George C. Brathwaite (PhD)
Given the manifested ineptitude of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) over the past decade, Barbadians are hoping for change with the next general elections in sight. Barbadians are ready to overcome the DLP’s wreckage of economy and society. They have become excited about the prospects of different leadership and political agency. New political entities without showing their faces, coupled with a unified opposition in Parliament, are sounding their voices if not totally revealing policy alternatives.
But why be critical or dent aspirations of the Freundel Stuart-led administration seeking a third term? The answer is straightforward. The current DLP administration has failed to meet most expectations of the Barbadian people – both young and old for nearly 10 years. On hindsight, this ill-directed route taken by the DLP was erroneously self-labelled – ‘Pathways to Progress’. Barbadians witnessed a daily and unending trek towards macroeconomic degradation and societal disorder, despite DLP supporters remaining staunch in support. Moreover, the DLP has been at pains to suggest that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) operated in ‘times of plenty’ with no profound transformations occurring under Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
The DLP claims that the inherited social institutions were unable to improve the welfare of the Barbados nation. Unfortunately, the DLP’s rejection of everything touched by Arthur, hastened the eventual failures of the DLP’s two terms in office. The sullied approach of overly separating economic practicalities from societal order became the DLP’s way of telling Barbadians that Arthur’s BLP was so focussed on economy, that a clear majority of the nation’s people and society were neglected. The distortions, untruths, and DLP propaganda have been since exposed.
Driving the first term of the DLP’s return to power since the dark days of exile in the early 1990s, the DLP chose a mantra that ‘Barbados is not only an economy; it is a society’. This easy turn of phrase managed to set a lingual framework of optimism and empowering expectations throughout the nation. Initially, Barbadians were captured by the DLP’s messaging that suggested the David Thompson Cabinet was interested in building a sound Barbadian society and transforming the lives of many persons left on the margins. However, persons more knowledgeable than the DLP’s escape artists realised that the DLP was somewhat bereft in terms of economic thought. To suggest that the DLP was capable of moving Barbados beyond the bifurcated and disjointed gaze of messieurs Thompson, Stuart, Sinckler and elders in the background, was politically enthralling but realistically empty.
The fact is, the DLP since 2008 refused to accept from the outset that ‘‘progress’’ implies the combination of social progress alongside the pursuit of economic growth. With a burdensome 2008 budget that has since been followed with fiscal indiscipline, there are challenges coping with more taxation and austerity. The DLP has not been successful creating incentives and prosperity, nor is the course set to direct the economy to meet and maximise on those benefits for meeting human needs, improving efficiency, creating jobs, and building wealth among the Barbadian people. Several experts outside the scope of the DLP warned of the potential dangers associated with oddly separating economy and society beyond analytical practicality.
From Thompson to Sinckler, and from Thompson to Stuart, Barbados was presented with good-sounding empty vessels as if societal concerns could be addressed without the apt supporting economic inputs of fiscal and monetary policies. One ought not to lay all the blame on Stuart after the passing of David Thompson. It is true that in 2009, Thompson constantly was lamenting that the DLP inherited a ‘bad hand’, with the same chorus being sung by his Ministers. This weak posturing by the DLP continues to date, and is clearly self-defeating. The DLP’s protruding leadership ineptness – discounting those constraints produced by recession – made it impossible to safeguard a society without the necessary supports that flow from a viable economy.
Clearly, Thompson’s first budget began a taxation binge. Afterwards, with Christopher Sinckler as the current pilot, taxation has practically become a runaway and non-stop train. Sinckler’s economic/financial shortcomings are part of the mix now ruining Barbados, and if there is any doubt, Minister Dr David Estwick has admitted that Barbados’ “debt metrics have deteriorated significantly since 2010,” and this timeline coincides with Sinckler’s elevation to be the Minister of Finance. Still today, many persons may prefer to overlook a predictive statement made by David Thompson in August 2009. Thompson, perhaps for the first time, conceded that: “We are navigating an uncharted path. No one knows what lies beyond the bend. In fact, we have not yet even seen the bend.” Arguably, Thompson was aware of the lack of acumen to draw on exclusively from within the DLP.
Since then, back-peddling has become synonymous with the DLP regarding the Barbados economy, and have been cause for Barbadians’ frustration and demand for change. Months ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stereotypically mentioned that a ‘corner’ was within reach; Barbadians have not yet seen the bend mentioned by Thompson or the IMF. Barbadians are still waiting given that 2 % economic growth during the height of the 2016/17 tourism season, is nothing to inspire confidence in the economy. Furthermore, the printing of money continues while several advisors are indicating that depleted foreign reserves are a constant threat. Certainly, the DLP’s ‘Continuing on the Pathways to Progress’ of 2013 is conclusively disastrous. The DLP, with every limp attempt, has missed opportunities to effectively transform the Barbados nation ‘to meet the needs of the people’.
By 2014 for instance, working Barbadians were faced with ‘surprising’ job cuts and being kicked to the unemployment curb by the DLP. At the same time, young Barbadians were facing shrinking opportunities for equal access to tertiary education while having to fork out thousands of dollars to meet their tuition costs at the University of the West Indies. Other public services like sanitation, health, water, and transportation all suffered immensely. Indeed, by 2015 and despite all the ‘corrective measures’ introduced by the two Ministers of Finance since 2008, Christopher Sinckler was stating that “there is now a serious structural decline in our revenue base which we can no longer afford to ignore.” The evidence tells that Stuart/Sinckler’s repeated answer to problems impacting on Barbados, and carried on from Thompson, promoted political theatrics and imposed greater forms of taxation and hardships on the backs of Barbadians.
Under Stuart’s stewardship, near total silence has become the norm, and his supposed decency is upended by instinctive procrastination. The characteristics further demonstrate a stubborn inclination to be indecisive with important affairs. Wait and see approaches, cluttered by historical retrieval of the archaic and mundane, have been the main features of PM Stuart’s serendipitous stewardship. These factors also reveal the DLP’s paralysis in government. The DLP continues wading from one crisis to another without any clear signs of success with the constant borrowing to support government’s ineffective programmes. The verdict is that the collective expectations of Barbadians have not drawn satisfactory attention from Stuart’s uninspiring Cabinet, despite the current and penultimate desperation to spread DLP FACTS. The DLP’s verbiage is no more than half-hearted fictional pieces. Whether one focusses on the economy or the society, the pretty talk of shaping a budding society has lost its potency with all the mishaps and omissions to act by Freundel Stuart’s DLP and his struggling Cabinet.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: email@example.com)