“The Prime Minister or the Cabinet of this country has no power to fire any member of any statutory corporation or any public servant.” Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, February 9, 2008.
Whenever political naiveté and polarization are mixed in any country, politicians walk on water and camels fly.
Much has been said about the ineptness of the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government and much of it has been true. But certain fallacies have been perpetuated prior to and since May 24 that have been given impetus by the politically blinkered on social and traditional media, on street corners, in rum shops and in the comfort of homes.
One day we might come to appreciate that politicians often communicate with their public to nurture political expediency and promote their survival. They play to their gallery knowing full well – as philosopher John Locke once said – that false and doubtful positions, relied upon as unquestionable maxims, keep those who build on them in the dark from truth. “Such are usually the prejudices imbibed from education, party, reverence, fashion and interest,” the Englishman noted centuries ago.
There is this well-nourished notion that Barbados’ untenable debt situation started in 2008. That is nonsense of gargantuan proportions. There is a fallacy that has gained infantile credence that excessive spending and wastage of state funds started in 2008. There is a belief that questionable financial practices by politicians first saw the light of day in 2008. That is gibberish being fed to the politically gullible. There are some in the country riding white horses, battling windmills, spouting the word “corruption, corruption” in a holy crusade that has the dual purpose of not only dimming their own possible political indiscretions but feeding the polarization that exists in Barbados.
Every successive Government since Independence has spoken about restructuring the economy. But it seems that restructuring gets no further than dismissals from the public service of those at the lowest rungs of the ladder. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has done it and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is presently engaged in the same exercise. No thought it seems is being given to reducing government. Instead, government over the past decades has become more bloated. Neither the BLP nor the DLP has seen the folly of having such a tiny country divided into 30 constituencies that simply provide employment for non-productive politicians at great cost to taxpayers. Serious restructuring seems not to apply to the reduction of food importation, dependency on fossil fuel, or the enhancement of domestic agriculture, cottage industry, and the like.
The campaign underway with respect to corruption is akin to a smoke screen. There are laws already in existence that relate to theft, embezzlement, bribery, obtaining money by false pretences, misappropriation of public funds, fraudulent conversion and a range of other offences. There are already laws to fight corruption, political and otherwise. But do we have the will to fight corruption? Have political authorities over the decades been willing basically to go after themselves – or those in the public sector who sponsor them – wherever they are to be found? This is about a lack of will not a necessity for integrity commissions and public talk shows on corruption.
A previous Auditor General report once showed where a top civil servant breached several sections of the Financial Management and Audit Act, or the Financial Rules, 1971. That official admitted his malfeasance, was suspended, and then in keeping with the best Barbadian traditions, he was returned to the same position where he had committed the breaches. There have been a multiplicity of examples where public funds have been spirited away or used in questionable fashion but no one has been held accountable for his or her indiscretions.
In 2007 Barbados’ Audit Office chastised the then BLP government for disbursing the full $18.5 million payment for an incomplete Newton Business Park construction project. The Auditor General said then that it was “inexplicable that all the funds could be disbursed while the project remains incomplete”. That forgotten detail has remained unexplained publicly to this day. Significant public funds were also disbursed for an incomplete Crab Hill Police Station construction project. This has remained unexplained publicly by those responsible for the payments to this day. What was lacking here? The will to go after the truth or new legislation?
And where Barbados’ debt and wastage headache is concerned, there are those who would seek to dismiss as an aberration the Veco/Dodds situation and the annual January multi-million-dollar repayments, Kensington Oval, Greenland, Gems of Barbados and the practice of major off-budget spending prior to 2008 that was subsequently brought to book. The printing of money by the Central Bank under the authority of the former DLP administration was heavily, and correctly criticized by the then BLP Opposition? Has it stopped? No one seems interested in that detail as previously loud critics now mimic inhabitants of Nirvana.
Both the DLP and the BLP have had great accomplishments for Barbados. And both have contributed to the pain of the people. Knights in shining armour do not have to proclaim themselves; they are usually recognized by their deeds and achievements. But we must always be guarded against finding comfort only in their words. Often these remain inconsistent with their actions.