We are coming quickly upon Barbados’ 52nd year of Independence. That milestone will come in the shadow of the Washington University scandal, in the mist of our framing of a national policy to deal with gun crime and as we continue the retrenchment exercise in the public service.
Put simply, Barbados’ 52nd birthday seems hemmed in by some significant questions to be answered if it is to come away with a clear picture of what the future might hold. I want to make some connections here and posit some views that I already have in this same space. Repetition is a worthwhile mechanism in behavioural change and so I put the case again.
Even before we get to the big-ticket items, let me contextualize how I got in this reflective headspace. Independence is partly it, but here is the other thing. My son finished school at 2 o’clock Tuesday this week and got home at 7:30 in the night. He waited from 2:15 p.m. until 4:15 p.m. for a bus. When the bus got to Belmont Road, about five minutes from the Fairchild Street bus stand from where it originated, it broke down. The next bus that came was the 7 o’clock bus.
When he came through the door, his frustration was palpable. He did no homework that night; was simply not in the frame of mind. Do we really understand what this period in our national history is doing at the people level? Unlike the national culture 52 years ago which taught us that through hard work and willingness we can make it, our people are now being taught that this is the best Barbados.
More is not possible. We simply have no buses, no garbage trucks, no way forward and that is that. People are losing hope in the idea of Barbados and if this is not the intention, we simply have to do more to stop it from occurring.
I thought more would have happened arising out of the Washington University scandal. We have been discussing corruption in Barbados for at least three election cycles now. Things have seemed to come to some type of head with charges being laid against a former government minister in a US court of law. The takeaway with respect to that charge for me is not what the final outcome of the charge is.
The takeaway is that the world is no longer turning a blind eye to what happens in business in Barbados. This should have hit home to us with the many lists and blacklists that we negotiate but the charges were a real and tangible outcome to signal the clear intent to treat all players equally in the sight of international law and precedent.
The fallout of the Washington University scandal should have blown wide open the rest of the issues that surround corruption in Barbados. Was the Washington University accredited in Barbados? If it was, how did it pass the grade? If it was not, how was it possible for it to circumvent the process?
Were students here on student visas? And if they were not, how was it possible for them to gain entry to Barbados? If they were on student visas where was the requirement that they either have a minimum amount of money available to them in a bank account for incidentals or a guarantor? Were the students insured by Washington University?
For the former minister of education to say that he is now a private citizen and should not be expected to answer questions on this matter is grotesque. All the people investing in the use and proliferation of illegal firearms in Barbados are private citizens. We reserve the right however, to question them about their activities because more than breaking the law, their actions stand to destabilize the good name and reputation of our country. Likewise, Barbados’ reputation stands to take a hit by the Washington University saga and I must admit to being disappointed that more was not done.
One of the features of the slave plantation is that responsibility and accountability were arbitrarily distributed. Massa had the complete control over who was sanctioned, who was pardoned or indeed, who faced no consequence at all. This type of arbitrary distribution of power caused mistrust, anger and resentment. Enough has not been done to ensure that accountability is seen as an across the board application. I suspect the gunman will continue to take unto his power as long as the status quo remains unchallenged.
The retrenchment exercise, though I can agree is necessary, must also be managed in such a way that does not stir up the internal psychological hurt about the unilateral power and manipulation that rulership is usually associated within Barbados. The process of retrenchment must be as transparent as possible. People’s feelings about job losses cannot be minimized and any responses to their needs must only be devised after their own views about what they need are solicited.
I hear those of you shouting at me that Barbados has a lot to be thankful for. I am not suggesting otherwise – just suggesting that we have a lot to make right too. Don’t we?
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)