As Barbados continues to experience the throes of a seemingly never-ending economic depression, some self-evident truths are being ignored. Indeed, they have been shunted aside even in times of great plenty.
Our politicians and other social leaders keep repeating the refrain that life in Barbados cannot be “business as usual”. The calls to be more productive have been made from River Bay in St Lucy to Reed Street in the City. In a world that keeps getting more and more competitive every day, the necessity to stay as close to, or ahead of the competition, is most apparent. The world owes us Barbadians nothing. If we go cap in hand outside these shores, there is no obligation on anyone to fill it. Therefore, the more this country makes itself competitive and relevant, the better it is for us all.
Closely aligned to the need to be more productive, is the critical necessity to eradicate waste, trim excesses and make the maximum use of what is available to us. This should be the rule whether Standard and Poor’s or any other agency rates Barbados AAA or CCC-.
And this brings us to a subject scarcely ever broached, and perhaps deliberately so.
By any stretch of the imagination, this country is small. Tiny. Petite. A dot. It can perhaps be circled three times in less than 48 hours by foot. Barbados has eleven small parishes. Tiny. Petite. Dots. It has a population of fewer than 300,000. This is a number that when taken within the context of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that ended the lives of 230,000 lamented souls, demonstrates just how minuscule we truly are.
Yet, at a time when we need to be more productive, and at a juncture in our history when we need to cut spending and rid ourselves of excesses, our social leaders – excuse our politicians – have not seen it fit to make a strong case and a concerted call for the reduction of our top-heavy parliamentary representation. We have eleven small parishes but 30 constituencies in a situation where eleven parliamentary representatives ought to suffice. And there is justification for such a call.
In jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, Britain, and elsewhere, whether they be mayors, state governors, district governors, senators, MPs, and whether they be called parishes, districts, towns, cities or boroughs, individual representatives are responsible for areas and populations which far exceed anything that obtains in this country. And, in most instances, whether with the assistance of technocrats or social agencies, they function with degrees of efficiency without the personality duplication. Thus a representative could be responsible for the political oversight of an area double the size of Barbados and with a population that could touch, or indeed, exceed one million.
But in Barbados, we have been historically lulled into the belief that the more we divide our parishes, with their concomitant representatives, that this equates into better, more intimate and satisfactory representation. We contend that a poll of the people in the 30 constituencies in Barbados would debunk the belief that splitting Christ Church into East Central, South, West Central, East and West, or St Michael into East, West, North, North West, Central, South Central, North East, West Central, Central and South, has translated into excellent representation. The division sounds almost labyrinthine but at end of the day – and the divisions – we still cannot scrape 170 square miles from one end to the other. So what is the purpose or 21st-century relevance of dividing 11 into 30?
To make the burden on the Treasury of supporting 30 politicians even more glaring, is the fact that politicians generally create laws and set policy, but it is left to the technocrats, civil servants, laymen and the ordinary Joe to implement and do the work. So does a small nation like Barbados require 30 politicians to debate and subsequently enact laws when 11 can do just that with the requisite legal adjustments? Do we really need ten politicians to represent the small parish of St Michael which could virtually fit into every river in Guyana duplicate times? Is there any empirical evidence or simple day to day experiences that can justify any notion that having greater numbers of politicians has made life better for Barbadians? Politics should not descend into the realm of a discipline mainly there to provide employment for politicians.
Functioning constituency branches, and now the much-maligned constituency councils, if properly focused and managed, along with other social interventionist agencies and funded NGOs, almost make it mandatory that there should be a move towards a reduction of our obese Parliament. We must admit that other than debates, we could find it difficult to point to anything major done by our 30 politicians to justify a salary bill in excess of $5 million annually. And we have said nothing about the myriad of parliamentary secretaries, senators, political consultants, advisors, et al. Of course we, like any other country, need our politicians and many have served Barbados well over.
But too many cooks are too many cooks, and we cannot sustain “business as usual”.