The George Brathwaite Column – Ready for BERT
Hardly anyone inside or outside of Barbados would underestimate the gravity of the socio-economic situation confronting the Mia Mottley-led administration. The current circumstances challenging Barbados, inclusive of: the threat of devaluation, the insufficiency of investments and earned revenue, the high incidence of taxation, the need to exercise fiscal discipline while attending to several infrastructural problems, restructuring the public sector knowing that there will be definite job losses, and the return of quality services-provision to the nation, are foremost in the minds of Barbadians. In fact, these economic issues are stirring anxiety and are laced with the peril of inflicting more dislocation than already existing in the society, even if only in the short to medium term.
Undoubtedly, the national discourse has been for more than five years running, attempting to find ways around every obstacle and limitation. While the results obtained by the last government are far from inspiring, there is increased hope and confidence in the Mia Mottley-led administration. Barbadians are once again seeing the signs of innovation and development. These are interrelated concepts, with the former related to developing new ways of doing things by mixing up ideas and/or combining technologies; and the latter about implementing appropriate policies and mechanisms to change and improve people’s conditions by removing various types of socio-economic, political and natural constraints. The problems will not vanish overnight nor is it likely that every effort would be lauded a success, but the Government must have the confidence and political will to do what is in the best interest of the nation.
Indeed, attaining quality standards of life and happiness are still the expressed goals of the governing and the governed in Barbados, regardless of partisan persuasion. Perhaps, now is as good a time as ever to allow a space for cross-party forums to engage some of the topical issues affecting ordinary Barbadians. Even under the current debacle and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions, it is reasonable to state that ‘pride and industry’ remain symbols of Barbadians’ quests to be firm craftsmen and women of the national fate. It is to the point of creating and shaping a national strategy that there ought to be a willingness to at least give critical support to the proposed the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) Programme.
Becoming ‘fiscally fit and fit for purpose’ are by no means easy tasks given the current diagnosis and the medicine to be delivered. Barbadians are also mindful that the torment of job losses will not immediately evaporate. Indeed, it is refreshing to hear the Minister of Labour Colin Jordan encourage greater dialogue with the unions’ representatives and by extension the social partnership. However, several persons would be ambivalent to the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) whose comment indicated that 1,000 workers losing the security of their jobs “as is being suggested would be a reasonable conclusion.” It is a conciliatory tone that is supportive of the new administration performing in the national interest at this time, but it may incur some probity from those not quite grasping the sacrifice to be made.
Nevertheless, Economist Dr. Kevin Greenidge outlined that a significant part of the BERT Programme is to proceed based on a transformation through the processes of retooling, retraining and enfranchisement. The intent is to rationalise several of the ‘State Owned Enterprises’ (SOEs), thus avoiding duplication and wastage in terms of financial costs and personnel resources. For example, in the case of the Transport Board, Greenidge disclosed that the Government would be aiming “to reduce its $123 million bill by at least $30 million, which could be done through an increase in bus fares and moving to mobile payments to reduce accounting needs.” Of significance, is the utilisation of technologies as would be done across the public sector. Going beyond traditional forms of mergers and consolidations, the key is to cut costs while ensuring that there is an empowering of individuals and groups. Again, with the Transport Board as an example, it was suggested that “the process involves having drivers and their teams to own buses” and similarly with the Sanitation Services, for the workers “to own their trucks and commit to some minimal standard of public service.”
Clearly, the attitude of the society becomes crucial as the country strives towards changes which hopefully would net the desired results. One would expect that the communicative actions of the Government continue, and the participation of the public is not short-lived. The Mottley-led administration has an overwhelming mandate to build trust between the governing and governed. As Francis Fukuyama argues in ‘The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity’ “trust is an efficient means for lowering transaction costs in any social, economic and political relationship.” If the credibility of the last administration was badly wanting, it cannot be in the national interest for the current administration to revert to ways that conflict with the expectations of the people nor the self-stated means for redressing the issues. Not only can Barbados rebound economically, but politics and public administration can reclaim some of the lost ideals.
The public officials must deliver for the country while being aware of the continuous demands for new skill-sets to match the anticipated reach of job creation. Surely, Barbados must be able to acquire and deploy the requisite tools and resources for making the public workforce flourish with pride and industry, and global competitiveness. As suggested, there will be the built-in disadvantage – namely, the short-term threat to jobs due to a bulging set of bureaucratic duplications and wastage across SOEs. Still, entrepreneurship and empowerment must be given the encouragement so that the country attains the desired results.
Lastly, readers are encouraged to give support and feedback to the administration and to those who will guide the BERT and other transformational programmes. There are designed to make Barbados the best even under the difficult circumstances. All voices should contend because it is out of chaos that we can find harmony, and out of conflict that we can find consensus. Opportunities will be opening but we must have the hopeful mindset to greet every chance to make things better. Our emerging entrepreneurs must be able to operate in an economy that is ‘fit for purpose’. Barbados can achieve the optimal workforce that can add vibrant dimensions so that job creation is a definite by-product of the national sacrifices. Barbados needs this transformation to advance the prospects and prosperity for all our people.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant and former lecturer in Political Science. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).