Submitted by George Brathwaite PhD
Worse than a corrupt government is an incompetent one, not least because having the second characteristic does not exclude the first one. – (Victor Bello Accioly).
Against a distressed society and a baulking economy, Barbados is set for a possible direction-altering outcome in the general elections slated for May 24th, 2018. The current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration has been beleaguered with crisis after crisis in almost every sphere of political economy, and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund are on standby to rescue a country from its man-made indiscretions.
A record total of 132 nominated candidates will beckon and woo the electorate for its support; among them are 32 women, the highest number ever to seek election in Barbados on any polling day. If the numerically increased challengers to the DLP administration since 2013 are anything to go by, then the situation partly removes doubt over the extent that voter-apathy has enveloped the political climate. Polling day can be expected to attract one of the highest voter-turnouts in post-independent history, and this is very likely to mean a change in government given the stale and dour status quo.
Moreover, the popular discourse is suggesting that Barbados is ripe for both change and substantial reforms. In terms of personalities and power, one of the most monumental things likely to occur is Barbados seeing the election of its first female Prime Minister. Mia Mottley, by dint of years of commendable public service and commitment to empowering people, will most likely see her become the region’s fourth female prime minister following on from the initial step which saw Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica emerge as a strong leader on July 21st, 1980 until June 14th, 1995.
In many respects, the last decade has been a lost decade for Barbadians with many gains achieved under the Arthur years (1994 – 2008) being wiped away for several reasons. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, to this day, would attempt to convince Barbadians that the “worst downturn in nearly 100 years” have been extreme, with the repercussions being far-reaching and prolongingly ravishing. However, many observers and economic practitioners still argue that Barbados went about its business based on a badly flawed approach of trying to tax its way out of the recession.
Year after year, rather than stimulus to spur economic growth, tax increases of enormous proportions coupled with the unsavoury practice of unsustainable printing of money magnified the fiscal deficit and the hugely increasing debt problem Barbados faced over the last five years. In all this time, the Barbados dollar survived under the constant threat of devaluation because of the lack of adequate levels of foreign investments and economic growth. Unrealistic capital expenditures and lack of proper prioritisation for balancing the generation of revenues against the provision of public services, meant that the economy coughed up even more problems for the society.
Incidentally, the DLP’s noble mantra that ‘Barbados is more than an economy, it is a society’ became empty rhetoric for residents. The disheartening conclusion became entrenched in the psyche of Barbadians, many of whom were forced to live through a long and consistent period without salary increases while high inflation and unemployment became the new norms. Burdensome taxation, and particularly the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) which was introduced two years ago at a 2 per cent rate, was increased to 10 percent and had significant drag on businesses and all consumers.
The fact that in areas such as public transportation, healthcare, education, and sanitation, Barbadians were receiving services far below the standards achieved pre-2008, clearly evoked questions of how the taxpayers’ money was being spent. Reports emerging from the Auditor General drew attention to administrative malfeasance and the possibility of corrupt practices further weakening the national economic situation.
Largely, the social, economic, and environmental policies of the beleaguered DLP wreaked havoc on all socio-economic categories of persons in Barbados. The nation through the political opposition, trade unions, civil society, church, and other entities increased its voice of complaint and protest directed towards a ‘silent’ prime minister. Criticisms swelled against an ill-disciplined Cabinet, and overall, allegations of an uncaring and uncharitable government were being heard across the length and breadth of Barbados.
Indeed, one of the sentiments that have captured the imagination in Barbados, is the need to end the life of an inept and possibly evil government. One may ask, ‘what is a wicked or evil government’? The American social philosopher Eric Hoffer answers this question in the following way: “No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion; it is an evil government.” Many persons are convinced that the behaviour and policy options taken by the Barbados Government under Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s leadership for more than five years amounts to the characterisations expressed by Hoffer.
The evidence is both wide and deep. In the political campaigning of May 2018, numerous Barbadians are suggesting that they have been exposed to record lows on the political landscape, and especially from the characters comprising Freundel Stuart’s Cabinet and team that must face the electorate on polling day. While it is partie du cours to target the leader of opposing political parties in a strategic effort to handicap the entire team, Barbadians were given a campaign launch by the DLP that almost totally avoided the economic and societal issues that have vexed the population.
Instead, Barbadians evidenced the worst of all sordid behaviour by an incumbent government seeking re-election when DLP candidates, one after another, took to the podium to viciously berate, disrespect, curse, Mia Mottley, the political leader of the strongly positioned Barbados Labour Party (BLP). The coarse content, unpleasant tones, and putrid statements by DLP candidates left much to be desired. The gross disrespect spouted to a woman of obvious decency, intellect, and caring was not on the cards for the youth or a general audience since many of the nasty comments would have been rated ‘NC-17’.
The behaviour by the DLP’s candidates on the night of May 6th surely reinforces the view that the DLP has fully transformed into a government that blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will. Freundel Stuart’s Government, besides being inept and paltry in its performances for almost a decade, is equally a pathetic and poisonous group best defined as an evil government if Hoffer’s definition is to be accepted.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant. Email: email@example.com)