The Government is encouraging Barbadians overseas to remember their roots, and gather in Barbados next year. This is a good initiative. However, we should correct a fatal flaw in our culture before they arrive. If we do not, then we risk reminding them of why they left.
We have a conscience to guide us in deciding what is just and unjust. When we see injustice, we can either participate in, oppose, or ignore it. To prevent us from acting on our conscience, oppressors tend to define places of self-preservation in our minds, where they hope we will remain – for their benefit.
During slavery, our fore-parents were ‘kept in their place’ with the threat of being sold. After emancipation, they were ‘kept in their place’ with the threat of being deprived of work. After independence, it was not the planters or merchants who wanted to keep us in our place, it was our politicians.
Our place was to be at the feet of one of their approved political parties. To keep us in this place, they increased taxes at will to keep us living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and dependent on their good graces. People in that state are normally too afraid to do or say anything that will risk them losing their jobs.
Any Barbadian should be able to publicly comment on their ideas to improve Barbados. However, if those comments are interpreted as a criticism of the Minister or the governing Party, then that person will not likely get appointed, promoted, or contracted during that political administration.
If the fellow offers the same advice during the other political administration, and it is similarly interpreted as a criticism of the Party, then his ‘goose is cooked’. Therefore, Barbadians have learnt to resist their conscience to avoid becoming a political target. The sustainable options for people who felt compelled to follow their conscience, was to either start their own business, or leave Barbados.
To keep us in our place, we are constantly reminded of how vulnerable our position is in Barbados. This is the normally the role of dangerous political operatives. However, sometimes politicians reveal more than they intend. Consider a BLP Minister of Labour’s comments in Parliament, during a parliamentary debate in 1978.
“Now let me tell you this. Anything with D L P, if you breathe, you cannot eat as far as I am concerned. It is as simple as that. This is war. If your name is Douglas Leopold Phillips, by accident DLP, and you miss and approach me and I see it just in your face; no dice.”
He continued. “Hitler would never feed the Americans to fight him. Hitler would feed the Germans to fight the Americans, and this will be the ball game or the Prime Minister can take his instrument. It is as simple as that.”
This intention seems to be demonstrated with every change of Government, where we expect public workers and contractors who supported the losing party to be dismissed (cannot eat), and those who supported the winning party to be rewarded (fed).
The Minister of Education recently noted that the cost of the schools summer maintenance program had increased from the initial estimate of $1.8M to $6.6M. On 30 August 2019 in Parliament, she described the lucky 39 contractors who were given these contracts.
“We’ve been fortunate that we had a mix of contractors this year … we had some who were new, some who had been in existence for some time, and some who had, you know, who had not been given a fair share of the pie in previous years, for one reason or the other. We have therefore attempted to try to share the work across the landscape, to ensure that there is greater application of the resources available to the Ministry.”
While it sounds good, sharing the ministry’s resources across the landscape does not correct past wrongs, but sustains them. When contractors are given no-bid public contracts, they seem to produce poor-quality, high-maintenance, and over-priced work, that attracts complaints from the users.
The best way to right past wrongs is by doing right things. The best way of growing Barbados’ economy is to allow all Barbadians to fairly participate, and allow all ideas to contend. Barbadians need to be freed to present their ideas, without fear of being excluded from participating in Barbados’ economy.
Forcing Barbadians to consistently oppose their conscience can only damage them emotionally, spiritually and physically. Before Barbadians gather in 2020, our politicians need to break those chains that they have placed on all Barbadians. If those who have escaped this political intimidation, are forced to relive that pain, they will likely be too ashamed to introduce their children to an enslaved people.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com