“The last Government put itself in a trap. Wasted spending pushed up the debt, and pushed up interest payments, so they raised taxes which stopped the economy from growing.” – Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
At last week’s public ceremony of the new Cabinet Ministers taking their respective oaths of offices, Prime Minister Mia Mottley in challenging her executive asserted that “it now falls to us to translate hope into action… There is no time for pause, and there is certainly no place for triumphalism and exultation. We have serious work to do and serious problems to solve.” Who among us would disagree on the urgency and delicate nature of things to be done to rescue Barbados?
During the same week, the perilous state of the Barbados economy was revealed and Barbadians got the confirmation that the ‘foreign reserves are at a tenuous stage’ and that the ‘deficit is unacceptably high’. Government’s arrears were said to be about $1.7 billion at September 30, 2017. This figure is expected to be significantly higher given the depth of maladministration that became a notable characteristic under former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Finance Minister Christopher Sinckler.
These things, when placed in the context of Barbados receiving more than 20 downgrades from international rating agencies and the high-interest rates which they attracted on borrowing, further emphasize the difficulty and scale of the work that PM Mottley and her Ministers must tackle. Urgency is the buzzword for the leadership tests that she will face in the immediate days and coming months if ‘Critical Mission’ is to resonate with the type of public support it attracted and which led to a 30 – 0 victory for the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on May 24th.
Informatively, Barbados’ current debt is approximately $15 billion or nearly $9 billion more than the last administration had inherited in 2008. The island’s debt is the third highest in the world after Japan and Greece. This staggering jump in the national debt equates to around 175 per cent of Barbados’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The fact that these economic disclosures were confirmed by the first female prime minister in the history of Barbados, brought no satiety to the nation. After all, there were more disconcerting news and claims suggesting that since March 5th and without the oversight of the legislature, numerous perplexing occurrences obtained regarding the awarding/disbursement and/or renewal of contracts, and other perceivably nefarious actions. The public needs answers to many of those issues with some calling for the figurative ‘necks’ of the former Prime Minister, former Minister of Finance, and other suggestively implicated Cabinet Ministers.
At the beginning of any term in office, such meaningful values as inspiration, hope, and confidence play major roles in the psyche of the governed and the support that the governing can anticipate. Prime Minister Mottley, more demonstratively than her immediate predecessor, has the capacity to draw lessons from history while staying in touch with today’s demands to safeguard the nation’s future. Already, Miss Mottley has shown that she has not only the political capital, but she possesses the will and confidence to act in a decisive manner. She may have been reduced numerically by one Member of Parliament, but that does not take away from the more accurate assessment that Barbados “is in need of serious, urgent action with respect to its economy and its Government.”
The Prime Minister’s approach to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not the easiest or most universally comforting position to take, but it clearly highlights that it will not be the slothful procrastination that sowed the seeds and devoured many previous opportunities for Barbados to turn around its downward trajectory under the Stuart and Sickler combination. In going to the IMF, and against the background that public servants are still aggrieved after being denied any salary increase for about a decade, it is imperative that PM Mottley keeps channels of discourse open, mutually respectful, and geared towards the national interest.
The evidence is suggesting that PM Mottley is keen to be informative, transparent, and accountable to the social partners comprising the ‘Tri-Partite’ arrangements, and to the broader society in which we are all stakeholders. The fact is, the maintenance of a good industrial relations climate is a pre-requisite to sustained economic growth and social stability which all seemed to have been eroded under Prime Minister’s Stuart pedantic resolve to be silent. One can expect that Prime Minister Mottley will put a premium on success and delivering positive results based on implemented policies. These policy avenues will also depend on the morale and motivation that ignites the public service to action, and which would demonstrate that efficiency can be achieved without massive layoffs as being courted by a former Governor of the Central Bank. Dr Delisle Worrell previously refused to speak to Barbadians via the media and he too was part of the advisory grouping leading Barbados’ demise.
This writer would advocate strongly for public reform that emphasizes the technological knowledge and computer literacy skills of all public officers. This is consistent with the Manifesto pledge of the BLP stating that: “To fast track this new economy, Government, the private sector, and individuals will need to embrace the digital economy… [and] the BLP Government will lead this transformation.” Ultimately, the state of readiness for a transformed economy will depend on Barbados’ best resource – its human capital – and this invaluable resource must be put to the best use so that the country, in its entirety, will reap the rewards of a public service, for example, being rewarded based on merit, ability, and productivity.
Finally, it takes more than optics and physical presence to safeguard democracy in Barbados. President Franklin Roosevelt once said that: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” In full agreement, I am more inclined to watch the choices made by Barbados’ newest Leader of the Opposition, than to rush in and sing praises for an action that in of itself appears contradictory. PM Mottley has repeated her thrust for maximising on education investments while Bishop Joseph Atherley in the selection of his first Senator, appears willing ‘to rock the boat’. However, and given the state of national affairs, all Barbadians need to become strict guardians of our heritage. This can be achieved by ramping up the teaching of civics and demanding that all our processes and institutions work despite any shortcomings in the personalities at play.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant who has sought nomination for the BLP in St John. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)