In the immediate post-Independence period Barbados was blessed with political leadership which laid the foundation for the social and economic success we are still reaping today. The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow and the late J.M.G. ‘Tom’ Adams are the two who stand head and shoulders above the others we should credit. Some may argue that the local and global economic environment carried the economic capacity which afforded Barbados the opportunity to implement social and economic programmes that resulted in ‘Barbados punching above its weight class’. Regrettably that fertile condition has long disappeared and now more than at any time since adult suffrage, Barbadians will need to lever against the knowledge capital which we should have accumulated as a result of the enormous investment in education.
What we have seen from the political leadership since Barrow and Adams has been a ‘follow-pattern’ approach which has not resulted in any fundamental and strategic policy formulation and planning to ensure Barbados charts its own path; operating in a global economy not withstanding. Even as the world is changing literally by the week Barbados remains stapled to the economic fundamentals which have guided our path striking back to the Barrow and Adams era.
As is our wont given our proclivity for things American, Barbadians have become increasingly divisive on the issues driven by partisan political stripes. Not dissimilar to what the world is witnessing in the USA. Given that neither the Barbados labour Party or the Democratic Labour Party are not philosophical so far apart on the issues, it begs the question why a nation which boasts of a superior education system would allow ‘yardfowlism’ to compromise the greater national interest. More and more Barbadians have become adept at ‘rationalizing’ every problem which manifest itself in Barbados.
An article posted in Aljazeera has captured some points which should give Barbadians reason to pause and reflect. Although economic globalization has unleashed many advantages to the world it has also brought its challenges. One of the biggest has been how globalization has exposed the unskilled or inadequately educated citizen. Here is a quote from the article which resonated:
“What globalisation requires, therefore, are smart government policies. Governments should promote high-quality education, to ensure that young people are prepared to face global competition. They should raise productivity by building modern infrastructure and promoting science and technology. And governments should cooperate globally to regulate those parts of the economy – notably finance and the environment – in which problems in one country can spill over to other parts of the world.”
In a single paragraph the author, a Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has identified where Barbados and the Caribbean has fallen short in the last 20 years. Barbados prides itself on its education system which has perfected turning out the traditional graduate. Unfortunately we have not yet mastered doing the same for the technical and other non traditional vocations. In a world where we have become interconnected our ability to grow GDP or whatever economic measure we use must be to anchored to a strategy which is aligned to what is required in the global market. This is even more critical for a 2×3 country.
Coincidentally Rawle Brancker, a former cricketer and an entrepreneur of repute, delivered an interesting DLP lunch time lecture this week. He suggested that in the area of alternative energy, especially solar energy, Barbados should have been a leader given our head start. He also talked about the importance of government, banks and the small business sector collaborating to avoid catastrophic failure. He opined that the protracted global recession has decimated the capital base of SME’s in Barbados which historically have always been undercapitalized. The other point he could have made is the need for best in class regulation to better regulate companies with a regional footprint, CLICO anyone?
So far successive governments have demonstrated a lack of political will to recalibrate and in some cases dismantle parts of our education system to ensure it remains relevant in today’s world. If we continue to be laissez-faire and ignorant as to what is required to negotiate the global economic turbulence, then our socio-economic mosaic will begin to blur as it is already showing the signs. After all we are about building a society.