The Barbados Labour Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, recently celebrated its first year in office following a landslide victory in the general elections on May 24, 2018.
There was much analysis done by writers and experts on that first year in office. Several were positive, some negative and others lukewarm. I am no professional in political science so I wouldn’t attempt to lend anything to their opinions. However, as an engaged citizen of this country, I believe I can offer my own perspective.
Rightfully, as the Prime Minister and other Ministers have continuously pointed out, Barbados required and still requires a lot of work at several levels in order for it to regain the stability and growth necessary to make it a striving, viable economy and society. A year, therefore, is not much time to truly gauge the success or failure of a new Government under such trying circumstances and especially if one agrees with the Prime Minister’s assertion that Barbados has a “lost decade” to make up for.
I offer my perspective through the lens of a theory called “the broken windows theory”. This theory, while essentially a criminological one, is still, in my opinion, relative in so many ways to different aspects of our lives.
The ‘broken windows theory’ “states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behaviour, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. The theory suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and fare evasion help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes.”
The theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. It was further popularized in the 1990s by New York City police commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose policing policies were influenced by the theory.
The title ‘broken windows’ comes from the following example: “Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from takeout restaurants there or even break into cars.”
In response to the above example a successful strategy for preventing vandalism was offered, “address the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems are less likely to escalate and thus ‘respectable’ residents do not flee the neighbourhood.”
I superimpose this theory in looking at the last year of the BLP’s rule. It is safe to acknowledge that Barbados had several ‘broken windows’ prior to the May 2018 elections that needed urgent, immediate attention and fixing. It is also safe to conclude that Barbadians were becoming increasingly frustrated at these ‘broken windows’ and were either trying to get away from the unsightly mess or becoming accepting to the ugliness and adding to it.
The BLP Administration, in its first year in office, has undoubtedly tried to fix, repair or replace those ‘broken windows’. A serious lack of resources have reduced their ability to fix the enormous number of ‘broken windows’ but I believe they have attempted to take care of those that could have been tackled with immediate effect and with limited resources.
The sewage flowing in the streets of the South coast was a major ‘broken window’, unsightly and extremely disruptive to our valued tourism business and other South coast businesses. Not fully repaired, but the sewage is no longer flowing on the roads.
Garbage collection was dismal. Barbadians who were accustomed to having their garbage removed 2 to 3 times a week were now faced with collection every 2 to 3 weeks or more. Again, not fully resolved but there are some improvements.
Transport systems, still a ‘broken window’, but at least visually one sees attempts to fix it.
Our roads are in dire need of repairs; some headway in that regard on some of our major thoroughfares.
And the list can go on to several other sectors in our society and economy that were broken and needed immediate attention.
The attempts to fix the ‘broken windows’, paint the building, remove the trash and clean up the nation is what characterizes the BLP’s first year in office. I expect that some may say this is a simplistic view. I believe that these attempts play on the psyche of the people. If we see a leadership that is making efforts to fix the ’broken windows’ then we feel more confident and comfortable in the sacrifices that must be made to get the entire building repaired.
There are many sacrifices required. I know people who have been sent home in cost-cutting measures. I know of the increases in all my expenses and the struggle it is to save for the harder times. But this is measured against what they are going towards. If I do not see the ‘broken windows’ being fixed as a result of these sacrifices we all have to bear then we will have to let our voices be heard. But if we do see improvements and if the windows are fixed, and the building is looking better, then we know that our sacrifices have not gone in vain.
Interestingly, the ‘broken windows’ theory was criticized when the New York Police Force used it in controversial practices. Nevertheless, properly implemented, it was found that addressing the minor forms of criminal behaviour impacted in such a way that major criminal activity saw a decline.
I read a similar message coming from this administration – there are painful decisions that are being made to fix our broken windows but in the long run everyone will benefit. The broken windows have to be fixed one way or the other. If we choose to leave them broken, then we must be prepared for a nation that will accept broken windows as their hallmark and more windows, doors and the rest of the building will suffer vandalism. We, as a proud, industrious people, will never accept such a state of affairs.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)