It would be overstretching it somewhat to compare anything that has occurred in Barbados over the last 52 years to anything that happened in Hitler’s Germany in the period between June 30 and July 2, 1934. Of course, history tells us that was the period when Europe’s great lunatic engineered several extrajudicial killings of his political enemies in order to consolidate his political power. It was the period of the purge, the Night of the Long Knives.
We have had no killings in post-Independent Barbados to consolidate the political power of any individual. Our cherished democracy allows for free and fair elections; that exercise of the will of the people to choose the government of their desire every five years – or sometimes a tad longer. But after that choice is made, we do have our purges of sorts and our night of long knives even if no blood is shed.
Both the Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party have now patented the practice of removing or transferring Barbadian citizens from state employment in the country of their birth simply on political grounds. Often, the removal does not take into consideration the performance of the individual, the quality and productivity brought to the office by the person’s presence or for that matter, the quality and ability of the replacement.
Late Prime Minister David Thompson’s ascension to power in Barbados was accompanied by long knives brandished in a number of statutory or state-controlled agencies. The same has been the order of the day by current Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Indeed, in a touch of irony, one of those purged by the departed Mr Thompson has been recently resurrected by Prime Minister Mottley. The same purges were carried out by National Hero Errol Barrow, the late Tom Adams, et al. Though former Prime Minister Owen Arthur might have practised what he deemed the politics of inclusion where he drew resources from within the Democratic Labour Party, he was not averse to the occasional purge during his 14-year tenure.
But it is a questionable practice by our political parties in a country whose main resource is not oil or bauxite but its people. Can a country with limited or no resources, afford to marginalize possibly the best available brains, the hardest workers and the committed patriots, simply because one gravitates to all things red and other to the colours of yellow and blue?
Recently we had examples of the Barbados Labour Party Government following local history and established protocols by removing certain persons from politically-appointed posts. And we suspect there are more to come. But it would be instructive to discover whether those axed brought value to the organization they managed. Did they make their department and the persons around them better? Were their contributions translated into enhanced productivity and profitability for all concerned?
Recently at the last CARICOM summit in Jamaica, Miss Mottley spoke fittingly and accurately about the integration movement. She suggested that more needed to be done to give greater relevance to CARICOM, especially as it related to inter-regional travel and providing opportunities for Caribbean people across the region. It was somewhat paradoxical that these sentiments were being expressed in one breath but political purges were being simultaneously carried out at home. But Miss Mottley was simply following an unfortunate blueprint that has been set down by all her predecessors.
We have had changes at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation – perhaps not the best example of good management, the Transport Board, Barbados Agricultural Development & Marketing Corporation, Barbados Water Authority, among others. It is possible that we could see more coming at the National Cultural Foundation, Barbados Investment Development Corporation, Urban and Rural Development Commissions, Commission for Pan African Affairs, and elsewhere. These purges have been repeated to varying degrees of intensity by every administration since 1966. We have no issues with good being replaced by better or better being replaced by the best. But at some stage, our political leaders must determine what is best for the particular organization and the country in general when such decisions are being made. After all, the personalities at play are all Barbadians or Caribbean citizens.
Can small, vulnerable economies like ours afford purges and nights of long knives when we discard the best that we possibly might have?