Analyzing Barbados’ Predicament and Looking to the Future
Submitted by David Comissiong
THE FIRST QUESTION we must confront is this :- if an economic crisis exists in Barbados, as it undoubtedly does, who and what is responsible for it ?
Let us start with the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) governmental administration! After the DLP came to power in 2008, the international economic recession caused the opening up of a 500 Million dollar deficit in Government’s finances. And to their everlasting shame, the DLP Administration sat idly by for nine long years and did nothing of substance to correct the fiscal imbalance.
Indeed, rather than take meaningful steps to correct the fiscal imbalance, they initially pretended that it was no big deal and would automatically correct itself in the near future. And when this facile pie-in-the-sky approach to governance came to nothing, they commenced upon the irresponsible and unsustainable practice of borrowing money from the National Insurance Scheme to pay monthly salaries. They also blissfully and irresponsibly indulged in reckless spending that further exacerbated the situation!
Furthermore, not only did they permit the fiscal rot to gradually worsen year after year, but they also failed to devise any new ideas or measures for promoting growth and diversification in our economy.
Indeed, Stuart and company spent ten long lazy years telling the Barbadian people that our nation is a small and helpless nation and that there is nothing of consequence that we could do about our predicament of economic malaise other than to wait for improvements in the international economy ! And while they were feeding our people this diet of “learned helplessness” so many other countries (many of them with less resources than Barbados) were positively forging ahead.
You see, having failed to take effective measures to restore the soundness of Government’s finances, they ended up saddling our country with a thoroughly dysfunctional and crisis-ridden governmental administration that was in no position to take up the critical Mission of leading a national effort to extricate our country from recession and to restore the economy to an upward trajectory.
Almost alone among the CARICOM countries Barbados continued to suffer economic decline year after year, and to have its international credit rating down graded time and time again
The sad truth is that Messers Stuart and company exhibited little or no energy, imagination, intelligence, initiative or leadership in tackling the festering fiscal and economic cancer, and thereby became the chief authors and manufacturers of the current, extremely dangerous foreign exchange, debt and economic crisis that our country is facing.
Truly, the combined David Thompson / Freundel Stuart Administration has been a “know nothing, do nothing– except fatten themselves” Administration!
Yet, in spite of the fact that they are the one who bear fundamental responsibility for the sad state that Barbados is currently in, their shameful attitude is not only to greedily reinstate their 10 per cent increase in salary, but to also callously settle upon the scapegoating and savaging of public servants and statutory corporation employees as “their” solution to the crisis.
As far as these political miscreants are concerned, they need their 10 per cent salary restoration in order to live, but it is okay to throw thousands of low level public servants on the dump-heap of unemployment without a concern as to how they and their dependents are to survive.
THE DEEPER MEANING OF PRIVATIZATION AND RETRENCHMENT
But the truly critical point I would like all Barbadians to appreciate is that when the DLP political directorate tells you that the way forward is to divest and privatize state enterprises, abandon social welfare programmes, and retrench public sector workers, it is in effect informing you that it is ABANDONING any aspiration that the future of our country will be based upon the educated and trained masses of our people owning and controlling the major institutions of our nation.
And if the future of the nation and its economy is not to be based upon the empowerment of the masses of people, then the plan must be to base it upon a continued and enhanced empowerment of the traditional white Barbadian economic elite and the predominantly North American, European and French Creole (Trinidadian) “foreign investor” entities that they are wont to align themselves with.
But none of this should come as a surprise to any of us! We already possess stark and painful evidence of the shameful way in which the current Governmental Administration has prostrated itself before the likes of Mark Maloney, Bjorn Bjerkham, Bizzy Williams and the Da Silvas, and has conferred a series of outrageously privileged governmental contracts on these and other members of the traditional business class.
There is no doubt that Barbados is in a state of serious economic ctisis, but the way to solve that crisis is NOT to treat trade unions as “the enemy” or to savage public sector workers and their jobs. Nor is it to dismantle the critical educational, health and social welfare mechanisms that are required to produce a mass of trained and empowered citizens who are capable of appropriating and undertaking responsibility for the development of their nation.
The way forward for Barbados CANNOT be to go backward to an era in which ownership and control of our nation’s economy was firmly and squarely in the hands of a traditional white oligarchy !
On the contrary, we must continue to hold on to the notion that the economic and social development of Barbados has to be based on the foundation of a highly educated, cultured, healthy, employed and empowered mass population.
THE WAY FORWARD
The economic situation that faces Barbados is severe but it is not insoluble. The first order of business is to re-establish the soundness of the finances and credit of our Government, and this can be achieved, but only if the public sector trade unions are treated with respect by the Government and are permitted to use their extensive and intimate knowledge of the Public Service to craft appropriate strategies. Nobody knows better than the public servants and their trade unions where the waste, duplication and inefficiency resides in the system . They are therefore much better equipped to craft sensible and humane strategies of change and improvement than clueless Government Ministers!
We all need to remember that when the “Movement” for the upliftment of the Barbadian masses started in earnest in the 1940’s, it was a “Labour Movement”, with the political party (the Barbados Labour Party) and trade union (the Barbados Workers Union) working together, hand in hand. The spirit of this Movement needs to be revived, but this can only happen if the trade unions are given the respect that they are entitled to.
The other major item on the national agenda has to be the devising of economic strategies to grow and develop the economy. And here again, this is not beyond us! But first of all we need to jettison the self-negating idea that either the traditional white Barbadian businessman or the so-called foreign investor is required to be our saviour. (There is a place and a role for the traditional elite Barbadian businessman and the foreign investor but it CANNOT be a place and a role of primacy!).
Secondly, we must commit ourselves to the notion that we — the tens of thousands of Bajans –will assume the primary responsibility for establishing and developing productive enterprises in our own country, and that we will do so on the basis of elevated standards of education and training for our people in general and our youth in particular.
In other words, our nation’s economic development must arise from our people’s human development, and vice versa. These two spheres of development must therefore be symbiotic and must mutually propel each other. And none of this will be possible if we demolish the “human development” of tens of thousands of our citizens by throwing thousands of public sector workers into unemployment, or if we dismantle or disable the critical human development programmes and structures that public servants man.
Indeed, the Clement Payne Movement and its sister organization, the Peoples Empowerment Party, long ago outlined the parameters of such a developmental strategy :- the development of the Education sector as a foreign exchange earning industry; the construction of a Manufacturing industry comprised of a cooperative, centralized domestic sector and a high technology export sector; Cultural, heritage, health and sports tourism; cultural or Arts-based industries; the development of a cooperative or people’s sector of the economy; a public / private sector partnership in the development and commercialization of unique, indigenous national assets; and the list goes on.
The ideas are numerous and powerful, but their validity and potency will only become clear if one is philosophically committed to the construction of a truly democratic and egalitarian Barbados that is owned by the masses of the Barbadian people.
This was the original vision and mission of the Labour Movement. And this must be the vision and mission that we fight for when we line up behind the new , presumably Barbados Labour Party, government and our trade unions in the months and years ahead.