Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
Addressing an audience at the Barbados Yacht Club on Wednesday July 21, 2021, the Reverend Guy Hewitt was critical of the present BLP administration and leader Mia Mottley. The critique focused on two main facets of the government’s performance. The first centred on the state of the local economy and the second on the apparent haste to assume Republican status by November 30 this year.
On the latter issue, I find little with which to disagree with in Rev. Hewitt’s comment.
There is something not quite right about the almost indecent haste with which the move to Republican status was announced in the last Throne Speech. Some may construe it as a self-indulgent search for a legacy.
The best construction one can impose on the decision is that it represents an idea whose time has come and ask ‘why not now.’ An arguably more objective response might be: With so much on the national plate, why now, at a time when in Hewitt’s words ‘we are struggling economically, socially and psychologically?’It is hardly a matter of critical urgency.
It is almost impossible to comment on the present state of Barbadian politics without being accused of being part of what David Comissiong, back in the day, used to called, the BLP vs DLP ‘political dogfight.’ It seems that objective and rational thought can never be part of the discourse as the partisans have their say often with little concern for logic, fact or moral probity.
What I found alarming about Hewitt’s address was the claim that the Government was using the pandemic as a scapegoat for its failure to grow the economy. He drew the startling conclusion that: “This is not about COVID-19. This is about who we have here running our affairs into the ground.” He concluded: “We need sound strategies and good economic managers.”
The charge that the state of the local economy has nothing to do with COVID-19 is religiously outrageous. The COVID-19 pandemic hangs like a pall over the entire planet. Rev. Hewitt must be careful not to allow his political aspirations to get the better of his intellectual integrity which he clearly has in some depth.
There are very few small open economies that are not feeling the adverse effects of the repercussions caused by the COVID-19 scourge. This is particularly true of those countries like Barbados that are highly dependent on global tourism. The cover story in the
Economist of July 10, highlights what it terms “the fault-lines in the global economy.”
The opening sentence in the article admits that, “the pandemic caused a fearsome economic slump.” However, it asserts rather optimistically that there are signs of recovery.
It is difficult to see how Barbados can benefit from a recovery which the magazine article itself perceives as “fragile”.
Any Barbadian recovery will depend on a substantive revival in tourism and this is almost totally dependent on the outcome of a pandemic which is unlikely to go away any time soon. Last week the US was registering 43,000 cases a day with hospital admissions rising by some 36 per cent.
Ironically, at the time of writing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the Opposition and the Health Secretary were all under voluntary quarantine. One existential fear is that COVID-19 may become endemic in the world’s population.
One of the fault-lines in the world economy is rising inflation, the consequences of which are already being felt locally.
The cost of shipping goods from China to America’s western ports has quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels.
Hewitt admits that Barbados is regarded as the eighth most expensive place in the world.
If that is true how are those living below the poverty line continuing to survive? Spiralling inflation could drive more into the economic underclass. These are serious issues and should not be viewed as a cause for political one-upmanship.
The Rev. Hewitt is contending for the presidency of the DLP to contest the next elections on that Party’s behalf. If you make the indictment that “we need sound strategies and good economic managers”, you must go beyond platitudes about what “we need to do.”
He must tell the people what sound strategies and good economic managers he has. The local intelligentsia often seems hard pressed to find practical solutions that go beyond simplistic rhetoric about “finding creative ways” to do this and creative ways to do that.
COVID-19 presents the world with a terrible conundrum. Open up the economy and you may foster growth but at the risk of a spiralling pandemic that may be costly to handle. You cannot hermetically seal an economy so dependent on tourism and trade.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the political calculus in Barbados is unlikely to change any time soon, certainly not over the next two years. Any idea that Miss Mottley will be a one-term Prime Minister is wishful thinking.
There are areas where the Mottley administration is vulnerable to critique, an oversized Cabinet, continuous borrowings, increasing debt and a seeming inability to impose social discipline It is however something of a stretch to suggest that the BLP administration has mismanaged the country given the number of challenges it has faced. Also, given the state of the DLP, it is most unlikely that either Corporate interests or the people at large will run the risk of handing government over to a cadre of political journeymen who can only say what we need to do without outlining the details of what they would actually do.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.