If there’s one significant contribution which the former Freundel Stuart regime has made towards a better understanding of the practice of Barbadian statecraft, it certainly would be in the many invaluable lessons which it has unintentionally left on how not to govern.
The Stuart Dems surely made history, to play on the former prime minister’s words at the outset of their ill-fated campaign for the May 24 general election, but it was largely in a negative sense. They have carved for themselves a unique place in Barbadian history, having earned the unenviable rating as the worst Government this island has had so far.
There are two lessons in particular from the experience of the last eight years that stand out. The first underscores the critical point that no government can achieve success without winning and retaining the support and cooperation of key national stakeholders and the general public. “Success” in this context refers to the realization of strategic goals and objectives.
How is success achieved? Through the tried and proven formula of continuous engagement aimed at sharing information and also persuasion to secure buy-in from stakeholders and the average citizen. This is necessary so that everyone has a clear understanding of the role they are expected to play in the pursuit of national development. For the most part, the Freundel Stuart regime governed in silence.
The second lesson relates to the critical role of Government in building and maintaining confidence, not just domestically but also externally, in order to facilitate economic growth which is so vital for a country’s success if it wishes to improve the overall well-being of the people. Without sustainable economic growth, no country can advance as the Barbadian experience of the last eight years clearly shows.
What is obvious, based on their focus during the first three weeks in office, is that the new Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration, led by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, seems determined not to make the same fatal mistakes as the Dems. From the get-go, continuous public engagement has been a defining feature of the new Government’s approach. So too has been building trust and confidence.
It’s a full embrace of an important aspect of modern democratic governance. Governments are elected for the primary purpose of fixing problems which hinder, in various ways, the realization of the average citizen’s expectation of a better quality of life. Governments, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure that citizens are fully kept abreast of what they are doing in the public interest.
The harsh reality which governments face today, in the context of the media and information age, is that they can choose either to communicate and define themselves or refuse to communicate and open up themselves to the risk being defined by others. Apparently believing that they were still operating in the last century when governments could easily get away with little or no public engagement, the Dems chose the latter to their detriment.
When there is frank and open communication, such as what we have been witnessing since May 24, stakeholders understand where a government is coming from and what is required of them. They also feel empowered and motivated to work together in pursuit of the common good. Most importantly, the government earns trust, respect and goodwill which it seems the Mottley administration is receiving.
Where there is a glaring absence of communication, as was the case under the Dems, outcomes include loss of respect, opportunities, confidence, credibility, trust and important relationships. Poor communication inevitably leads to negative outcomes. Effective communication, on the other hand, inevitably leads to positive outcomes. There is therefore good reason, on the basis of what we have experienced during the past three weeks, for optimism about the future.
Indeed, the case for optimism is buttressed by the emergence of clear signs that the most critical ingredient for reversing the nation’s flagging fortunes – namely CONFIDENCE — has started to return. The signs are evident within government where there appears to be a new sense of urgency, the business community, labour, international investors and the general population. It represents fertile ground for a resumption of significant economic growth.
A tried and proven formula for building trust and confidence is to demonstrate that one’s word is one’s bond. During the campaign, Miss Mottley promised to abolish the hated ten per cent National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), imposed by the Dems, and to restore free education for Barbadians pursuing first degrees at the University of the West Indies. She delivered in three weeks. In contrast, the Dems broke so many promises.
The rapid turn-around in the public mood proves that it was the approach of the Freundel Stuart regime which was at the root of the national crisis. It is amazing, to give just one example, how quickly the south coast sewage crisis, which seemed beyond resolution under the Dems, has been effectively brought under control by the decisive approach of the new administration.
This outcome supports a fundamental point about Barbados that I have always made. It is that a big plus for this country is the fact that Barbadians are intrinsically patriotic and readily demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice or go the extra mile in the national interest once the country is under dynamic leadership.
It is this understanding of Barbados which reinforced my faith in the greatness of our country and our capacity for resilience during the darkest days under the former regime when, at times, it seemed as if we were destined to go the route of utter economic devastation which was the unfortunate fate of a few of our CARICOM neighbours. What the Dems did to Barbados represents an almost unpardonable political sin. Because of the indecisiveness which generally characterized their approach to government, we have lost almost an entire decade, developmentally speaking.
The real tragedy for Barbados is that the Dems took a proud and confident country which was known internationally for punching above its weight and brought it to a point where the citizenry was essentially told that it was okay to settle for mediocrity. Want the evidence? The repeated suggestion in the Dems’ political narrative that ‘better could not be done’. What utter nonsense!
Better is always possible but it has to start with a belief in one’s capabilities to turn what may appear to be impossibilities into possibilities. Indeed, such an attitude has informed my own philosophy and guided my approach towards confronting the challenges of everyday life. The inspiration came from both studying the New Testament teachings of Jesus and also Latin literature.
“All things are possible to him who believes”, Jesus taught us (Mark 9:23). In Vergil’s Aeneid, a seminal piece of Latin literature, there is a sentence in the text related to the Funeral Games which stands out. “Possunt quia posse videntur,” it reads. Translated, it means: “They can because they think they can” — the proud motto of the Lodge School.
As we embark in earnest on the task of national reconstruction, it is my hope that Barbadians will similarly draw strength and inspiration from both pronouncements underscoring the power of belief. With confidence in our capabilities and inspiring leadership to point the way, we will be okay. Yes, we will be okay!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)