I think we are in the first phase of austerity in Barbados. The Government has announced some of the measures to be taken and hinted at more to come. I understand that dollars have to be adjusted to address the four problem pillars of debt, fiscal tightness, foreign exchange deficit and credibility in our economy. However, the more I live on this very small Island, the more I am convinced money alone cannot fix our problems.
We have to adjust several cultures in this island. We have some institutions and entities that have morphed into useless, counter-productive beasts. Everybody knows they are problematic, nobody knows how to fix them. For me, to preserve the idea of Barbados we will have to take these entities by the horns – we have to cull the big bad bullies. No amount of austerity can get us past dealing with this reality. Let me lay out three examples.
For years in this country, lawyers have been a rule unto themselves. Prominent nationalist politician, Errol Barrow, cautioned the masses of Barbados to stay out of Coleridge Street if they want justice. This was and continues to be a serious indictment on the judicial system and those responsible for its execution.
There are countless stories – some well-known, others untold – about how people seeking various kinds of legal advice allegedly and scammed in some form or fashion by lawyers in Barbados. The frequency with which the incidences happen would suggest that the Bar Association of Barbados is doing nothing tangible to change the attitude and approach of lawyers who practice in Barbados.
I thank the lawyers who are seeking to challenge the authority of the Bar. At the risk of being the ‘cockroach in fowl dance’, I want to say that this move to challenge the big bad bully – the Bar Association – could trigger a national response to the regulation of the legal profession that may benefit the end users. If the Bar ceases to exist as we know it in the process, I feel like the public of Barbados would have lost nothing.
Another big bad bully in Barbados is the educational system. This monster has been attacked and daggered from every which angle and yet it manages to keep itself intact. A few years ago, in an exercise done on the public service, education officers were graded lower than principals. As far as I know the anomaly was never corrected and I think it left a dangerous lacuna in oversight and quality assurance in our system.
As a young teacher, there was somewhat of a quake at the sight of an educational officer. We knew it was a possibility to have our scheme of works checked on demand. We also had to hope our clothing choices for the day were deemed suitable. We further hoped that the education officer did not come to find us short of teaching a particular concept or in an exchange with a student we preferred not to have to explain.
With the regrading and the confusion over whether the education officer was still a supervisory role, their interaction within the school settings seemed to have been reduced significantly. With that, the quality control of teaching also diminished. Additionally, there was to be an evaluation system put in place for teachers but I think this was thwarted by concerns from at least one of the teachers’ unions on the island.
It is high time that teachers in Barbados be made accountable for their productivity. I know how hard teachers work generally, but I am concerned that the few bad apples may be getting greater in quantity. If parents who are home-schooling children are going to be held accountable for children’s development then teachers too have to be held to account for their class outcomes.
The third big bad bully has certainly reached colossus status in the Barbadian landscape. Despite the constant name changes, one thing that has remained constant is the poor customer experience subscribers of the service receive. I received a call recently from Flow indicating that I had to have my copper line transferred to the fibre upgrade. The customer has no choice but to transfer because the copper network is going off line.
Flow has chosen which box it will install in the customers’ home and the box requires a power supply should electricity go off. However, Flow has stopped issuing the power pack to accompany the box they chose. I have been trying to ask about the power supply and my right to one but I am doing it in the context of a company that is accustomed to being a monopoly. Customer queries are seen as bothers.
Apart from the unaddressed issue of the power packs, Barbadians have been experiencing dropped calls and other interruptions on the fibre network. Flow also has not said anything about these complaints or when they will be remedied. Such is the behaviour of the big bad bullies in Barbados. Things change and other things remain the same.
Of the examples of big bad bullies I put to you today, only one is a Government agency. I hope this makes the point that the problems of low productivity, bad service and a general lack of care for human beings are not just restricted to Government service. It has more to do with the culture of work and service that we have cultivated. There is much toxicity bound up in the culture and in order to move the idea of Barbados forward we will have to reconcile that.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: email@example.com)