‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, [and] faithful in prayer’ – (Romans 12:12).
Recently elected Prime Minister Mia Mottley insisted that the team she leads recognizes the importance of hope within the wider Barbados population. The first female Prime Minister wooed the nation by advocating that “hope must be matched with real opportunities, opportunities to learn new skills, to find new jobs, to make new investments, to create new art and new music.” Inspiration coming from the utterances of the national leadership is vital given the real circumstances and the storms of austerity that are already hovering above Barbados.
Certainly, the promise of hope combined with the virtues of creativity, urgency, and the co-requisite of transparency and accountability to the governed are sine qua non if Barbados is to successfully overcome the challenges of the day. These dynamics are essential for good governance; they are pivotal for the transformation that Barbados must endure at this juncture in the island’s historical development.
Barbados faces several challenges – there are some old, and some new, some internally initiated and others externally formed. Regardless, there must be a sense of urgency that ought to reflect the serious nature of these challenges; there must be the leadership and a greater force suggesting that these worrisome challenges of today, would be overcome soon to the satisfaction of all residents, visitors, and well-wishers of Barbados.
Indeed, whether living in Barbados or in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) or in the wider international world, Barbadians have an almost perfect opportunity to demonstrate globally that this nation of 431 square kilometres can attend to the important task of rescuing a ‘stagnant’ economy and putting the brakes on an unstable society. Simultaneously, Barbados must be concerned with rebuilding a sustainable economy and stable society that will reach unprecedented heights while delivering prosperity for all.
Moreover, the dynamic of having a twinned-gem comprising the Barbados Head of State in Her Excellency Dame Sandra Mason and the Prime Minister in the Honourable Mia Mottley (both Queen’s Counsels) symbolizes the rootedness of achieving gender parity to the further enablement of Barbadian civilization. The appropriateness of the Governor General’s words that: “My Government is committed to safeguarding our future generations and empowering them to have the best quality of life our country can give them” speaks beyond gender, attaches to the youth and elderly, but more purposefully demonstrates a willingness to be strict guardians of the Barbadian heritage whilst being the shapers and firm craftsmen and women of our collective fate.
Clearly, the essence in Mia Mottley’s message of hope is buttressed by the sincerity she emits and that she cares. Miss Mottley’s interactions with the governed have indicated that she is willing to be innovative, assertive, and communicative. As Mottley said, the legislature with its overwhelming mandate and the talented mix of the Cabinet “need to better spark the energy, the innovation and the resources of our people,” rather than say and/or do things that ‘douse’ the passions and fire of the people.
Although the previous administration relished in frivolities and procrastinated on most important decision-making, it would be reprehensible should Prime Minister Mottley’s team lapse into the behaviour that saw the people ridding themselves of an inept administration last month, on May 24th. Barbadians must find ways and avenues for joining hands with pride and industry, thus leading to the synergies that are capable of ‘building the best Barbados together’.
Notwithstanding Prime Minister Mottley’s immediate focus and emphasis on areas/issues determined to be ‘Mission Critical’, Barbados needs to deepen its commitment to the health and well-being of the citizens of the country. Concentration on the areas of health, education, physical infrastructure, social cohesion and distributive justice are of paramount importance to the people’s social and economic development. In that way, the significance of PM Mottley’s ‘Mission Critical’ policy agenda will have direct significance to the individual as well as to the multiple communities making up the nation.
Immediately coming to mind is having available the money and resources to get things done – such as fixing what is now deemed ‘the sewage crisis’. Poor maintenance and paralysis emerging from the previous administration’s lacklustre approach to the problems affecting the south coast of Barbados are also threatening the Bridgetown environs. The horror that is now exposed relating to Barbados’ overall economy, and specifically with the downward trajectory in foreign reserves and the upward climb of the national debt must be arrested with haste. The restructuring of national debt, according to Miss Mottley, is an urgent necessity, and it will address the severe challenges presented by the current debt service commitments already compounded by low foreign reserve holdings.
Miss Mottley has a track record of bringing energy to the mundane and putting priority to those things that are literally and figuratively corrective. Indeed, the likely intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as suggested by Prime Minister Mottley, though not a comforter, can be fitted to meet Barbados’ goal of fending off the worst that emerged in the last, lost decade. The announcement that Barbados will go the route of debt restructuring and re-profiling comes at a cost. Policy actions will demand additional sacrifices from residents.
While Miss Mottley is adamant to protect the most vulnerable groups in the society, the temperament of our people will be tested. Also, understanding from our creditors is to be courted while the national posturing will necessitate nimbleness in our mechanisms. There must be certainty and initiatives that are re-designed to grow the economy without removing the human face from the foreground of policy options.
As a self-starter and the new Minister of Agriculture has alluded to the cause, Barbadians must aim to grow their food and reduce agricultural imports wherever import substitution is technically and economically feasible. The various industries, particularly the hotel and supermarket sectors, must not unduly negate the choices or hamper the quality of goods destined for the consumer. Barbados must avail itself with the necessary adjustment that would lead to improvements towards finding self-sufficiency for householders and general consumers. Food security must be pursued with practicality and the use of micro and macro technologies.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley is expected to give in a Ministerial statement, a ‘mini-budget’ to address forthrightly and as clearly as possible, the problems facing Barbados and the approach that her Cabinet will apply to curb the infelicities that now have the country on its knees. Again, Prime Minister Mottley’s message to the people and stakeholders is one of ‘watch muh do it’. It is this confidence borne out of pride and industry, and the commitment to overcome the severity of Barbados’ challenges that have demanded that the nation join hands in making the solutions work for the betterment of the nation. Barbados shall surely regain its footing, and its debt portfolio will be brought under control while confidence again blossoms with the promise of a welcoming investment climate.
To quote Miss Mottley, Barbadians and our “creditors will thank us” for this prioritized intervention and trek to fix the fiscal and other macroeconomic problems. “Unsustainable debt is of no use to anyone,” and Barbadians are not about to squander this opportunity to build the best Barbados with Mia Mottley at the helm of Government. There are some considerations that have been mooted by PM Mottley which ought to drive all Barbadians to responsible action:
1. How can we as a people develop if we spend more on debt interest than we spend on education?
2. How can a people live if they spend more on debt interest than they spend on public health?
3. How may a nation prosper if it spends more on interest for its debt than on looking after its environment, or its public infrastructure, or public transport?
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant who recently sought nomination for the opposition BLP in St John. Email:[email protected])