One of the former Democratic Labour Party administration’s biggest faults, and there were many, was its failure to effectively communicate with the Barbadian public. And while it undertook many programmes and introduced policy formulas that were intended to serve the best interest of the population and the economy, its failure to communicate and win over public support on the efficacies of those initiatives contributed to the party’s demise at the polls.
On the other hand, a frustrated public was wooed by a charismatic suitor in the form of Mia Mottley and her eager team, who capitalised every flaw of the last administration, while presenting her team as the competent Government in waiting, ready to rescue the ship of state.
And with an unprecedented clean sweep of the 30 constituencies two years ago, Mottley was given free reign with a decimated Democratic Labour Party, and just one defection in the form of Bishop Joseph Atherley, her administration has benefitted from a level of goodwill and support from individuals and the private sector that has not been witnessed in years. Yes, it is also testimony to the leadership abilities of the Prime Minister which has been fawned over across the region and beyond.
While team Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has expectedly showered praises on its leader, other accolades have certainly not been empty adulation.
Her Government’s successful debt restructuring programme that has significantly reduced the country’s debt load, the administration’s swift negotiation of a structural adjustment programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the injection of much needed foreign reserves into the national coffers are among the early highlights. Those successful negotiations paved the way for further financial relief from multilateral institutions such as the Caribbean Development Bank.
Admittedly, it was those crucial steps in the early months of taking office that strengthened our financial position when everything blew up in March of this year with the explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We cannot imagine the state of this country had those early efforts at stabilizing the economy and addressing the debt situation not been addressed before the devastating effects of this pandemic took hold.
But leaders are expected to make those tough decisions. They will bask in the glory of their achievements and must be mature enough to face the criticism that will eventually come when plans go awry and the people believe they are not being well served.
On this score, the administration has got monumental challenges to address, many of which have been occasioned by the severe fall-out of COVID-19 on the island’s economic fortunes and the population’s social standing.
The administration needs to speak frankly to the citizens of this country and not a moment too soon about its plans to address the challenges that are mounting simultaneously on several fronts.
Most immediate is the plan for the tourism sector and the thousands of former employees whose desperation is growing by the week.
The Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry has already indicated that Government has to urgently address the matter of severance for these laid-off workers and determine who will be expected to shoulder the severance commitment to the workers.
Their former employers insist they cannot pay, and any attempt by the National Insurance Scheme to underwrite the financial obligations of the sector could sink this country’s entire social security system.
Apart from the tourism sector, additional job losses are on the horizon for a range of businesses as the disposable income of consumers shrinks and economic activity contracts further.
In addition, there is growing anxiety about the steadily increasing number of COVID-19 cases emanating from visitors to this country. At this current rate, there is a fear that Barbados may have more non-nationals at its Harrison Point, St Lucy facility than Barbadians. There is also the absence of the COVID-19 czar and the absence of consistent Press conferences from the Ministry of Health.
We are more than grateful that health authorities have been successful in stunting the chances of community spread which is now a growing headache for authorities in neighbouring countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas.
And the question of increasing reports of murders and shootings only add fuel to fire.
We have no misconceptions that the coming months will not be easy for the leadership of this island. However, the population is increasingly concerned that information is now coming in drips and drabs on these matters of national import. Maybe we have been spoiled given the frequency at which information streamed seamlessly to the population from its highly admired leader. And so the current dearth is not what we have come to expect.