There are two issues on my mind this week and I suppose both of them are the micro and macro equivalents of how adept we have become at governing and how we view our ability to govern ourselves after the first half century of having fought for independence. Let me begin with the micro first before I examine how dire the overall picture looks. I called an acquaintance to arrange some business we had to do. She mentioned that she had to go to court, and we arranged our business for when she thought she would be done.
Of course, I admit to having been raised in the Barbadian circumstance and so my mind wondered often about what could have happened to cause her to have a court date. I had not yet worked out how to ask her when I saw her but thankfully, she was in a venting mood! She explained that her driver had gone to get his Licence renewed but the photo machine to do the replacement Licence was not working.
Her driver, upon a police request, issued the receipt in lieu of his licence and she as the owner of the vehicle was penalized for allowing the driver to drive without a valid licence. It took me a bit to process what she said. I asked her if she was sure she explained that the Government’s machine was not working and that was why her driver did not get a licence.
She said the police informed her that the machine being out of order was not a valid reason and that either the driver should have been replaced or the vehicle parked until he had the licence issue. At this point, I could no longer have the conversation standing up. I pulled the front passenger door of her car and flopped in beside her.
My mind had alighted. This woman, after being made redundant a few years ago, had bought one minibus and one ZR van. Those two vehicles were now basically the mainstay of her and her family unit. To tell her to park them for something that she has as much control over as the sun shining or the rain falling is an absolute slap not only in her face, but for all those people now being sold the dream of entrepreneurship as an alternative to government employment.
The troubles at the Licensing Authority in Barbados are not uncommon. They are not hidden and they are not sporadic. Seemingly, since the Government chose to replace the book licence with the plastic one we have had yearly troubles with the issuing machine. It is then not reasonable that with the rise in taxes, licensing fees for minibus and ZRS, the gas tax and other rises in the sector that the entrepreneurs in the transport sector are further punished for the government’s inability to maintain a working licence-making machine.
Perhaps it is because Commonwealth Caribbean people see these types of deficiencies in the day-to-day running of their homes at the domestic level that they have gotten shy to dream bigger. The referenda on whether Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada will go to the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal have both come back with resounding Nos. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.
Of the islands and territories identified as the Commonwealth Caribbean, St Kitts and Nevis gained its independence last in 1983. That makes it the last territory to gain independence out of the 1950s and 1960s independence project, just shy of its 40th anniversary of nationhood. How can we reasonably think that running back to colonial England in 2018 for judicial oversight is a reasonable and justifiable state of affairs in any one of these islands at this time? While we are at it, should Barbadians expect that the only way to get a licence renewed without hassle would also be to just let good old England print the 250, 000 of them for us?
It is embarrassing. All these years after we have endeavoured to build an identity and the instruments of nationhood, it is embarrassing that we do not believe in ourselves and our project more. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has proven itself in the work it has done over the last few years. Like the London based Privy Council, I suspect that it is not perfect and that much more can be and will be done to keep the institution living and growing.
For instance, if there is one thing I would like to see more of is the CCJ commenting on and engaging with social justice issues. We know where the Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies stands on the protests held at Cave Hill in relation to the Yugee Farrell affair. It would have been nice to see the CCJ not comment specifically on the matter for obvious reasons, but to use their website and other mechanisms to comment at regular intervals on the treatment of women in the Commonwealth Caribbean, trends or research in youth crime – comments on the suite of recurrent issues plaguing each of these places that we call home.
This kind of engagement can go a long way to maintaining the perception of the autonomy of the Court. That is the singular remark I have about the CCJ. It is not even really a criticism. Such is the strength and character of the thing we have built in 18 short years! It saddens me that at the expense of cheap opposition politics we still have people across this home of mine who will not repose their confidence in themselves.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)