Just on account of the strange weather we have been having lately, it seems apt to suggest that “these days are funny nights”.
But for anyone vaguely familiar with the history of Barbados, and in particular, the riotous 1937 period, it is not the sort of phrase to be uttered lightly, reflective as it is of one of the bloodiest and rebellious periods in the island’s history.
Indeed, the year 1937 was highlighted by a labour rebellion that ushered in a period of socio-political change and culminated in the attainment of independence on November 30, 1966. But in the process 14 people were killed, 47 injured and more than 500 arrested as the organizers were accused of creating “discontent and disaffection among His Majesty’s subjects”, promoting “ill-will and hostility between different classes” and were prosecuted for sedition. At the time F.A. Chase, who, as one of the loyal supporters of principal agitator turned National Hero Clement Payne was charged for having incited the crowd to riot and sentenced to nine months in jail, famously said on the platform: “Tonight will be a funny day.”
But there was no stopping the regional anti colonial movement in the former British colonies that had its earliest manifestations in Belize, Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica.
Which brings us to Sunday’s announcement by Grenada’s prime minister Dr Keith Mitchell of a March 13 general election date, which could be the useful signal of what is to come here at home.
The disclosure has effectively ended any and all speculation over when the much anticipated poll will be held and gives all political parties there just about a month and a half to get their full machinery in gear and to try as best as they can to sway voters one way or another.
Ironically, the relief that Grenadians are feeling today, makes them the envy of many here in Barbados, especially supporters of the Opposition, who have been clamouring for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to do what Dr Mitchell has done with seemingly no real hesitation – fly the gate and let the political chips fall where they may.
But with that said, to the best of our knowledge, Grenada has not been dealing with any sewage crisis in its main tourist belt and while it certainly is not in economic paradise at the moment, to its eternal credit the Keith Mitchell government has done much of what the Freundel Stuart administration has been refusing to do over the past four to five years in terms of taking the necessary hard decisions to restructure and reposition the country’s ailing economy.
Indeed, at one point we recall that Grenada was grappling with a 30 per cent rate of unemployment among its many ills. And by June 2014, it was in the proverbial clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose executive board approved a $22 million extended credit facility to restore fiscal sustainability and improve the island’s growth prospects.
Three years later in 2017, the island completed its final review and was preparing to move to “surveillance-only engagement with the IMF”.
In an interview last year at the end of her stint as mission chief for Grenada, the IMF’s Nicole Laframboise reflected on the government’s most significant achievements and the country’s remaining economic challenges, including how to preserve hard-won gains and spread the benefits of reform to all Grenadians.
She pointed out that not only was there broad ownership and consultation across the country on the government’s reform programme between the committee of social partners and the home grown monitoring committee, representing trade unions, private companies, the council of churches, and nongovernment development organizations, but that Grenada had also benefited from extensive technical assistance from the IMF and its Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Center, and from other development partners during the programme.
“This assistance was targeted to areas with the biggest capacity gaps, and those that would best help the government achieve the programme objectives.
“Luck also played a helping hand. While the authorities worked hard throughout, Grenada benefited from some positive external forces, namely stronger growth in key export markets and a rebound in tourism to the Caribbean, as well as a recovery in agriculture.
“Finally, when a government holds a full majority in Parliament, it helps get things done!
“All of these factors helped sustain the reform momentum right until the last review,” Laframboise said.
Between 2014 and 2017, public debt as a share of GDP declined from 108 per cent to 69 per cent. Of this, about one quarter was due to the comprehensive debt restructuring, another quarter to fiscal adjustment, and about half was driven by growth in GDP.
Another key achievement was the overhaul of the fiscal policy framework, anchored by the fiscal responsibility law and backed up by an array of supporting fiscal laws, regulations, and budget practices. The Mitchell government also set up a legal framework to prudently manage the inflows from the citizenship-by-investment programme which the IMF described as “the gold standard in the region for transparency”.
This has laid a confident wicket on which prime minister Mitchell, whose New National Party had captured all 15 seats in the 2013 poll, can bat electorally.
But in contrast, Stuart’s “homegrown solutions” have proven to be as much of a flop as the recent national shutdown ordered by the National Union of Public Workers, which would explain Mr Stuart’s obvious apprehensions even if it is plain for everyone, including Steve Wonder, to see that he is prolonging the country’s economic agony.
However, with that said, when the bell is finally rung will it be “liberation and referendum day” for Barbadians as the opposition leader in Grenada Nazim Burke is currently proclaiming?
Time will tell, as these days are indeed funny nights.