Prime Minister Mia Mottley has shown herself to be arguably the most energetic political leader this country has had since Independence. She has also shown an exceptional understanding of how public relations work and the power of the media. Critically, she has demonstrated an understanding of the type of leader to whom Barbadians tend to gravitate. Barbadians generally love to hear and see an active political leader whether he or she is doing little or nothing. There was a perception by many Barbadians that Miss Mottley’s predecessor Mr Freundel Stuart did little or nothing during his tenure. Whether this was true or false, the former prime minister did not discourage that belief by his apparent love of invisibility and silence. Miss Mottley understands and appreciates political optics. Mr Stuart was seemingly either clueless or too deeply immersed in his own reticence to bother.
But there are developments that are clear to see if apolitical eyes take the time to assess them. Miss Mottley’s style of leadership is very reminiscent to that of her mentor, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur. Mr Arthur was never averse to micro-management and Miss Mottley over the past 10-plus months has proven that she was an avid student. As Robert Greene wrote in his 48 Laws of Power: “Everything is judged by its appearance. What is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colourful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.” Greene also spoke about emphasizing enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking.
Miss Mottley has the largest political majority in the history of post-Independent Barbados. She has spoken to the ideal of many hands making for lighter work and has supported this by doubling, tripling and in the case of economic matters quintupling the hands on deck in each ministry. But by staying true to micromanaging government, which is her choice and one which many Barbadians have no issue with, the public could be forgiven for forming the impression that most of the other hands on deck are being paid by taxpayers for just being on the deck. Perhaps it is only the Ministry of Housing and Lands that we have not yet felt the Prime Minister’s presence.
Over the past months, there have been instances where the Mottley administration has followed a blueprint that has worked but will not work ad infinitum. Introduce harsh measures and blame the previous administration for the necessity for their implementation, or create a situation and then appear with animated sincerity to save the day. The latter will continue to work as it provides the platform for optics but the former will quickly become quite tired.
Government’s hiking of bus fares is no laughing matter but there are aspects surrounding the increase in fares that are palpably hilarious and symbolic of much of what has occurred since May 2018. Miss Mottley recently met with several players in the transportation industry and discussed matters related to the standard of the service being provided to Barbadians, as well as the introduction of the $3.50 bus fares. Her willingness to sit and meet with these officials once again made for excellent political optics. But why didn’t Prime Minister Mottley meet with persons in the industry in a similar public manner before the introduction of the hikes? Why not deal with the problematic routing issues before the hike? We are told that schools such as St Leonard’s, Springer Memorial and Combermere have no dedicated bus service because of the schools’ centrality. We are also told that schools such as Alleyne, Lodge, Grantley Adams Memorial are not serviced by Public Service Vehicles. So, why weren’t these issues discussed and/or sorted out before the fare hike?
Given the state of the economy, high cost of living and the seeming moratorium on salary increases, was any thought given to increasing bus fares incrementally – $2.50 now, $2.75 a year later, then $3.00 and eventually the desired $3.50? Why admit the transportation system in Barbados is in shambles, blame the previous Government as per script but then increase fares before dealing with the chaos? Perhaps, the argument will be that the increased fares will help to deal with the shambles. We will see.
This is still a very young government; some would suggest a young government in a hurry. But there will come a time when citizens will turn away from optics, rhetoric, reminders of Freundel Stuart’s foibles, endorsements from allies in the public and private sectors and the crunching of numbers that do not redound to the benefit of the majority. And catchphrases will not work either. Clear thinking and rationality will overwhelm enthusiasm.