The manifesto of the Barbados Labour Party begins with an outline of mission-critical areas which are to be addressed within the first six months of Government. Point five is titled Helping People to Live and it is written in the spirit of recognition that Barbadian people and families have been facing severe and consistent economic changes in their lives.
I want to discuss an issue related to the safety net that has to be considered if the full intention of this manifesto promised is to be realized. It has to do with the banking sector and what is going to be their stance and approach to restructuring Barbados.
When the banks raised rates a few months ago there was an outcry across Barbados. It went largely unaddressed by the Banking association and various banks. It was a travesty that they chose to ignore the public outcries about their charges. While the charges are bad enough, there is an overarching issue which the banks and their association need to reconcile with the public of Barbados.
The Barbados Labour Party government has signalled its intention to encase the family and individuals in Barbados to ensure that the standard of living does not fall below a standard we have become accustomed to. This may seem to be peripheral in the context of our deep economic woes but really it is the type of work that will either ensure that Barbados can move past this crisis and recreate itself or be consumed because the society buckled under the weight of its economic woes.
We do not have to look far for examples of what happens when countries address their economic challenges only and do not create social safety nets. Tonnes of academic and non-academic literature have been generated out of the experiences of our neighbours Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica. The singular difference is that Barbados has no vast land space, hills or mountains for retreat. When the frustrations and volatility that appear when people lose hope for their lives plays out, all are in the firing line and will be affected.
Given the above then, the pointed question must be asked what role does the banking system in Barbados see for itself in recalibrating the economy of the country? On the cusp of the pending structural adjustment even with the best of political intention and will, the bid to stabilize the country will need buy-in in strategic sectors.
Has the banking association discussed the mortgage sector in Barbados? With possible lay-offs pending and a number of people struggling with reduced income what will be their overall stance? What of the special case of Republic Bank and Barbados Mortgage Finance which, because of the political will of the Barbados Labour Party, has in a lot of ways the clients with the greatest exposure?
As the former Barbados National Bank, they would have had a portfolio of homeowners who benefited from the efforts of the Owen Arthur administration to provide home ownership to the emerging middle class. Many of these individuals are usually employed within Government and are vulnerable to the financial strains of a prolonged non-performing national economy.
Statistics have also revealed that women are among the greater number of this vulnerable homeowning class. Many of them are single income, single parents whose savings have been depleted over the years and who will need facilitation and support in rectifying their accounts. The Barbados Labour Party, in laying the framework for fulfilment of its mandate 5 in the mission-critical section of its manifesto, will either have to create a strategic relationship with the banking sector in Barbados or recreate a lending agency that can offer such protections.
The spirit of allowing everybody in Barbados access to a living wage and support in the economic strengthening of the island must have the protection of family investment and property as a key component. It is not a principle that gels seamlessly with a free and open capitalist model of banking or doing business. It comes down to the point where we must accept that to really rescue Barbados we must also recalibrate our national philosophy.
When we were a social democracy, we had a national bank exactly because it provided the type of support that building new classes of Barbadians required. It had to be a part of the social justice mechanisms available to build out a nationalist society. Rather than discussing whether or not I agreed with the sale of the national bank, I will simplify the sale as our flirtation with globalization. We now have to answer the question of whither we go as a result of that flirtation.
We also have to reconcile the role of the banks and their associations in Barbados’ recovery. It makes no sense for the Government to try to rebuild a society that can ride the economic storm if the banks are invested in strong arming tactics and disinheriting future generations of Barbadians. So, what is our real recovery looking like?
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)