The George Brathwaite Column – Hard Ears You Wouldn’t Hear!
Barbados has its colloquialisms, traditions, and high expectations regarding the provision of quality services and public goods. Barbadians expect focus on the key areas of: health, housing, transportation, education and poverty. These areas speak to national development.
National development refers to the ability of a nation to improve the lives of its citizens and residents. Measures of improvement may be material, such as an increase in the gross domestic product, or social, such as literacy rates and availability of healthcare. Also entailing national development, is the notion of having adequate economic infrastructure as a means towards an acceptable standard of living and quality of life. Broadly, economic infrastructure refers to all the permanent engineering structures, equipment and physical facilities that are the basis for providing energy, transport, telecommunications, water and sanitation services to productive sectors and households.
Over the last decade, several policies, events, and practices by the Barbados Government have been called into question by citizens and residents on and off island. There are alarming concerns regarding Barbados’ fractured infrastructure and the apparent lack of efficient and timely provision of services. These two factors, seen as being instrumental to national development, have had a very negative impact on the psyche of the nation.
Furthermore, most of the available statistical data indicate that Barbados has been unable to gain any sustained traction in its economy. Indeed, the results under the Freundel Stuart-led Cabinet have been impoverishing to the Barbados nation. For example, the ‘real’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for Barbados averaged between 1997 and 2007, a commendable 2.42 %. Since 2008, Barbados has consistently failed to reach or even get near the average growth rate of the preceding decade.
Worst is that several months ago, the nation held on to some optimism that Barbados would reach a target of 2 % economic growth. However, in comes October and another downgrade from Standard & Poors, and Finance Minister Christopher Sinckler brings back in the melancholy that had already been exacerbated with the steep 400% increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from 2 to 10 % in his last draconian budget. Sinckler stated that Barbados “wouldn’t get 2 % growth as was originally predicted at the beginning of the year,” and he was now predicting for 2017, that the growth rate “will be about 0.5 to 0.7 %.
Against the 20th, and the likelihood that Barbados would further capitulate to its 21st consecutive downgrade by international rating agencies, these cannot be inspiring. The repeated downgrades, taken together with perspectives and outlooks emerging from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are sufficient reasons that the DLP ought to be less concerned about the qualifications or rights of an individual to practice law in Barbados.
The IMF stated at the end of June that: “Growth in 2017 is projected to slow to less than 1 percent, reflecting the fiscal consolidation efforts introduced in the FY2017/18 Budget. Inflation is expected to continue to accelerate to 6.7 percent by year end.” The RBC Caribbean Economic Report additionally raised concerns about Barbados’ seemingly unstoppable and depressed drop in foreign reserves which, by now, may be as critically low as only giving six weeks cover.
It is almost certain that the increase in the NSRL and other taxes and fees introduced by Chris Sinckler would remain indefinitely once the DLP continues to mismanage the Barbados economy. For more than five years, Prime Minister Stuart and the DLP have failed to listen to the masses in terms of the countless pleas for an ease, and a return to being able to have quality services. Inflation will likely surpass the IMF’s prediction, and will continue to wreak havoc on Barbadian businesses and households.
Put into factual context, there are very strong signals that Barbados is in crisis and suffering from a DLP-imposed paralysis. Barbadians are being forced to endure, for many years longer than they should have, the misfortune of keeping their heads above water while the prime minister is in another phase of slumber and procrastination. It is reprehensible that with credibility badly shaken, the country must cope with Finance Minister Sinckler and the negative effects of stagnant infrastructural and services provision.
Economic and social growth in Barbados have been severely neglected by the DLP. The Cabinet and DLP spokespersons continue to run away from the topical ‘bread and butter’ issues and prefer to engage the Attorney General with frivolous complaints and queries. Barbadians are being distracted by a DLP General Secretary whose clear intent is to spin top-in-mud on matters of divestment instead of demanding that his party invests in the provision of services nation-wide. The widespread deterioration has certainly hampered the quality of life and standard of living for Barbadians. The nation had become accustomed the ‘good life’ on entering the 21st century.
Why is it that the Stuart-led Cabinet cannot prioritise and be prudent with policy, public expenditure, and fiscal discipline that Barbados can realise accelerated and sustained economic growth? Clearly, while the DLP sings a tune about saving jobs in the public sector, it is as if the Cabinet does not care what happens in the private sector for promoting employment opportunities.
The myopia that has affected the DLP has also served to stop individual citizens and businesses from enjoying the services of properly run institutions and agencies such as the: Sanitation Services Authority (SSA), Barbados Water Authority (BWA), Transport Board, Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), National Housing Corporation (NHC), and the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Garbage collection has become unimaginably poor even with the contractual assistance of private enterprise. The water woes persist in much of rural Barbados. The Transport Board is now an enigma utilising a fleet that is far smaller today than at January 2008. The QEH is wrestling to have basic supplies while ministers are lashing out at doctors who continue to showcase their skills by saving lives. There are still hundreds of houses inhabiting bush and vermin, rather than the low and middle-income earners for whom they were intended. The mounting debt owed to the UWI grows while numerous youth have abandoned the hope of earning a degree.
These are just a few things that Barbadians are demanding answers. Barbadians require a better way from the government – perhaps it is too late for the DLP. Yet, it is in the collective pursuit of happiness that Barbadians recognise that they are being ignored by a hard-ears and stubborn DLP. For instance, the Urban Development Corporation can no longer assists with the building and repair needs of the urban poor because the director himself prefers forging a discourse of gutter-politics.
Sitting at the altar of immorality, the president of the DLP and arguably, several of its candidates contesting the next general election are keen to discuss persons’ sexual preferences, but abandon the need to fix the issues of services provision. How will bigoted conversations help in the reduction of an increasing population of poverty and underemployment? How will the fall from the middle-class be stopped when the Government facilitates the growing forms of inequalities regarding income distribution and business procurement? Hard ears you wouldn’t hear!