If the current retrenchment exercise in Barbados does not force the masses to view the social dynamics of their country along impartial and nationalistic lines and not be blinded by political affiliations, then nothing will ever bestir us to reality. Polarization in the island has often led many political arguments to move from the sublime to the ridiculous, whether conducted in the halls of academia or under the breadfruit tree on the block.
To whom much is given much is expected and to echo the sentiments of the late Sir Frederick Smith, politicians in a democracy are granted a life of privilege by voters. When the masses enjoy plenty, the politicians’ existence is even more plentiful. However, in times of famine, while the masses bear the brunt of social pain, politicians invariably are insulated from such hardship. Perhaps, the time is now upon us for politicians to demonstrate to the masses that they will not only provide verbal leadership but will also share the burden of the famine. One of the best courses of action in these circumstances is for the masses to put aside their slavish party loyalties and be guided by their social and national conscience.
We had a situation prior to the 2013 general election when the ruling Democratic Labour Party promised the electorate there would be no public sector layoffs. But within a year there was a retrenchment exercise. We have no doubt that there have been periods in our history when the public service has simply been too large and in dire need of being trimmed. But whether the public service has been obese or not is not the only issue. The issue has always been that one thing is promised and something else is frequently delivered. In other words, politicians tell the masses what they want to hear and what they believe will garner them electoral support. And a gullible, blinkered public laps it up.
Within the context of the disruption being caused to the lives of thousands of Barbadians, Prime Minister Mia Mottley must not only show leadership but must take her own advice and demonstrate to Barbadians that she is not pusillanimous but always speaks with a clarity of purpose and a conviction always to do the right thing. She has previously enunciated very high standards and it is now incumbent upon her in this environment of retrenchment to not only reduce government spending by reducing her Cabinet but also to show the masses who have taken her into their absolute confidence that her word is her bond.
Some five years ago within the precincts of our Parliament and in the presence of current government ministers Cynthia Forde and Dr Jerome Walcott, Miss Mottley made this public statement: “When you look at the structure of the ministries, a lot of the line ministers carry portfolios that don’t even cause them to see ten files a day. Labour can be attached to something else, energy and environment can be attached to something else. We can go on. What is the role of the Parl Secs [parliamentary secretaries]? What is the role of the ministers without portfolios that exist? How can you in all conscience ask people and tell people you are sending them home but maintain that level of structure and size of cabinet?” The then Opposition Leader was speaking against the background of the retrenchment exercise being carried out by the Freundel Stuart administration. The political administration of the day then numbered 17. Today it numbers 30.
We believe that the Prime Minister has not forgotten her very honest sentiments and would accept that in all conscience her Government cannot retrench thousands of Barbadians but maintain “that level of structure and size of cabinet”. Five years ago she asserted that line ministers carried portfolios where they did not even see ten files a day. It would stand to reason that if 17 ministers and/or parliamentary secretaries did little then – according to her – that 30 – inclusive of consultants – would hardly find greater employment in a Lilliputian economy.
If one glances at the existing arrangements it could be argued – some might say facetiously – that this is the first time in the history of Barbados that Government – not the Opposition – has shadow ministers in almost every ministry. A ridiculous set of circumstances! If one can take a sample, Mr Adrian Forde is Minister of Youth and Community Empowerment – Youth Affairs having been removed from the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Miss Cynthia Forde is Minister of Elder Affairs and People Empowerment and is shadowed by Mr Neil Rowe. One is almost reluctant to ask what is the difference between Mr Forde’s Community Empowerment and Miss Forde’s People Empowerment? We make the assumption that people – young and old – usually comprise a community. In many instances, whether they are ministers, consultants or hangers-on, this duplicated state of affairs in our government is not the exception.
At a time when the average Barbadian is being asked to make sacrifices and efforts are being made to cut public spending, surely Miss Mottley must be true to her own words and take her own advice for the benefit of a country that has repose its trust and confidence in her.