The George Brathwaite Column – Let’s Wake the Sleeping Giant!
This week’s article will hopefully wake the sleeping giant whose relaxation is fast becoming our peril. The nation must challenge the Prime Minister to come to the rescue, do what is right, and to maximise his time left in office. The Freundel Stuart-led Cabinet should also be more mindful of their words and actions. From where I sit, things have reached an alarming low, with the political rhetoric from even Prime Minister Stuart scraping the bottom while forgetting that the national discourse from our leaders can shape important aspects of social and economic development. Perhaps against his own intent or sense of nationhood, Prime Minister Stuart prefers to be reactive to criticism instead of being proactive in governing.
For at least the past seven years, it appears that the current executive arm of government is hell-bent on spreading seeds of divisiveness throughout the society. There is the repeated tearing down of people who present themselves as being oppositional or willing to offer an alternative view on how governance ought to be approached in Barbados. That said, there are numerous things that are most bothering to Barbadians even as a general election approaches.
Certainly, the Barbados society can hardly be said to better off today than it was prior to the loose spinning out of a mantra that said Barbados is more than an economy, it is a society. As noble as the refrain may sound coming from the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), at a time when Barbadians felt it was better to change a government that had performed beyond any in the last 30 years, the DLP regrettably stumbled from one set of platitudes about self, to undermining the unity and progress which previously mapped Barbados’ socio-economic development.
A recent report emerging from the University of the West Indies (UWI), is showing that poverty has increased in Barbados with ‘an increase in overall poverty of 2.4 per cent’. This situation is characterised by the fact that ‘17.5 per cent of the population’ is currently living in poverty; this statistic is up from the 15.1 per cent recorded in 2010. Qualitatively, ‘poverty is rising because extreme poor are going into non-extreme poor and the vulnerable have fallen into poverty’. Consider for a moment the many complaints being expressed in Barbados on gun-related violence, the high murder rate, the deviance being seen by both our young men and women, and the fact that the educational system is placing greater pressures on our teachers and families. A summary statement would indicate that the DLP has failed miserably on its premier policy direction.
Has the country paused to really figure out why is it that there are so many willing candidates to contest the next general elections? Several of these men and women are not inclined to join the ranks of the two major political parties, but have stated their desire to capture the imagination of the wider Barbados. Quite frankly, their success is very much in doubt, but what it does suggest, that there is a definite decline and apathetic concern that have triggered them to participate more directly in the issues concerning Barbados. This emergent political passage, is of itself a fight for the preservation of democracy and one that would hopefully give voice to many of the voiceless persons in Barbados.
As stated up front, the DLP has been most bellicose whenever alternative viewpoints have been expressed by members of the public. Whenever critics indicate, for one reason or another, that the DLP’s ways are flawed or will not net the desired results, they are labelled fearmongers, enemies of the state, and preachers of gloom and doom. How ludicrous! This is our Barbados in the same way that it belongs to those who sit in Cabinet and Parliament. The notion of a divided Barbados takes increasing relevance when Prime Minister Stuart knowingly stirs up mischief by throwing claims of conservatism and elitism into the open, while being dismissive of the constitutive efforts of all shades and classes of building the parties, and more importantly, directing post-colonial and post-independence developments in Barbados.
Furthermore, a study of social and identity politics reveals that domains of insecurity that arise from institutional and political reactions to a perceived threat, will always derail the best of intentions and the very safe ground to which the nation aspires. In that statement, resides the nucleus of the problem beleaguering this current DLP. It presents a rationale for the desperate and obtrusive rhetoric that has been blind-siding almost every policy measure the Stuart-led Cabinet has introduced. Put differently, the very notion of pathways to progress and the implemented policies of the DLP to reshape the Barbados society and grow the economy, have suffered from the dismissive tones and contradictory actions by the likes of Stuart, Sinckler, Kellman, Lowe, Jones, Inniss, the Lashley opposites and most others. Trust and credibility cannot be attached to the working of the present government for both known and unknown reasons.
For example, Barbadians were told among many other things that the VAT would be increased from 15 to 17. 5 per cent for a fixed period; what has happened since that time has elapsed? We were told that a National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) would be introduced and set at 2 per cent and the gains would go towards healthcare and supplying the Sanitation Services Authority (SSA) with trucks so that Barbadians can have their garbage collected in a timely and appropriate manner; what has happened with those revenues and where are the trucks? We have heard the Commerce Minister speak repeatedly on the ease of doing business for both locals and our international interests; what has been done to improve the situation?
The plain truth is that there is a long list of discordant and contradictory rhetoric by the DLP when compared to their actions. These typical discursive practices – social actions occurring in everyday practices but which largely arise, implicitly or explicitly, from political and institutionalised statements being enunciated – spell disaster for Barbados’ governance. It cannot be satisfying that Barbadians everywhere are buckling under the pressures of high taxation and austere conditions, and the best that the administration can do is to say that all is fine and dandy, just block out the voices and concerns of those that do not agree with the DLP Cabinet’s programs.
That very discursive process being followed by Stuart and the DLP is drawing on the weaknesses they have already created. It is through an intersubjective understanding of the socially constructed panic, poverty, and hopelessness that is being felt by many in the Barbados society, that one can fairly conclude that the DLP has failed the Barbados nation. If as Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has said that his Cabinet and parliamentarians: “Want to create a Barbados that is socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound, and characterised by good governance,” then surely, he must take responsibility for his Cabinet’s wobbles and fiascos. To date, these have amounted to numerous dislocations and much disconcerting behaviour being exhibited in many sectors across the nation. It is time to wake the sleeping giant!
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)