The Emperor is naked. It was time one of us shouted notice of the bare nakedness and if the Transport Board drivers by their strike action earlier this week have started the rallying call, best we answer. Barbadians have been watching the systematic decline in their tax-provided social services network over the last five years. The situation has become particularly acute in the last year and a half.
Garbage collection has become problematic again after the private waste haulers have abandoned partnership with the Government over non-payment of amounts due. Waits at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital remain long and availability of basic items for patient care have to be provided by the family and friends of patients. We know of the issues with the sewage projects at both the South coast and in the City.
This week started with an island wide disruption in bus service provided by the Transport Board as the drivers took time to discuss their issues with their union. One of the first sentiments uttered by the management of the Transport Board was that the strike was politically motivated.
Even before I heard the grievances of the drivers, I shook my head at the stance of the Transport Board. It mirrored a particular style of conflict negotiation which has crept into the national psyche almost in the chasm left by the receding social fabric. Management parties involved in disputes with the union are leaning toward hard-line stances which do not allow for ‘come down’ or ‘save face’ results. This leads to disputes escalation and there is a right or wrong choice to establish.
This type of approach is not in the best interest of the forward movement of Barbados. Let me now go back to where I started in order to complete this week’s reflection. Barbados’ bankbook is the Emperor and it is barer than the soft skin that covers the derriere of a newborn babe. The action taken by the drivers of the Transport Board only reiterated in the minds of Barbadians what many of us know.
State agencies cannot fulfill the needs of the public adequately when they are cash starved. The national discussion which we were having about privatization and which was soundly rejected by the current government to secure its mandate, was to stop us from getting to the point that we are at. It was the type of conversation that was to result in a plan to stop the economic crisis that we are currently in.
The counter argument to this is going to be that there is no crisis. We have not defaulted on any loans and we are still getting service. The Transport Board drivers asked us to fully analyze this argument as they staged their action Monday. The drivers contend that they do not have adequate numbers in the bus fleet to allow them to service the needs of the public.
Additionally, the drivers noted that the bus units which were available were faulty in a number of ways and that they were breaking down frequently. They also voiced concern about not knowing what the future of the Transport Board was or about their job security. None of us can say that we did not know of these things before the drivers took action Monday. If anything, the Transport Board is a microcosm in our collective reality as a nation. The postmen’s bags are tattered and they beg retiring members to bring back their old bags for other postmen to use.
I was reported by a policeman recently who did not have numbers on his shirt. He indicated that the numbers had broken and he had to wait until the Government had money to order more. Recall earlier this year when a man dressed in what seemed to be Royal Barbados Police Force uniform could not be charged for allegedly kicking a member of the public because ascertaining whether he was a member of the Force could not be immediately done.
Fast forward now to a few Saturdays ago in Bridgetown where I had to comply with instructions given by a man dressed in what looked like the Royal Barbados Police Force uniform but who did not have numbers on his shirt which is the only mark of identification a member of the public has. The reason he did not have them is because the Government has no money.
Are we comfortable with Barbados being in the state that it is in because the Government has no money? The only way that we are going to continue making loan payments is if we continue to spend the national ‘spruce up money’ – the roads will fall further into disrepair and the bush will become thicker. We will have to keep spending the money to upgrade and properly outfit our hospital. With the state of the sewage systems, that means we have to keep hoping that no major outbreak of illness occurs from the raw sewage in the roads and gutters.
Our loan commitments will mean that we won’t have money to upgrade the electrical circuits in our housing units. It will mean that our social system will continue to fall apart. I feel like I have said that this type of slippage is what destabilized Jamaica’s and Trinidad’s economies and so, for the fear of being repetitive, I rest here. The bus drivers offered us a moment of national reflection. I think we are well served to avail ourselves of it.