“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”
-The Road not Taken –Robert Frost
To my best recollection, each of our Prime Ministers has been blessed with a sharp turn of linguistic wit, ever ready to paint a scenario, no matter how grave, with a memorable turn of phrase.
I vividly recall that on the second day of the debate on the Constitutional amendments of 1974, the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Errol Barrow, (as he then was), plaintively inquiring “Where have all the flowers gone?” a sarcastic dylanesque reference to the glaring absence of the tumultuous crowd that had swarmed the yard of Parliament in protest the day before. Perhaps Mr Tom Adams’ tenure was far too brief for him to bequeath me a memorable phrase, but I feel sure that there must be more than one. And Sir Harold Bernard St John, as he was to become, would have suffered similarly.
However, Prime Minister Sandiford will be remembered for his description of the irremovable force of some meeting the irresistible object of his will. “He was adamant, I was adamant, something had to give” [paraphrased] and his later caricature in calypso intoning “you could like it or you could lump it…none o’ you ain’t brekking up my night rest”. His successor, Mr Owen Arthur continued the tradition with his colourful vernacular description of one Parliament as “po’ rakey”, while I can recall the late Mr David Thompson comparing the local economy to a fatted calf.
The current Prime Minister, Mr Freundel Stuart seems bent on continuing the tradition, if it may be so described. With a clear affection for the classics and for language in general, Mr Stuart has delivered himself of some linguistic gems, although his detractors have sought to use these as further telling evidence of his distance from the electorate. There are some Barbadians who are prepared to accuse writers or speakers of the local heresy of “showing off” whenever they use an unfamiliar word; as if one’s vocabulary should remain at the level of a second form pupil for the balance of one’s existence. Doubtless, some have suffered thusly.
I was struck by Prime Minister Stuart’s use of the collective “carnival” to describe a number of clowns in reference to a group on a previous occasion; and by his metaphor of “sucking on the already painfully sore nipples of the nation” by those who were still demanding economic concessions from the state in the midst of stringency; and last week he switched the figure of speech to approximate the national economy to a horse and the traditional civic entitlements to a jockey. In his words, “The state has found itself in a position where, with spiraling expenditure in those years (the period of satisfied entitlement) and with dwindling revenue, the jockey, it seems has become too heavy for the horse and whenever the jockey becomes too heavy for the horse, the horse cannot compete effectively…”
He is right. Indeed, the very point was made earlier in the same debate by Mr Arthur, who now sits as an Independent MP, when he suggested a reform of the hoary paternalistic approach to assisting citizens that previous administrations had employed over the years.
Of course, even highlighting this new normal comes at an electoral cost, but the manifesto promises of those parties aspiring to office should be tempered nevertheless by this reality. Tradition dies hard, however, and there will of course be the alluring campaign promises of a return to the old ways, although it should be clear even to the proverbial “blind man on the trotting horse in the middle of the street” that those days of near plenty have swiftly receded and are gone forever. Heraclitus’ dictum that you cannot step into the same river twice applies with full force in this context.
So far as my assessment of the budgetary proposals themselves and the subsequent debate is concerned, I was out last week and was therefore limited to reading a transcript of the Finance Minister’s speech and listening online to the reply of the Leader of the Opposition. I have read newspaper extracts only of the other members’ contributions since my return.
My general impression is that we are in a grave circumstance (no pun!). Former Prime Minister Arthur argued cogently that having come to a fork in the economic road, we chose the one less travelled -that of the home grown solution- one that leads inexorably to the imposition of harsh measures, rather than the one more used by the scrunting traveller –that of approaching the International Monetary Fund [IMF] for technical assistance. In his view, it was a judgment call and the current governing administration chose the path that may lead to unwarranted human suffering.
This recourse of approaching the IMF for assistance is one that has been touted time and again in recent months by some prominent economists –among them Mr Arthur himself; Professor Howard; Ms Dukharan; and Dr Worrell- as the optimal solution to our prevailing economic woes.
However, the current administration is adamant that this is not the way, preferring that the citizenry take the bitter medicine of the homegrown recovery. This seeming antipathy to recourse to the IMF is understandable. One of the local sacred cows is the exchange rate of our currency to the US dollar and there might be an innate apprehension on the part of the government that such an avenue is fraught with both the likelihood of devaluation and consequent indelible electoral disfavour. I do not know.
There are equally those who might argue, however, that the recently imposed levy on foreign exchange transactions does serve to reduce the value of the local dollar, resulting in a de facto, though not de jure, devaluation. When, concomitantly, there is an increase in the cost of imports owing to the increase in the rate National Social Responsibility Levy [NSRL], the die is cast.
An enjoyable Whit Monday!