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by Dr Ronnie Yearwood
Often, we do not commend people in public life for the job they do, or usually the commendation comes as eulogy.
I think it is fair to say that the Minister of Health has grown in the role and performs admirably when the PM allows him to do the job. The minister has demonstrated, what some would call leadership. This brings me to the discussion I want to have this week on leadership.
Recently I have seen pronouncements that the solution to all of the problems we face in Barbados can be cleared by the magic wand of leadership. Find the right leader and let them lead forever, and all will be well, as in Singapore or Cuba, the two examples often proffered.
Twenty years ago, some people thought Hugo Chavez was also such a leader but look at Venezuela now! Let me cut straight to the point, didn’t we find the “right” leader at the last election and voted on leadership but by any metric, all is still not well and the future does not look good, Covid or otherwise.
Leadership matters but it is worrying when people link progress with dictatorships, benevolent or otherwise. The great leader theory of history is just that, folly. Most leaders will respond to the circumstances around them.
Take Margaret Thatcher for instance, often portrayed as the Iron Lady, but recent evidence from the British archives demonstrate she was also indecisive. I wish the people peddling the great leader folly would stop and focus
on making Barbados work for Barbadians.
The Prime Minister stated recently, according to the Government Information Service, that “the Future Barbados Framework was Government’s “moonshot factory”.
[The Prime Minister] stated that Government would work with young people produced by The University of the West Indies and other institutions over the next few years, particularly the first phase between now and March next year, to help it settle on some goals it would like to have by 2026.
The Prime Minister went on to assert that “…We would want that there be at least the creation of 2,000 new jobs, against the context of this Future Barbados Framework, not for the entire economy, because we will create jobs separate from this initiative….
“We will also seek to use this opportunity to elevate Barbados to the top 10 per cent ranking on the Youth Development Index, the SDGs and also the Social Mobility Index. And that finally, Barbados must be recognised as a hub for social innovation.”
As usual, that string of words was long on pomposity, but glaringly short on detail and also seemingly missing a key point.
I would dare anyone to tell me what the Prime Minister meant, and how any of it will be achieved.
What about jobs for the young people not in educational institutions and currently being failed by the educational system, given the Prime Minister spoke about young people produced by UWI and other educational institutions?
Doesn’t this look like a continuation of the inequality that pervades our country, and facilitated by our educational system? An educational system being presided over by probably the worst Minister of Education we have had. When we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
We need to check our proprieties and fix the basics as a country. It is nice to talk about “moonshot” but when a polyclinic has no weighing scales or gloves or other basic supplies, things as simple as that, or there is no basic dental care for children, some communities have no Wi-Fi, children do not get breakfast as school is on holiday, schools do not have materials, teachers and nurses are underpaid, applications to government offices take forever to process, government projects are generally behind schedule and overrun costs, then what is all the talk about “moonshot”? Barbados has roughly 300,000 citizens and can work.
There is no magic formula, focus on the basics and stamp out infelicities at all levels, especially at the top. The basics have to be provided, but it comes down to this, what sort of Barbados do we want.
And if we do not answer that question, decades from now, when Barbados finds there is a bottom beyond what we thought was the bottom, we will still be babbling on about diversifying the economy, and tourism (if there is still a product by then because of climate change and the destruction caused to the reefs over time and recently by anchoring cruise ships during COVID), corruption and that the political class and some business people are the only ones ever getting ahead.
What sort of government do you want?
The point is what sort of government do we want and how involved do we want Government in our lives?
At the moment, government is very involved in all aspects of our lives; education, healthcare, pension, garbage collection and so on and we pay taxes to fund this involvement from income tax, water and sewage tax, land tax, VAT and customs duties.
People will sometimes highlight problems that need to be fixed by the government and the response is to organise the community, do it yourself or pay someone to do it. Again, let me cut straight to the point.
We are paying high levels of taxes, why should we then fix issues we have paid to be fixed, coupled with the fact that people will also volunteer in church groups, service organisations, clubs, unions.
Why are people often pouring money and time, to address problems the Government should fix?
Is it because the government cannot prioritise and efficiently use the resources in taxes it takes from us, which every auditor general report for both parties has shown? I suppose the question is if we have to fix the problems that we have paid government to fix, then what is the point, role of any government.
I recently worked with a local charity to help provide Wifi to a disadvantaged neighbourhood. During the last election campaign, the BLP stated that Wifi was an essential utility and communities would be provided with Wifi but this Government hasn’t provided any Wifi yet (though it has hired a consultant to advise on its provision).
Less government, less tax
If we are to do more in our lives on our own, then we need more resources
as individuals and communities, so that would mean less tax.
However, if we are happy with government doing more for us, that means government must use our taxes, our money, properly.
The issue is that if we pay high taxes for bad services, whether in education, garbage collection, water, what are we getting for our money?
Every time a project is behind schedule, or there is a cost overrun, or money is mismanaged, or there is an act of corruption, that is OUR money.
If it was your household, you would demand better, so do it to your government, irrespective of what party you support, because the more of our money the government takes, the less we will have in our hands for our households.
If the current leadership and government are off on a frolic to the moon, or hiring more consultants, or creating unnecessary diplomatic posts, while ignoring the basics, then we still have to fix the basics, while also paying high taxes. How long can that continue?
Dr Ronnie Yearwood is a lecturer in law, lawyer and social commentator. Email: [email protected]