Apart from the economic issues of indebtedness and slow growth, the Mottley administration confronts an array of social deficits. These relate to crime and violence and a pervasive social indiscipline that threatens both economy and society.
It is in the breadth and depth of Barbados’ psycho-social malaise that one finds the greatest cause for dismay. This is, in part, because firstly, the malaise has become deeply entrenched in the culture. Secondly, social decay is extremely difficult to correct, particularly in a society that fails to take societal concerns seriously.
Unlike the economic problems, the social decline cannot be blamed so exclusively on the failure of the last administration. There was a tremendous falloff in the social probity of Barbadian society between 1994 and 2008. This led the then BLP government to appoint a Law and Order Commission which its Chairman, the late Sir Roy Marshall, lamented never received the appropriate response to its report.
The current administration, initially concerned with economic issues, came rather belatedly to the social challenge. However, it has announced a number of initiatives. These include the intention to appoint more judges, to employ more scanners at the ports of entry and employ the Defence Force to assist the police in so-called hot-spots.
To this latter proposal the DLP has stated that the Government has unleashed the BDF on the Barbadian public. This is the kind of political idiocy that could confine Errol Barrow’s once great party to the political wilderness, if not to the fate of the Dodo bird, total extinction.
Very early in April the Attorney General Dale Marshall finally issued a gun amnesty to run from April 7 to 13 and sought to amend the Bail Act to forestall the ostensibly recurrent problem of serious offenders, including those accused of murder being granted bail. One proposal is that such persons should not be granted bail unless 24 months have expired after the person was charged. Serious times demand drastic measures.
Regrettably, the Barbadian political class as a whole may not understand the extent of the challenges to Barbados’ sustainability on the socio-cultural front. On that front, the issue may be one of imposing discipline on nearly every dimension of public life. The operative word there might be ‘imposing.’ No amount of moral suasion, pious sermonizing or grandiose statements of a Vision 20/20, Hallmark Card sentimentality, are likely to effectively turn this country around without the requisite strong punitive governmental action. Barbadians will quickly tire of the rhetoric and the symbolism if they are not matched by results.
There seems to be no let up in the crime rate. The execution style death of Guyanese born businessman Eton ‘Uncle’ Lykem brought to 23 the number of murders for the year, some 13 by the gun. What the citizens of this country want to see is a just and expeditious criminal justice system and ultimately a return to the law and order that once characterised Barbados. Change will not happen overnight, but citizens must feel that improvements are being actively and effectively pursued, not just talked about.
However, no amount of judges or police officers will turn Barbados around if the home, school and Church continue to fail to socialise the majority of citizens to higher levels of moral probity. The courts could not try them on time and the prisons could not hold them to time.
The Mottley administration must start with cleaning up the loud and vulgar music on the buses which has gone on for near three decades. It fouls the public airwaves and contributes to the delinquency of minors which is a crime.
Ms Mia Mottley may well be the only one in the current political class with the energy and the ‘gumption’ required to do the job. Describing her recent Budget as ‘bold, innovative and courageous,’ former Central Bank Governor Winston Cox stated: “The initiatives and the measures they have taken suggest a certain boldness and I feel that the Government and its leader certainly think that they can take the tough decisions. They have moved with a lot of confidence and I am comforted by that.”
It is neither fair nor appropriate to suggest that there is a drift in the affairs of Barbados because ‘the promise of an economic growth and development programme being rolled out has not been realised.’ But in today’s Barbados, everything is ‘fast food,’ we want it quick and we want it easy. It is not yet a year since the BLP came to power in very difficult circumstances with the task of making a definitive correction to years of economic decline, administrative drift and social decay. We must stay the course.
Ralph Jemmott is a retired respected educator.