The country sick, the country ain’t well, see it as a person and then you will tell.- Red Plastic Bag, 1989
The former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government spouted the obvious mantra that Barbados was not just an economy but also a society. It was akin to stating that following Sunday, Monday comes. In difficult times, the Freundel Stuart administration failed the economy and the society felt the effects. The DLP dawdled on making tough decisions, perhaps because they were attempting to live up to their mantra and as an already unpopular government, they did not want to make their stay any more septic.
The new Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration has shown a willingness to make tough decisions. They have not lingered. There has been no necessity to wake any sleeping giant. The Mia Mottley administration seems to appreciate that society suffers if the economy is weak. There may be those who cannot put their political affiliation aside and will criticize every move made by the present Government – such is the polarization in this country – but irrespective of one’s political poison, the current administration not only appears to be functioning but the high level of its communication with the public has not been seen since the death of Prime Minister David Thompson.
Of course, there have been missteps by Prime Minister Mottley with respect to her Cabinet in a time of austerity, her impossible political promises, giving with the right hand and taking back more with the left, and some questionable appointments on public service boards that could call into question certain conflicts of interest. But can she be forgiven? Yes. politics is about power and if Miss Mottley wants to keep a stranglehold on power – as any politician would – she must keep a core of allies happy in her Cabinet even if at the expense of taxpayers. After all, those who once stabbed her in the back are still lined up behind her. This is about expediency, not right or wrong.
But as Miss Mottley works assiduously on restoring an economy affected by the failure of both the BLP and DLP to properly restructure it in times of plenty, she needs to lend her unmistakable energy to a situation that threatens to derail both the economy and the society. And that situation is the cancerous drug trade and accompanying gun violence that is now out of control in Barbados. Every community is now vulnerable either directly or indirectly. And that gunmen and drug dealers have taken over communities in the island can be traced to a Royal Barbados Police Force that has seemingly gone soft, a judiciary that is palpably dysfunctional, a Barbadian public that in several instances whether through fear or complicity, is uncooperative with law authorities, and of course, politics.
Notwithstanding that thugs are now walking around communities shooting at each other in broad daylight, but if one wanted further evidence that Barbados is in crisis and that criminality threatens to erode the economic and societal gains achieved, two incidents that occurred in recent times provide much food for thought. Last year, no less a person than the country’s Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith was physically assaulted by a thug who was on bail on a murder charge. What would so embolden anyone, especially one with a capital offence hanging over his head, to believe that he was exempted from the directions of the country’s principal law officer?
Just a few months ago, personalities with drug convictions and/or a history of drug peddling in Barbados turned up at Parliament for the swearing in of the new Government with state invitations. This might be a small country, an insignificant powerless dot on the geopolitical landscape, but it is blessed with many great intellects. Those with apolitical interest in seeing the best for Barbados could not have condoned this public expression of asininity by some unknown political sponsor(s). Criminal elements in Barbados already feel emboldened and do not need further spur.
And how else are they emboldened? Why do thugs walk about communities with guns in hand? Why do gangs peddle drugs with impunity? Why do guns enter Barbados through the seaport and airport? Why are wanted felons allowed to roam for months in a country that is so small we run the risk of falling over each other if we venture out too often? The answer is that our systems have become as weak as diarrhoeic bowels. Police patrol our streets in tinted vehicles, windows up and air condition unit on. In a profession built significantly on observations, what can they see, to whom do they speak? Foot and vehicle patrols have become an anachronism in today’s Barbados, only resurrected as a reactionary response to violent outbreaks in communities.
At our ports of call, why are singular customs officers allowed to supervise the unpacking of cargo? In a country that its width and length are so minuscule it can be traversed twice in 48 hours, how can felons conceal weapons and themselves for protracted periods, with neighbours, householders, law-abiding citizens and families being oblivious to their nefarious deeds?
In like manner that Prime Minister Mottley has not turned to prayer vigils to solve our economic problems, but has been pragmatic in her approach, Government and the rest of us need to meet the madness of this runaway criminality in Barbados head on. We cannot linger on this either.