“No matter how well trained, no army will win many battles and avoid excessive casualties without competent generals who develop the battle plans, marshall the resources, provide the requisite troop strength, and arrange for the critical logistic support.” – (David M. Cohen – Amateur Government).
Barbados is in a war for its survival and the avoidance of being labelled a failed state. The battlefront is laden with immense economic difficulties inclusive of an astronomical debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. The newly formed administration has inherited atrocious conditions and tenuous circumstances that have led to a country battling to safeguard its currency peg, apply fiscal discipline, overcome the multiple downgrades, and overall, restructure the national debt without compromising the dignity or value of the most vulnerable within the Barbadian society. There are various sectoral complexities and a host of societal anxieties which are troubling to Barbadians at home and abroad. Each battle must be won.
Clearly, the Barbadian electorate gave an unprecedented and overwhelming mandate to the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). This symbol of trust must immediately translate into hope, urgency, confidence, and commitment which were all missing ingredients from the previous administration. The newly formed Government of Barbados under the leadership of Prime Minister Mia Mottley brings with it a lifeline and a survivor’s kit. Barbados’ eight prime minister and first female to reach the apex of national executive leadership does not have the luxury of sitting back or depending on the winds of serendipity.
Recent comments suggest that there is no honeymoon period for Prime Minister Mia Mottley and she must brace for the fights ahead. The severely weakened voices of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) are unlikely to disappear, and they too are in skirmishes to avoid the indignity of being exposed for scandalous allegations of misfeasance or being prosecuted for possible crimes against the state. The concerted barrage from those not willing to take responsibility for the woes now facing the country is surely another set of bombardment that can dissolve with each small battle won by the prime minister.
Indeed, the BLP has the historical record and acute awareness to bring ample resolve to save a nation long known for its resilience, pride, and industry. Prime Minister Mottley’s political will and distinct competence, coupled with her ‘love of country’ and the willingness to subscribe to timely, even if unpopular decisions, stand between safeguarding the nation or wilting under the carcasses left by the previous Stuart-led administration.
To that extent, the Cabinet that has been selected by Prime Minister Mottley brims with a blend of experience and multiple talents. Notwithstanding that it is the largest ever, this Mottley-led Cabinet was meticulously chosen. Mottley herself said that she “not only considered the mandate given” to the BLP by the people through the electorate, but she also considered “the scope of the work to be done, and the level of expertise that is at our disposal, among elected members,” and “opted to share the workload across a significant proportion of the parliamentary group, rather than conform to the theory of a small Cabinet, thus creating an unrealistic setting for members to function effectively.” The Prime Minister has taken the proverbial bull by the horn.
The men and women selected to lead public policy must successfully take Barbados from the verge of disaster to the peak of prosperity. Equally important for winning the war on maladministration, inefficiency, corruption, poverty, high debt, and general economic and social malaise, is the selection of capable and proven advisers. Political and economic advisers are sometimes viewed with suspicion; elsewhere, they are called ‘barbarians at the gate’ by naysayers and critics questioning the rationale for their engagement. However, the value of political and technocratic experts ought never to be trivialized.
In fact, it is widely accepted that the political appointment “counteracts inertia, ensures an influx of new ideas, and keeps Government in touch with a variety of interested groups and constituencies.” Myriad advisers and consultants are very likely to make their expertise amount to a winning formula. Fortunately for Barbados, PM Mottley welcomes the speaking of truth to power, and she is evidently comfortable within herself to engage specialists and experts that would help her achieve her colossal objectives for Barbados.
The presence of persons such as Professor Avinash Persaud, Ambassador Dr Clyde Mascoll, and Ambassador Dame Billie Miller to name a few, is not about rewarding a few or gravitating to ‘yes’ people. Rather, it is allowing for skilled intellectuals, network specialists, and those persons committed to national service and building a better Barbados to work together – unafraid, unfettered while being creative and productive.
PM Mottley has clearly indicated that the march towards progress will revolve around portfolios that reflect ‘the traditional bedrock portfolios’ and ‘embrace new concepts and opportunities’. The Barbados leader is predisposed to allowing all ideas to contend, but she is similarly adamant of having the best team possible to address the harshest conditions that have been allowed to prevail in Barbados over the last, lost decade.
On the relatively ‘large’ public service, this is a concern that needs to be addressed. Not so much to reduce the size, but to establish the best fit for providing excellent service, facilitating the ease of doing business, and to drive national productivity. Sadly, persons like former Governor Dr Delisle Worrell appear bent on crunching numbers above workers. Dr Worrell’s reclaimed intimacy with the media after foiling the fourth estate’s earlier attempts to have an accurate gauge of the Barbados economy is bothersome. Worrell is insisting on the displacement of 1,500 workers from the public service to reduce a large and recurring wages and salaries bill. Lest Barbados and the region forget, it was the same Dr Worrell, a few years ago, who argued that “increasing labour productivity is also essential to improving the living standards of our workforce.”
The question must be why would you send home workers and rob them of livelihoods when one can become creative and explore other possibilities of utility and proficiency? The Honourable Marsha Caddle counters Dr Worrell’s faceless proposal by indicating that the policymakers and decision-makers “have to start getting creative with this economy and determine that we can no longer have labour and workers being at the front line of an adjustment.” This is a position consistent with the labour unions and one that coincides with the thrust of last week’s budget delivered by Prime Minister Mottley.
Barbados’ civil service is a key spearhead in the battle to overcome the recklessness of the past and to pivot so that the country can maximize on all its potentials. The public service will, of necessity, need to be supported by other stakeholders such as those comprising civil society, trade unions, media, and citizens. Barbadians are expecting and are prepared for transformative policies in the social, economic, environmental and cultural domains.
Certainly, Barbados needs good governance and collective civic structures to facilitate and regulate the interface between the shared public realm and private interests. Through greater citizen participation, dedicated advisers, and committed ministers, ways must be imagined and shaped that would enable effective and fair sharing of resources and opportunities. This is in the same way that PM Mottley, in expressing a first principle of the BLP Cabinet, asserted that “the burden must be shared by all of us. Labour, the workers, cannot be asked to shoulder all the burden; but neither must capital bear all the pain.”
Against numerous discussions and deliberations, it is a people’s plan that has emerged. Despite the huge task, the Commander-in-Chief is communicative, confident, and committed to winning the battles and the war for all Barbados. Prime Minister Mottley recently declared that “a government must never be an imposition of oppression on its people.” This writer strongly supports the strategy of getting to the best mix to fix Barbados’ problems.
(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])