Submitted by Doc Martin
Barbadians go to the polls on May 24, the date grudgingly given by incumbent Prime Minister, Freudel Stuart just a few weeks ago (April 26). This was after increasingly vociferous calls for a date from different sections of the country.
In this context of this election, it is interesting to hear professor emeritus Michael Howard state something that I argued elsewhere as far back as 2015:
I believe that Barbados’ principal economic problem at this time is the precariously low level of foreign reserves and a remedy must be found after the election. Economic growth, though important, is a secondary consideration at this time.
Some three years have gone by and the Barbados foreign exchange problem has become worse. I hope that “a remedy…after the election” will not be too late!
My purpose in writing this current article is to comment on the upcoming elections of May 24 and plead for some “studiation” from the so-called ordinary, man-in-the street at this time of national elections.
I am pleading for “studiation” rather than common sense because common sense (whatever it is) appears to be in very short supply at critical moments in Barbados. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if someone, somewhere, has issued a decree to ration this essential ingredient in Barbados! Those who want to confuse education with common sense and cite the high literacy rates in Barbados etc. can have their say…again. To my mind, one of our local poets, Bruce St. John, settled the distinction long ago when he declared in one of his poems: “Studiation beat education”.
So I am writing to ask…no, plead with Barbadians to do some studiation about the upcoming election. By studiation I mean thinking about something very carefully; considering the known facts, asking relevant questions, demanding clear answers and, in the absence of clear answers, making reasonable assumptions. I am fearful that the level of “true education” in Barbados is so limited that many (the masses, as politicians like to call them) will be unable to do this studiation I am calling for. But one can hope.
The rationale for this studiation exercise is the high stakes in this election. The stakes are so high that the writer of the editorial of the Sunday Sun of 6 May was moved to pen:
No party should be worthy of serious consideration in this election, unless it has a clear statement of how it will tackle the fiscal deficit and the declining pattern of foreign reserves. (Sunday Sun, May 06 p.12A)
This “studiation” we need to do will have to take into consideration the parties to the election and the idiosyncrasies of Barbadians.
The Old Parties
The DLP and BLP are the old, so-called, established parties. The DLP has had ten years (two terms) in power and, key metrics considered, it is leaving Barbados worse off than it found it in 2008. In its first term (and some of its second term) it lay blame on its inability to get traction in the economy on two factors: the container-load of foreign debt left by the former BLP administration and the global recession. Subsequently, the Freundel Stuart government, in order to regain power in the 2013 election, essentially lied about the state of the Barbados economy. After the election, the truth began to emerge and the economy started to unravel in earnest as Standard and Poor has well documented.
Mr. Stuart, in the Friday May 11 edition of the Nation News now has the unmitigated gall to ask the electorate to give his party another chance. Unbelievable!
Love on the Rebound
While the rejection of Mr. Stuart and his DLP may seem imminent, the electorate should be reminded about love on the rebound! By this I mean that the impending “break up” with the DLP should not lead us to fall into the arms of the BLP! This calls for some studiation.
As noted above, the BLP left Barbados in heavy debt in 2008. This was the end of fifteen years of rule in which the old economics of public spending and the courting of foreign investment were practised as usual. Also practised – as usual – were reliance on tourism and services, the strategic neglect of agriculture, the failure to develop a viable export sector beyond the traditional exports of sugar and condiments (pepper sauce etc) as well as the general failure of not making the country more competitive by reducing costs and increasing productivity; in other words, the strategic restructuring of the economy.
The BLP’s has now launched its official, extravagant manifesto that has, literally, promised pie in the sky and everything else under the sun. Mr. Owen Arthur, the former leader of that party – and perhaps, half of Barbados – is asking the 64 million dollar question: From where will the BLP get the money to finance these extravagant promises?
It is either that BLP has learnt nothing from its ten-year sojourn in the opposition or that it has solicited a silent partner with very, very deep pockets. If it is the former, the thinking electorate would do well to “run like hell” away from the “spendstress of Roebuck Street! If it is the latter, we need to be told what ransom that invisible backer or backers will require of us down the road!
No Longer a Two Way Street
It is no longer necessary to find, “love on a two way street”. Barbadians have now come of age and, for the first time, there are at least four parties to consider. Space does not allow us to spend time on the “micro parties” such as the BFP (Bajan Free Party) and KGB (Kingdom Government of Barbados). They are just too small at this time to make any meaningful impact and cannot seem to get themselves properly organized. But I would like to see them develop into meaningful alternatives in the future.
From our studiation we know that the UPP is an offshoot of the BLP we spoke about earlier. Its leadership is fundamentally BLP/electoral rejects, BLP discontents and political hopefuls. If you can figure out whether the party leader, Lynette Eastmond, is awaking or falling to sleep when she is speaking AND, if… big “if”… the party can come up with something…anything, new and imaginative, the party might be worth a second thought. But you may find yourself “dozing off” as you try to “study that out”.
Solutions Barbados (SB) is a faith-based party that has been analyzing the situation in Barbados since 2015 and proposing what they deem as appropriate solutions. While those of faith understand the critical importance of integrity and the notion that “righteousness exalts a nation”, we still need clarity from them about what can be done to fix the burning foreign exchange problem alluded to at the beginning of this article as well as several other issues.
We have heard their proposals on integrity in government and quality control. Some of them are radical and counter intuitive (some might say “counter-productive”); for example, forgiving us our (unpaid) taxes and lowering taxation in general! These initiatives cannot be discounted but what we need to hear is the concurrent policies that will be put in place to channel “freed up” spending in the right direction or replace lost revenue.
In 1986, Dr. Richie Haynes gave Barbadians a very “cool” tax break ($15,000 if I remember correctly) that helped the DLP win a landslide victory. However, the government failed to implement concurrent policies to channel the freed up money into investment or productive activities. Much of the “freed up” money would have undoubtedly burnt up some of our foreign exchange reserves.
This tinkering with the economy for short-term fiscal and political gain, while failing to do the surgery necessary to rectify the diseased areas of the economy, is just what successive DLP and BLP administrations have been doing for as long as we can remember. And it is what has got us into this present mess.
If the handling of the recent issue with Solutions Barbados candidates who did not want to sign the party’s contract is anything to go by, it would seem, that in Grenville Phillips, we have a strong leader who is prepared to stick to his word and let “yea be yea and nay be nay”. Such integrity is needed in this country in large measure, “pressed down…shaken together and running over”. The enforceability/ legality of the SB contract is another matter. We should be prepared to give Mr. Phillips some elbow room to fine tune his solutions.
The idea of the Speaker of the House being able to keep that position after perpetrating a major malfeasance on an ordinary citizen is the epitome of corruption. Right thinking people should make this an election issue and reject the DLP and the moral leadership of Freudel Stuart for this reason alone because it has sent a very terrible signal to the population in general and to our youth in particular.
I will be pleasantly surprised if Solutions Barbados wins the election outright, but I hope they garner enough seats to break the duopoly of the two older parties and make it necessary for a coalition for the first time in this country.
Coalition in Sight
Studiation suggests that we cannot go back to the two-party seesaw that we have had in this country since independence. This has worked for us up to a point but now, strategically speaking, we are stuck in a rut. The Barrows and the Adamses came, saw and conquered. Except as historical notes, they are no longer relevant!
There are other persons with managerial and technical training and competence who can make valuable contributions to this country and they should be given a chance. It is time to dismantle the “lawyertocracy” represented by the two major parties.
In spite of the hype that status quo naysayers may whip up on the drawbacks of political coalitions, such an event in Barbados will cause the parties (pun intended) to come to the drawing board and really think hard about: (a) who will lead the country out of the economic quicksand in which it finds itself and (b) what is best for the future of ALL Barbadians. The quibbling that will most likely ensue should be treated as part of the learning process and as a family squabble; we should think of ourselves as one big family in this country.
Time to Vote
Those who are disaffected with the current crop of politicians from the two parties and who have declared that they will not vote should now reconsider their position and do some serious studiation. The only persons who will benefit from your abstention from the May 24 elections will be the very parties who have serially disappointed us. Make no mistake about it, these parties do have their die-hards; and they WILL mobilize them on election day!
Your vote is now more important than it ever was. Don’t sell it to the highest…or any bidder! Offer it freely to whom it will help to make the biggest difference for all of us in this country!