. It is within strong communities that children are best raised whatever the strengths or weaknesses of their immediate family.
While community centres and schools do exist, with only a few exceptions, access is a problem for most taxpaying residents. Easy access must therefore be a first step. It is however also the case that while we have built buildings, we have not ensured that those buildings are filled with programmes. The fact is that many of our young people do not have interesting and exciting activity in which they can engage outside of school hours. Neither do they have programmes that would help them to transition between their role as a student and that of an adult.
Strong communities are a necessary precursor to good governance at the national level. Barbadians are becoming more conscious of the fact that their well being is bound up in decisions made at the national level. However, the mechanism for community participation in the decision making process is weak. This is so primarily because the conventions and practices which accompanied the Westminster system never took root in Barbados.
Barbados therefore needs to build new systems without ignoring the role of the representative of the constituency in which a community might fall. The United Progressive Party has a vision for communities which will be so well structured, organized and active that they will discuss policy proposals by the government, prepare their response and submit them to the government. Communities would also develop their own proposals.
A new legislated mechanism would ensure safe passage of community proposals through a named ministry with a mandate to ensure that they are actively considered. The named ministry would run parallel with the ministry relevant to the subject matter; submissions would then be sent directly through to the Cabinet of Barbados where the Executive sits and makes decisions. The government would also be mandated to provide a response to the CBOs/NGOs.
The hurricane season provides us all with opportunities to reflect on how a community would respond to a natural disaster. However, more than that, it should give us pause to reflect on how we will create a shared vision for moving our country forward. While leadership is critical, it is a fact that Barbados was built through its people acting with purpose in every corner of our island. We will give that power back to the people.