They are off, the race is on, and thoroughbreds and also-rans are lining up as if they rightly deserve to be in this race. But, this is the general election that will define Barbados for the rest of our history; as electors we can either reject the old-fashion vulgar, always cynical rhetoric and demand dynamic new ideas and vision to rescue us as an economy and a nation. This is, or ought to be, the real deal.
As voters we can either retreat in to our comfort zones, and play the repulsive petty party game, or as citizens of a forward-looking nation we can make tough demands on those who aspire, who selected themselves, to be our political masters. Constituents must put hard questions to these candidates, they must demand clear and frank answers, no ‘maybes’ or ‘let me think about it’ or any other obfuscation or playing for time. But first, every candidate must pledge to freeze parliamentary salaries for the duration of the next parliament, they must abolish the scandal of parliamentary pensions and replace them with a one-off lump-sum pay off when rejected by the electorate (a six month resettlement grant seems fair).
Reviewing the Stuart Years:
People must ask themselves if the Thompson/Stuart years have delivered the policies and dynamism that the country needed at this particular time in our history. They must also reject any attempt to blame the previous government, an excuse that might have worked in the first months of coming to power, but as time went on, became more and more unacceptable.
They must dissect every aspect of the DLP government’s policies, economic, social, criminal justice – and ask themselves, in the quiet of their homes, if this is the best we should expect from this government. They must look in particular at the failure of economic policy, of the crisis in our schools, of the continuing abuse of the national insurance savings, of the collapse of law and order, of an army of unemployed (and unemployable). They must ask themselves, honestly, why are we still locked in the fatal belief that tourism will provide for all our needs for the foreseeable future.
Why did it not become clear to this government that they should have made an attempt to diversity the economy, even on a basic scale?
Why in their wisdom, with all their top notch advisers, could they not craft a sustainable economic strategy, apart from what the paper published by some of its wise men – and which the government went on to ignore?
Fourteen Years of Labour:
Once they have done that, they must take their forensic scrutiny to the fourteen years of Labour and ask the same questions: did a government that was in power for a period which included the fastest economic growth in world history done enough to bring some of that prosperity to Barbados? They must look again at the policies introduced during that fourteen year reign, and compare them with those introduced by the DLP government before making a decision. Then looking at themselves, their families, their communities and the nation as a whole, ask themselves what do we really need: jobs, education, decent housing, good health care, security in our homes, a safe environment – none of these is too much to ask.
The we come to the manifestos parties must declare in clear, simple language where they stand on the key issues, over and above what has already been outlined: immigration, nationality and citizenship, court administration, vocational training, funding for higher education, including the outdated Barbados Scholarship system.
They must say what they are going to do about the scandal oaf ordinary taxpayers subsidising the super-wealthy expatriates who settle on the best real estate in our country; they must say something about the financialisation of the country’s small and medium enterprises. People also want to know about a long-term compulsory saving scheme, which in time can act as the driver of a localised capital market; they want a proper public health policy, including ways to tackle the epidemic of obesity and the accompanying diabetes.
And they want a properly thought out leisure and tourism policy, over and above a surplus of hotels, and which includes sports and leisure centres, a monorail going East from the airport to Codrington College, a dry-ski slope in the Scotland District, a modern fishing fleet, with a modern export sector.
The two parties must also look again at our security, refocusing from the internal obsession, to protecting our boundaries and airspace. They must give serious consideration to abolishing the Defence Force, update the volunteer service and cadets, move most of the serving soldiers to the police or Coastguard and equip the Coastguard with good helicopters.
The nation also needs a proper sports programme, not only at the top end, but in schools and local districts, along with proper coaches and trainers.
In economic policy, we need a sustainable growth strategy, including a development bank or national post office retail bank; they need to privatise the Transport Board. Most of all, instead of running to the US government cap in had complaining about how the Americans subsidise their agricultural sector, we need to start at the beginning with a proper legal definition of Barbadian (Bajan) rum with an accompanying regulatory body, something along the lines of the French Appellation Controlee to oversee the quality of the product.
A new government must reform the central bank, which at times looks as if it is asleep on the job, with a powerful board of trustees overseeing the governor and with power to hold the office holder accountable. There is also an urgent need for an industrial strategy, which both parties seem to have abandoned. And, within the first one hundred days, any new government must settle its outstanding bills, including Barrack, the University of the West |Indies, pensioners, government employees, and small business people. If necessary, print more money and spend some of the reserves – and the portfolio of hotels which no government should own in the first place.
The key should be small, but effective government, and this should include carrying out a comprehensive audit of government assets and departments and deciding which to privatise or sell off.
One of the first social policy programmes should be the creation of a vibrant third sector, good social entrepreneurs capable of providing many of the goods and services that we now have to import. We urgently need better consumer protection legislation, a right in law (and not anecdotally) of public access to all beaches and anyone infringing this will be committing a major criminal punishable with imprisonment.
Analysis and Conclusion:
Of all the post-Second World War general elections, and even that for the West Indies Federation, this is the one that is going to define us for the first half of the 21st century. This post-globalisation election will draw a line in the sand: there will be no going back on the gross incompetence, dishonesty, ignorance and sheer intellectual laziness which has marked long periods of government since 1952. Not only has the leading parties got to spell out how they will rule Barbados for the first term, but they must promise to resign if within the first 100 days they do not set out a roadmap for achieving ALL their election promises.
Given all this, there was an element of panic in the government giving three weeks notice of such an important general election and, further, announcing it through the good offices of the Government Information Service. But we have been here before, raising serious questions about the electoral law and the constitution.
Under our system of government, parliament – that supreme body – should have been the first to hear about a pending general election, rather than the ignominy of parliamentarians getting their news from the media. Sandiford did the same with the 1991 general election which followed the meltdown of his office, with ministers rejecting the whip, by calling an election while in New York. Such disrespect for parliament was wrong then, and is even more so now.
This should be an election about change, the dynamics that would catapult our society in to the genuine middle of global economies, and not just by government officials cooking the books and fabricating numbers. It should be an election about rescuing the energies and talents of young men and women wasting the most important years of their lives on the block or in dead end jobs. It should be about making our over-ambitious university deliver on the promises behind its creation, its major obligation to a small island society. It should be an election about how best to get our uniformed police officers walking the streets and talking to ordinary people, young and old, rather than parading around in four-wheel vehicles. It should be about how to save our environment with sustainable policies, not just loud rhetoric.
This general election should be about reasserting the primacy of Barbadian law above outdated, medieval religious and cultural practices; it should be about integrity and honesty in public life. It should be about reversing the technological poverty of the vast majority of Barbadians, of removing the black boards in schools and replacing them with white boards, of putting a laptop in front of every child from the age of five, of establishing a dedicated sixth form science and technology college.
In the final analysis, this general election should be about putting our little island right; we may be small, but we can still set an example to the rest of the world.