It has been more than ten years the Barbados economy has been performing poorly – a situation triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008. Some of us are old enough to remember the oil crisis of the 70s as well as the fiscal challenges of the 90s which negatively affected the cost of living for Barbadians. There was the global economic boom of the 90s that ended in the early 2000s which coincided with the Owen Arthur administration. Although Arthur is credited with overseeing a reduction in unemployment to 7% and creating an unprecedented number of jobs, it is fair to say he had an easy wicket bat on.
There is a generation of Barbadian who has not had to experience the level of economic hardship currently affecting the country. This is exposed by the national conversations being generated daily in the different fora. We have two arguments we should not conflate in the ongoing debate.
There is casting blame on the political leadership AND Barbadians at large for not influencing and implementing effective economic and social models to navigate exogenous shocks which small open economies are most vulnerable.
Now that we have mired in economic and social stagnation for more than a decade with a contracting economy; high unemployment especially in the youth segment, high debt to GDP, crumbling physical infrastructure, National Insurance Scheme in the cross hairs, judicial system operating under the stress of a heavy backlog to name a few – there is the fierce urgency of now that should give wings to policymaking and the execution of projects by the government and other stakeholders in civil society.
There is who to blame AND there is the urgent need to address the problem, NOW.
Let us blame who we want for the problems facing us today if we must, although sensible citizens will admit there is enough blame to go around to explain the current state of affairs in the country. It does not change the fact Barbados finds itself staring down the barrel of economic hardship for years to come. With economic hardship there will be the concomitant social challenges. We have already started to see an increase in violent crime, scant regard for traffic laws, increase in the homeless and vagrancy to list a few.
Against this pessimistic background we have the unions making demands, individual citizens making demands, private sector making demands, all comers making demands. It brings to mind the saying ‘a house divided against itself, cannot cannot stand‘.
Barbadians have been labelled an intelligent people. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the country is in a pickle which means citizens all are also in the same same pickle. It therefore requires our government, public officials AND the majority of the electorate to sing from the same song sheet to confront an unprecedented challenge. Some will say this it is a naive expectation because it is the state of mind of households feeding the emotions of individuals. How can they be expected to overcome an innate behaviour to survive by willingly feeding in to the macro picture?
A more responsible media will have to play a leadership role to promote awareness of the issues especially of the financial variety. It is regrettable the toxic level of political partisanship that has seeped into how we manage our affairs of late. The death of Patrick Hoyos has expanded the vacuum in traditional media on reporting financial matters. Political parties have not been able to appoint competent players to challenge government’s army of financial actors. Academics from the UWI, Cave Hill expected to interject with independent analysis have been largely ineffective.
There is the reality that even if there is a COVID 19 vaccine found next year the pandemic has hastened the widening of the systemic cracks in the way we have been governing the country. To summarize what the BU intelligentsia has been opining, we have to set realistic objectives, develop smart action plans and EXECUTE with the fierce urgency of now.