While the Prime Minister must necessarily concern herself with catering to the demands of an anxious private sector on reopening for business, the coronavirus pandemic doubtlessly must force her, as it does the rest of this nation, to look well beyond the timelines of May, June, July, August and September. Way beyond.
Like so many Barbadians, keen for a breath of fresh air on their morning walks and jogs, for communion with the Almighty in church, or even for long-delayed conditioning of coiffure, the natural impulse is to seek to return our island home to what we used to call ‘normal’.
But the norms have changed. We had hoped, though we did not hear it, that the Prime Minister would have advised the Social Partners today of new norms – not as a latter-day Moses, handing down tablets of stone or electronic tablets to children. Perhaps she should have entreated the labour movement and the business community to begin – as the governor of the pandemic-stricken state of New York has said – to “reimagine” the future.
Had this been a catastrophic hurricane, our leaders would no doubt be sounding a clarion call to “build back better” even as we dug out from under the rubble and ruin of a cyclone’s fury.
As we have said previously, this is a hurricane – category five, no doubt – with all the lights on. Life as we have known it has been disrupted irretrievably. Deep inequities, divisions, weaknesses and flaws have been cruelly exposed. In some cases, our national character has been found wanting when greed supplanted need.
Yes, we must ‘get back to work’. We believe it is time, once again, for crisis to beget opportunity. Just as the richest and most powerful nations on the planet are engaged in a “Manhattan Project” to create a vaccine for the coronavirus, we too in Barbados, we need to reboot, our own economy and society fuelled now more than ever by knowledge. For knowledge is power.
Optimism on the part of the Tourism Minister that the main engine of our economy could somehow roar back to life by winter 2020 is as fanciful as it is perilous. Taxi drivers who say Uber can’t come here but yet baulk at doing their part to restructure our public transport system are no different. It simply cannot be business as usual.
We believe the Prime Minister knows all this. We are not convinced that she has persuaded captains of industry, titans of the labour movement, legal eagles or the cream of academia to begin a national collective of thought in which we re-engineer a new Barbados.
This pandemic came right smack in the middle of our island nation’s attempt to rebuild itself from the tempest of economic decline, mismanagement and lax governance. Even then, with all the bright, shiny new things this administration wanted to pursue, successive “calls” and exhortations by ministers to do this or that or the other, are more apt from a preacher’s pulpit.
What we need now is not a bully pulpit but the charging bull itself, ready to knock down and gore shibboleths and straw men, legacies of our mentally enslaved past and hindrances to a brighter future.
Where, then, we ask, is our Manhattan Project, our Marshall Plan, and our Moonshot?
We have already suggested in these pages that the fulcrum of this new Barbadian machine is a national initiative that saves foreign exchange, boosts exports, generates green energy, protects our built and natural heritage harnesses creative power and leverages science and technology for food, fuel and fibre. This will no longer be found in the pages of BERT, which should be consigned to the dustheap of history, and the sooner the better.
In the meantime, an education system that reinforces antiquated concepts in a vastly transformed present and for a greatly unknown future is not transformed merely because it is distributed by tablet and laptop.
We are fortunate that we have a Prime Minister who was forged in the crucible of a post-Independence Barbados. Cometh the hour cometh the woman. But she now must recognise, as should we all by now, that holding on to sacred cows is dangerous when said cows can no longer provide our meat and milk.
We take note of the national initiative to retrain workers, with its STARR slogan. But this surely must now be revisited because priorities have changed. We have new norms now.
And we say all this with two weeks to go before a predicted busy hurricane season – when real cyclones and storms loom – is to begin. As if the world wants to see what could possibly be worse than a pandemic in the era of climate change.
The future simply is not what it used to be and no one has the luxury of delusion to presume otherwise.
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