We have recently been witnessing an upsurge in the level of criminal activity here on our precious shores. The police, along with the Defence Force, need to swamp the known gangland neighbourhoods with some raids, unannounced with an element of great surprise, probably around dawn when the miscreants are likely to be tucked up in bed. I would imagine that the police have the necessary procedures in place to be granted search warrants to undertake these necessary crime-busting sweeps.
Are we a first world or a third world country? Where in this hemisphere would an innocent man be imprisoned for ten years, on remand, then released after being found not guilty? Surely, by imprisoning an individual for this length of time, without a proper trial, we are moving away from the well-founded notion that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Incarceration for so many years suggests that our judicial system has moved away from innocent until proven guilty.
There is too much criminal activity occurring in this small island. Most recently, we learnt of two serious cases of sexual assault on two senior executives who were visiting the island to undertake professional tasks with a large offshore institution. Every effort was made between the Police and the leaders of the tourism industry to “black out” all reports of the assaults, because it was considered that such bulletins, so close to Crop-Over, would have impacted negatively on the travel of tourists to Barbados for the festive season. The perpetrators, so far, have gone unapprehended and unpunished. The victims have pledged never to set foot here again.
There are too many laws on our statute books which go unenforced. One only has to look at the daily behaviour of the ZR/mini buses to see evidence of the most appalling driving practices. Sadly, Barbados has become so used to the behaviour of these carriers, that their practices have become almost acceptable and expected, as we go about our daily routine. The only evidence of the infringement of traffic laws is the regular ticketing of drivers who are not wearing their seat belts.
Other infringements seem not to matter. Daily, we see evidence of ZR/mini bus drivers stopping at regular intervals along their routes, whether or not these stops are at specified bus stops. Occasionally, drivers of these private service vehicles travelling in opposite directions will stop to greet each other and have a conversation for as much as five minutes. Should a held-up motorist show any displeasure by blowing of the car horn, the two drivers simply carry on their conversations with little or no regard for the traffic build-up which is occurring behind their vehicles.
The indiscriminate practice of garbage disposal, haphazardly, any place is very annoying to me and most certainly, any right minded, caring and environmentally-aware citizen. Daily, we witness the dumping of items of used “white goods”, household refuse and the remnants of fast-food containers in neighbourhoods, along main roads and most threateningly, in gullies and drains. The fall-out from such careless practices is felt mainly in the areas where there is already poor, absent or very inadequate drainage.
Treatment of persons with disability leaves a lot to be desired. Our country has signed up to every international protocol which seeks to protect the rights of disabled persons. Take the car parking arrangements set aside by some businesses. These are not lawful as yet. Consequently, daily we witness the abuse of these marked areas of parking for the disabled. Often too, there’s no wheelchair access to businesses, both public and private.
Try taking a wheelchair-bound person on a shopping excursion into Bridgetown. Quite often, during this outing, one encounters high sidewalks, no ramps and crowded pathways and very often, tight, singular entrances into and the same singular exits out of the business premises. Imagine the congestion such building layouts cause at peak shopping times. It is a real nightmare. Imagine further if the building had to be evacuated in an emergency.
Another area of evidence of “A Very Broken Society” and moral decay is the proliferation of “transactional sex” or “covert prostitution”. The older “returning national” male is seen as an easy target by younger women who appear to have no qualms about offering sex in return for money for groceries, pampers, a snack box, a top up of credit on the smart- phone, a new set of false hair, a party ticket or party dress and of course, the decorative set of nails.
I turn now to corruption, bribery and sharp practices. All of these are evident, though unlikely to be documented, in the public and private sectors of our community. There is a culture of turning a blind eye to corruption, bribery and poor business practices. Look how many times the Auditor General has highlighted areas of poor accounting, absence of audit trails, absence of appropriate documentation and accountability on the part of managers within the public sector. His findings are disregarded, at least from a public perspective, it seems that no investigations take place.
Where is the leadership, checks and balances and accountability? The public purse continues to be drained year after year, Government after Government and nothing happens. Replacing one Party with the next at general election time, produces more of the same miscreant behaviour. There is no transparency, no open Government, no one cares! Such acts of “thieving” are seen as perks, a right or misguided entitlement during the term of the perpetrators. We have come to expect that in Barbados; these are normal everyday occurrences and a way of doing business. Our corruption index on the UN scale certainly needs re-examination.
Poor customer service is another area of disconcert to all alert and business minded Barbadians, visitors and our overseas clients. Firstly, try calling a Government establishment and monitor how long it takes to have the telephone answered. Eventually, once answered, see how satisfied you are with the response to your reason for calling. Should you be unlucky enough to be transferred to another extension, you can bet your “bottom dollar” that the person’s extension is directed to a voice message service. However, that voice message box is full and you are asked to try your call later. Utter, unadulterated frustration ensues.
Consider obtaining either a driver’s license, a Police Certificate of Character, a copy of a death certificate or the importation of personal effects through the Customs Department at the port, as a returning national”. All of these procedures are labour-intensive and frustratingly time-consuming. To arrive at any of these offices entails in all cases, a 5 a.m. departure from home to join an already formed queue; a number of repeat visits, more queues and shuffling from window to window to pay, collect receipts, and often sent away and rescheduled for another one or two days some time down the road.
In spite of the high subvention granted to NISE and the excellent training provided by that statutory corporation to public service departments, there is still much evidence of abysmally poor customer service, low output and minimal productivity. Where also has the focus on “Public Sector Reform gone? No doubt like all meaningful stabs at progress, that too, hit the buffers and came to a grinding halt.
Barbados has come a long way since Independence Day in 1966. However, we seem to have taken too long a pause at mediocrity and are happy to rest just there, whilst the rest of the developing world cleans up, capitalizes and moves forward, leaving us stuck in a mire of pens, carbon paper and big note books to write everything into.
If this is progress, then heaven help us all.