In the wake of Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s address to the nation, I wish to offer a few suggestions on what we should be focused on in this first year of a new decade.
First, the We Gathering project needs to be buttressed by the creation of incentives aimed at encouraging Barbadians from the diaspora to have confidence in investing in our economy. I don’t think that there is any doubt that measures taken to restructure debt have led to uncertainty with regard to the buying of government paper, while our inability to improve the ease in doing business has acted as a disincentive for those who might otherwise be interested in taking advantage of investment opportunities. Vision 20/20 will fall short of expectations if we fail to move swiftly to create the environment for potential Barbadian investors.
I have no real issue with the planting of a million or even two million trees, but clearly, the priority ought to be increasing our production of food. Farmers must be incentivised and serious attention paid to reducing the incidence of larceny. It is unfortunate that we have not yet seen the amount of energy placed in implementing measures to address crop theft as is applied to the tree planting exercise. Our ridiculously high food import bill should be reason enough for Government to take agriculture seriously.
Of great importance, too, is meeting the demands of the rum industry. A country which has, historically, been in the forefront of rum production and which, even today, wins international awards for the quality of its rum should be ashamed of having to import molasses for the industry. Why can’t we plant enough canes to meet the needs of rum manufacturers as well as the local market for sugar? Furthermore, we must know that sugar cane is an excellent way of reducing our carbon footprint and adds to the aesthetic character of the landscape.
The alarming increase in the murder rate in 2019 should have aroused us from our normal state of complacency and forced us to change our approach to crime prevention, detection and punishment. Government needs to take urgent steps to meet the man power requirements of the police force. This means that policing has to be seen by young, bright Barbadians as a viable option for employment. Salaries and other conditions have to be, significantly, improved and there must be a clear and transparent path to promotion. An independent complaints tribunal is needed so that the public can regain trust in its police force. Once the constabulary is adequately staffed, community policing should be emphasised with a view to improving relations with civilians and enhancing the force’s capability to prevent crime.
However, not even the best equipped police force can, by itself, stem the rising tide of violence now plaguing our society. The home, school and church must be engaged in the fight to empower our young people for positive living. Guidance in effective parenting must be provided through education at community level, in the school and at our pre and post-natal clinics. The educational system must be transformed to ensure that the abilities of all students are developed and validated, so that both purely academic and vocational courses are given equal attention. Also, a national effort must be made to ensure that no child leaves school without having mastered literacy and numeracy skills. In addition, school must prepare pupils for civilised and productive living. To help counter negative traits, Government must move with dispatch to employ social workers in both primary and secondary schools.
I note Government’s efforts to legalise marijuana for medicinal purposes and sacramental use by Rastafarians. However, in such an environment, it is going to be very difficult to police the use and abuse of the herb by the wider community. It seems to me that the authorities would be better advised to decriminalise the drug, but forbid its use by children under 18 and the smoking of it in public places. There is now no longer any point in wasting scarce police resources in fighting a battle we cannot win; in incarcerating young men and women for a spliff nor in encouraging an environment which conduce to drug lords fighting turf wars. Of course, there will be health cost implications for the abuse of marijuana, but that is also true for cigarette smoking and over indulgence in alcohol consumption.
In closing, I wish to repeat a call I have made several times for improved remuneration, staff and resources, not only for policemen, but also nurses and teachers. These social service providers are too critical to our development for us to continually ignore their needs.
John Goddard, retired, but always an educator.