As mind-boggling details continue to emerge about the stewardship of the ousted Democratic Labour Party (DLP) following the landslide May 24th change of government, the scale of the mismanagement and incompetence is as shocking as it is upsetting for most Barbadians. Many a person has been moved to shed a tear for Barbados in the last two weeks.
It is the sad and shameful legacy of a demonstrably clueless but arrogant and contemptuous regime which so often behaved as if it was the sole repository of answers to Barbados’ problems and that it could govern effectively without meaningful consultation with key national stakeholders and the citizenry at large to secure their input for consideration in decision-making.
The folly of this fundamentally flawed approach has been finally laid bare. However, what is unfortunate now that it has been revealed that the economy is in far worse shape than the country was led to believe, is that Peter is unlikely to escape having to pay for Paul even though Peter was not responsible for landing the country in this terrible mess.
To use the words of Dr Burt van Selm, the head of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation which visited Barbados this week for talks on possible economic support to the new Mia Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration, “Barbados is in a precarious economic situation” and it requires “substantial fiscal consolidation” on the part of Government.
The specific policy approach to be adopted by the two-week-old BLP administration will be outlined this coming Monday when Prime Minister Mottley, in her role as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, presents a Ministerial Statement to the House of Assembly. Though naturally concerned, Barbadians appear generally hopeful — a sharp contrast with the apprehension which usually prevailed when the Dems were in office and such statements were impending.
It is a clear sign of returning confidence in the administration of pubic affairs since the change of government. By the decisive approach which she has brought with regard to addressing outstanding critical issues facing the country, Miss Mottley’s hands-on leadership style has earned the admiration of Barbadians who believe better days are ahead, even though some tough decisions have to be made.
The considerable goodwill which currently exists for Miss Mottley means the fiscal adjustment to be pursued by new BLP administration will benefit from broad public support. Compared with most Caribbean countries, Barbados is relatively easier to govern. Barbadians are inherently patriotic and willing to make sacrifices once they are deemed necessary for the common good.
However, there must be inspiring political leadership and effective Government engagement with the citizenry which the new administration has practically demonstrated over last two weeks. It was on the basis of this understanding of Barbados that I argued in a 2013 year-end political analysis for this publication, that solving the economic crisis was beyond the capacity of the DLP Government alone and required a broad-based approach to tap the best Barbadian brains and the practical wisdom of the average Barbadian.
Specifically, I had called for Chris Sinckler to be replaced as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. It was clear back then that public confidence in his policy prescriptions was waning. I had also suggested the establishment of a broad-based National Task Force on the Revitalization of the Economy to advise Government and for then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to be more engaging and assertive in his leadership to provide hope and reassurance for Barbadians.
These suggestions and many others, given with the best of intentions, flowed from my training in political management where major emphasis is on solving problems at the political level. Had they been acted upon, along with so many other pieces of good advice from well-meaning Barbadians that were contemptuously ignored by the DLP regime, Barbados most likely would have turned the curve long ago and would not be in the predicament it is in today.
The assessment of the current state of the economy, given by the head of the IMF delegation, stands in sharp contrast with that given by the former Minister of Finance just a month ago. Asked by reporters if the economic situation was dire after he had paid in to the Treasury on May 3 his deposit to contest the May 24th general election, Sinckler reportedly remarked: “Dire is just one of those words that people like to bandy about just for the hype. There is no dire situation…..”
I leave it to readers to determine if there is any major difference between “dire” and “precarious” in terms of meaning or images triggered in the head. I also leave it to readers to determine whose word carries more credibility. The disturbing revelations of the past fortnight also present an opportunity to revisit the mantra repeatedly used by ousted Prime Minister Stuart in defence of the DLP’s stewardship.
As he put it at last year’s DLP annual conference, “I am satisfied that as a party in Government over the last nine years, we have done nothing of which we can be made to feel ashamed.” If the Dems are not ashamed of their record which has dented national pride, left Barbadians worse off and made Barbados the butt of ridicule in the Caribbean, Barbadians certainly are and that is why they resoundingly sent the Dems packing on May 24.
Based on the available evidence, it seems that a charge of political negligence can be brought against the Dems for their poor management of the economy which has progressively gone from bad to worse over the last five years. For the purpose of simplification, a comparison can be drawn between the economy and a cancer patient. The chances of beating cancer, as almost everyone knows, are considerably better if there is decisive medical intervention when it is at an early stage to prevent progressive development.
Looking back, the opportunity for such intervention in our economy was in 2013, mere months after the general election when Barbadians were told, much to their surprise by the re-elected Dems, that the economy had seriously worsened after being led to believe during the campaign that things were on the mend.
The medicine in the form of steep tax increases which the Dems chose to administer, contributed to making the economy worse by undermining prospects for growth. The Dems’ failure to win the confidence of the private sector whose support is critical further undermined the recovery effort. Five more years under the Dems would have been a sure death sentence for the economy. It probably would have gone the route of Guyana’s in the 1970s and 1980s.
Thanks to the collective wisdom of Barbadians, a new doctor is now treating the cancer patient with a prescription that places emphasis on the promotion of growth to restore the economy to good health. Meanwhile, it is going to be a long stay in the political wilderness for the Dems who were rightly banished there on May 24.
The wilderness environment of opposition politics can be harsh; in fact, so harsh that it can be taxing sometimes on one’s ability to survive. As a result, some fall by the wayside and do not make it back out. Only time will tell if this cruel fate awaits the Dems.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)