The democratic process in Barbados stands to become a farce if citizens continue to disavow themselves of certain responsibilities after marking their ‘X’. With a general election to be held within the next six months, it is perhaps time that citizens look to participate more in their democracy outside of that five-year national exercise, and most of all, hold their political leaders and government bureaucrats to greater accountability.
The ethos of too many Barbadians in their relationship with their societal leaders needs to change from that of beggars to bosses. Of course, this will not be an easy exercise as it is in the politician’s interest to perpetuate the beggar mentality in the masses. It is this condition that leads many people to believe that their path in life is dependent on what they can extract from politicians.
Barbados is in many ways a welfare state, not in the physical sense, but there exists a welfare state of mind and it is manifested in several areas of our day-to-day interactions. It has been nourished in our education system and pervades much of our society. German philosopher Immanuel Kant spoke about enlightenment as an emergence from self-imposed immaturity and the ability to use personal understanding without guidance from another. He said the immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. At the tertiary level we do not truly educate, we regurgitate – the larger the bibliography, the seeming greater demonstration of our understanding and education. We learn the opinions of others and our own understanding gains validation by the more references we can highlight. And perhaps our dependency gains nourishment right there.
And look at the promises sold to us by politicians. One political entity has promised a delinquent tax write-off across the board; another has promised a return to free education at the tertiary level. They make these promises because they are keenly aware of the environment in which they make them and that they do not have to keep them because the masses traditionally feast equally on promises and deeds. They are keenly aware that citizens in 2017 Barbados believe they are owed the same concessions made in 1960s Barbados that elevated their parents and grandparents.
We live in an environment where citizens desire free education, free healthcare, subsidized public transportation and also increased salaries. But we can’t have it all. In jurisdictions such as Denmark where Government takes about half the income of its citizens in taxes, there is a high degree of ‘freeness’ where the state pays for healthcare, child care, elderly care, job training, college education, and more. There are scarcely any industrial squabbles over salaries. But the scenario in Barbados is that we are heavily taxed but do not see the volume of advantages and benefits commensurate with that taxation. Barbadians must therefore demand explanation from the political directorate as to why this is so. And there is no difference between the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party in the obligation of explanation and accountability.
We have had poverty alleviation programmes but the poverty index has increased. The question must be asked: How can our politicians serve communities across Barbados for five, ten, fifteen years or more and they emerge vastly richer than when they entered politics, while their constituents remain in their same social station or have become poorer? Is it a case that too much upward mobility makes citizens the bosses and does not suit the purpose of politicians within the system in which they thrive?
And do our voters not believe it incumbent on them to question why their politicians oversee social services such as healthcare but yet when they themselves fall victim to their human frailties, they seek medical care elsewhere. What is the message being sent? They supervise the provision of a healthcare system in which they show little faith but foist it on the masses. It is their right to seek the best for themselves, but it is also their duty to provide the best for the rest of us.
And what about those opportunistic claims and accusations of corruption emanating from our two main political parties? There are gullible Barbadians who will profess the cleanliness of the one against the other when both entities have frequently been found wanting. Annually we have instances and evidence outlined in various reports, inclusive of the Auditor General’s, of impropriety and corruption in our governance system. But most if not all of those personalities involve, remain firmly entrenched in their jobs. We have had instances of contracts being awarded to inexperienced spouses by politicians against the dictates of professional technocrats, botched work carried out with full remuneration made, and no heads rolled. The voting masses allow this.
Perhaps it is time for an Anti- corruption Czar with the legislative power and tools to investigate and indict our political and bureaucratic leaders; to go where law enforcement may not, cannot or does not want to go. But this is highly unlikely. This Barbados environment has not demonstrated it is conducive to such moments of enlightenment. In dictatorships people tend to be afraid of their government, but in democracies such as Barbados, the government ought to be afraid of the people. Alas, this is not so as we the people often willingly act as though we are the children of a lesser God.