Human beings, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart reminded visitors and other guests attending a reception at his Ilaro Court official residence this week, are yet to reach the lofty “standards of angels”. The statement was a roundabout way of saying we are all prone to making mistakes because this inherent flaw in our make up makes perfection elusive.
Perhaps if Mr Stuart were still active as a Pentecostal preacher, as he was during his youth, he probably would have chosen the 25th verse of the third chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as the basis of his sermon. It reads: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What is comforting, however, is that God makes provision for when we fall short. Once we humbly admit our shortcomings, He is forever ready to offer us forgiveness once we ask for it.
Mr Stuart’s comments came against the backdrop of increasingly harsh criticism of his Government over its handling of the south coast sewage crisis. Foul-smelling effluent has been oozing out of sewer pipes intermittently over the past several months and flowing on to the streets of the busy tourist district, much to the annoyance of residents, businesses and passersby.
The failure of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to fix the problem resulted this week in the governments of three countries which together supply most of the visitors to our shores, issuing back-to-back travel advisories within the space of three days. Though Mr Stuart reportedly made no mention of the issue, the comments can be interpreted as his response to the public health warnings issued by Canada, the United States and United Kingdom to their citizens travelling to Barbados.
When one falls short of any standard — and perfection is not the issue here — the right and proper thing to do, depending on the gravity of the mistake, is to offer an apology to the aggrieved stakeholders and commit to making amends.
“I am sorry” is one of the most powerful phrases in human interaction. Except for the apology issued by BWA General Manager Keith Halliday, none other has been forthcoming, to the best of our knowledge, especially from our accountable elected representatives who have responsibility for Government decision making.
Indeed, Government’s handling of the entire issue has been characterized by saying little or outright silence. This lack of clear communication and now the absence of a sincere apology, can easily be interpreted as a sign of arrogance, indifference and insensitivity – accusations which have previously been directed at Mr Stuart and his administration. While the Supreme Being does not expect us to be achieve perfection, at least not in our present human form, He expects nevertheless that it is a goal we should strive towards relying on the abundance of His Grace. As Matthew 5:48 states: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”
By failing to offer an apology to our paying guests, for whom his Government has a responsibility to ensure their comfort and safety in the same way as residents, Mr Stuart missed an important opportunity to repair the major international damage to the reputation of our destination and to at least get positive word out in the marketplace that Barbados is mindful of its responsibility.
Imagine if guests who attended the reception were asked by friends or work colleagues on return home what assurances they were given that the matter was being addressed to help them make up their minds as to whether they too should proceed with plans to visit Barbados, perhaps the response will be: “The prime minister only told us Barbadians are not perfect.” Such a response is insufficient to calm the anxieties of any prospective visitor with genuine public health and safety concerns.
When visitors choose to come to a destination, they are not looking for perfection because they know that state does not exist. They come, however, with the legitimate expectation that a certain standard of service will be provided, in the same way that any customer expects of a place with which he/she is doing business. The fact that we are not perfect is not the issue; the issue is that our foreign guests and Barbadians have had for too long to contend with smelly sewage which is not a standard of living to which we are accustomed.
Instead of settling for mediocrity, which seems to be infiltrating many aspects of national life, it is better for us to focus again at all levels on attaining and maintaining high standards of excellence as close as possible to perfection, rather than settle for anything less. To blame human imperfection in this particular case is therefore not acceptable.