One of the key tactics in the arsenal of any government or organisation, to try to ensure smoother governance, is the use of smart messaging. It is about planning and coordinating the ideas of which you want to convince the population, by presenting the ideas in an appealing fashion.
One of the fatal flaws of the last administration was its epic failure to communicate effectively with Barbadians, about the extent of the economic catastrophe that the country faced.
It has been purported that the former administration’s apparent assessment, that entering an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme to assist the country in escaping the debilitating recession, would have translated into a sure electoral defeat, was a mistake.
It was a calculated risk they took. However, the mere mention of the name, IMF, no longer puts the fear of God into citizens, as it did, maybe in the 1980s and 1990s when an IMF programme usually meant currency devaluation, austerity and a reduction in the quality of life.
That failure to act, believing a home-grown solution alone would do the job, coupled with the administration’s lack of effective engagement with an impatient electorate, led to their unceremonious removal from office, without a single constituency win in the general elections.
That was 2018. We are now into a completely different era in 2021. Control of the message is what seemingly wins the day. Those who are unable to design an engaging campaign, using every possible platform to capture the public’s attention, are likely to face an uphill battle for public support.
The contest for the hearts and minds of citizens, is demonstrated in the state’s efforts to convince the very vocal segment of our population, who is unwilling to take the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, that they should, for the sake of the entire country. And rightfully so.
Over the past week, there was a noticeable and equally strident campaign occurring. It was connected to the COVID-19 pandemic but appeared to be more about getting the Government’s economic messages across.
The chorus of financial experts in the major media outlets, did not go unnoticed. Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ryan Straughn, has become a credible voice and strong proxy for a very busy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
The first-time Minister was a political neophyte in 2018, but two years into the office, events such as the debt restructuring exercise and pandemic response, have toughened him. Straughn has proven himself to be one of Prime Minister Mottley’s most effective Cabinet picks.
The economist has been echoing the message of his boss, that our country’s revenues are hurting badly from the pandemic but there was no need to panic, because we have an unprecedented 35 weeks import cover in foreign reserves.
Government’s senior economic advisor Dr Kevin Greenidge has also been doing the local media circuit with a blitz of television, radio and print appearances.
His message has also been one of steady as she goes – just remain calm.
“We got a serious lash because of COVID. We got a hard lash in 2020 and it’s still continuing in 2021, but this too shall pass. We survived 2020. We will survive 2021. We are . . . in a good position fiscally because of our finances, to take care of the vulnerable.
“Those programmes that were put in place at the start of COVID, the social programmes . . . all those benefits continue to take care and make sure no one is left behind and people can survive,” he said on the Voice of Barbados Sunday call-in programme.
An hour later, after taking questions from the public, Dr Greenidge was followed in lockstep by Marsha Caddle, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment.
The former Caribbean Development Bank economist, and well-spoken politician, asserted her place as an integral member of Mottley’s economic group.
She tackled the troubling issue of the elusive unemployment figures, which have been out of sight for all of 2020. Following several calls for release of this important economic indicator, Caddle responded.
“The Barbados Statistical Service’s labour force unemployment figures for the third quarter of 2020, stands at 17.9 per cent, which is almost double from the same period in 2019, which was 9.5 per cent,” she told the same radio programme.
The Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2021-2022, expected next month, followed by the Budgetary Proposals, should be an important indicator of where the economy stands.
The economic team has admirably performed its role. They have assured the public that Mottley is on top of the situation and her leadership of the ship of state, should not be in doubt.
Mottley has managed to keep her key Cabinet members singing from the same hymnal, and they appear from this distance to be in harmony. Even in the midst of a pandemic, that has brought no end of economic and social upheaval, restlessness and criticism, the administration remains cohesive, at least in the messaging.