The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – What Would Barrow Do? [WWBD]?
My friends spit on the government.
I do not think is just the government.
Suppose all the gods too old,
Suppose they dead and they burning them…The Saddhu of Couva -Derek Walcott
The current public discourse on governance and the economy is nothing if not a cacophonous babel of contesting opinions. To the few casual observers, it must remind so much of a meme I saw on Facebook recently where a bemused gentleman stands looking from one side of a crowd to the other in puzzlement. The caption states “When everyone is arguing over whether the answer was 63 or 75 but your answer was Henry the 8th…” or, to localize it “When everyone is arguing over whether or not the Prime Minister should be forced to advise the Governor General to call elections but your suggestion was that the dollar should not be devalued”.
In recent days we have heard it all. “Go to the IMF while there is still time”, some thinkers urge. “No we shall not”, rejoins the government, while offering no clear alternative as to what should be the optimal recourse in that event. One member of Cabinet suggests the use of a sinking fund facility from the United Arab Emirates; an option seemingly not accepted by his other Cabinet colleagues. At the same time, the parliamentary Opposition, as a shark scenting the blood of a wounded administration in the choppy waters of state, incites the population to show its disgust with the existing state of political and economic affairs, although likewise offering no public disclosure of its strategy for our national salvation and no fewer than four “third” parties raise their several heads above the parapet of electoral engagement.
So far, these last are equally silent as to their individual rescue programmes for the economy. It seems as if their collective strategy is founded upon a popular ennui with the two traditional parties that they expect will somehow translate into popular affection for their candidates, whose main attributes so far appear to be that they are not contesting the elections on behalf of either the Barbados Labour Party or the Democratic Labour Party. Indeed, one of these groupings has even seen it fit to claim a number of candidates without revealing their identities, raising a question not only as to their political courage, but also as to their absurdly supreme level either of confidence or of foolhardiness to imagine that a people who traditionally vote for an individual more on the basis of personality and party than on that of policy in the thirty constituency battles will readily embrace any thitherto unknown candidate with less than a year’s notice. To each his own, I suppose, and I can certainly claim no initiation in these matters.
There is also a veritable Babel locally as to the moral legitimacy of public taxation in these times. There is a popular demand for continued civic entitlements that can only be met by added increments in the dwindling public purse. Yet every official suggestion that taxes should be paid and each attempt to enforce this is met with populist resistance while complaints as to the standards of public service at institutions such as the schools, healthcare facilities and other state departments continue unabated.
It is about time that I explain the title of this essay. It is generally accepted by most, though not all, Barbadians that the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, as he is now titled, was a successful leader of Barbados. The question posed is thus akin to the one that those of the Christian faith sometimes ask themselves, perhaps ungrammatically, to inform a course of action –“What would Jesus do?”
While I categorically deny any charge of intentional blasphemy, it is similarly suggested that those members of the governing administration, who claim his legacy, should ask themselves, to be more grammatically correct, what would Barrow have done if he were faced with this identical economic situation?
I do not expect this to be a popular suggestion or even that those who have the authority to ask and answer the question and to implement the response will do so. Indeed, the honest answer may be uncomfortable at some levels. There may, of course, also be an argument that Mr. Barrow was never faced with such stringent economic circumstances in his time and thus would have been lost as to contemporary solutions. Others may rightly claim that to them have fallen the reins of governance and any solution must be based on their collective intellect and political savoir-faire. I cannot fault this latter claim…it is just that there appears to be a crying need for the creative political solution at this time.
Today’s epigraph is in tribute to the late St Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott who shuffled off this mortal coil on Friday. It was a joy to read Walcott’s poetry that betrayed the mind of a classicist at heart and also of a keen observer of the human condition.
My favourite Walcott lines, suitably bowdlerized for a family newspaper.
In idle August, while the sea soft,
and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim
of this Caribbean, I blow out the light
by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion
to ship as a seaman on the schooner Flight.
Out in the yard turning gray in the dawn,
I stood like a stone and nothing else move
but the cold sea rippling like galvanize
and the nail holes of stars in the sky roof,
till a wind start to interfere with the trees.
I pass me dry neighbor sweeping she yard
as I went downhill, and I nearly said:
“Sweep soft, you witch, ’cause she don’t sleep hard,”
but the bitch look through me like I was dead.
A route taxi pull up, park-lights still on.
The driver size up my bags with a grin:
“This time, Shabine, like you really gone!”
I ain’t answer the ass, I simply pile in
the back seat and watch the sky burn
above Laventille pink as the gown
in which the woman I left was sleeping,
and I look in the rearview and see a man
exactly like me, and the man was weeping
for the houses, the streets, that whole f…ing island.– The Schooner Flight.