It has become convenient political strategy for the present Government to refer to the entire period between 2008 and 2018 in Barbados as the lost decade. It is understandable jargon that resonates with the Mottley administration’s loyalists. And, in several instances, not all, it is an accusation that actually finds domicile in fact. However, for those unwilling to be swayed by the mere crunching of economic numbers or those who find greater satisfaction in being Barbadians first, and political apostles second, there is a school of thought that the lost decade has now been extended by 18 months.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on which side of the political fence one is camped, large sections of the media, as well as previously vocal social commentators, have been disingenuously silent on a number of socio-political issues affecting the average Joe in the island. The irony is that many of these issues today are similar to what the self-proclaimed sleeping giant and his late but hardly lamented administration were constantly pilloried during the Stuart government’s last days loitering in the corridors of power in Barbados.
Taxation in Barbados is exponentially higher under the Mottley administration than during the “lost decade”. Indeed, that decade was a period when Barbadians were constantly reminded by the then Opposition of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. Government has given significant tax concessions and write-offs to big business. But has this resulted in economic stimulation or shorter lines at the unemployment bureau? While Government pats itself on the back for meeting targets set by the impersonal International Monetary Fund, other than achieving positive rating points, ostensibly stymying economic haemorrhaging and making the numbers look more palatable, what are the prospects for the livelihood of the many to improve along with those of the privileged few?
And while numbers are being balanced and promise made that there is light not too far away at the end of the tunnel, a cursory examination of most ministries and the responsibility which each has to the public, suggests that not much is working. And though the admirable Prime Minister Mia Mottley appears to be toiling overtime in the cause of the country she undoubtedly loves, she is finding it increasingly difficult to camouflage what seems to be a flyweight team in a heavyweight contest. But perhaps the blame for the dysfunction can be placed at the feet of Miss Mottley. After all, this is the same Miss Mottley who almost six years to the day was admonishing the then Government for having too-big “a 17-member” Cabinet and urging that administration to limit its official travel schedule, all within the context of a depressed economy. “You cannot maintain a Cabinet of this size if you are seeking to make adjustments of other people’s wages and terms and conditions of employment . . . Only the most critical travel should be engaged in by any Government minister or public servant, once there is a clear outcome of strategic benefit to Barbados,” Miss Mottley said then. What a difference the seating arrangement in the Lower Chamber makes!
That which Miss Mottley scathingly criticized then, she now happily sponsors. But to be fair, we appreciate the political necessity to keep a majority of her colleagues in Parliament happy, especially with the presence of those who once usurped her authority still hovering. However, we will have to wait and see what “clear outcome of strategic benefit to Barbados” ensues from such as the “critical travel” of a huge entourage to return bones, or mere soil, to the African state of Ghana.
But while Barbadians are being fed a steady diet of well-orchestrated, well-paid-for- public relation ministrations, the murder rate in the island has reached unprecedented heights, public service transportation is in a shambles, the health sector is not functioning at its best possible levels, garbage continues to decorate our streets like boughs of holly with Bajans having no reason to be jolly, public utilities – especially water – continue to be an area of great bother. Vulnerable public servants have had their benefits cut and though most have been reinstated, if Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn is to be taken at his word, no consideration has been given to returning the months in benefits that were for all intents and purposes illegally withheld. There is a litany of woes – gathering. But such is the wall of silence – self-induced and otherwise inflicted – that one wonders if Barbadians have at last unconsciously reached that wonderful stage of Buddhist nirvana.
We are not a country of nihilists, even though politicians talk about “lost decades”, “precipice of disaster”, “Barbados’ death knell” and the like, intended principally to influence opinions and guide fingers on ballot papers. But what we all ought to be, are our country’s unrelenting watchdogs, unafraid to bark and unwilling to lose our bite because of the lure of bigger political bones.