Notes From a Native Son: Are Barbadians Ready to Face the Political Music?

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

Introduction:
As the general election campaign heats up, some of us are looking in vain for an improvement in the quality of the discussion. So far, however, it remains on a level that would have been familiar to Eric ‘Fly’ Sealy and some of the old fringe campaigners who would say anything for anyone if the money was right. But the real victims of this low grade discourse are the ordinary people who are out of work, cannot pay their bills and, more often than is publicly acknowledged, cannot even feed their families. In the meantime, they allow themselves to drift along with the half-truths, lies and total fabrications often heard from the political platforms, and, even moreso, the omissions and denials piped through the media, both print and broadcast.

There are things about our island that we can genuinely celebrate: we do not have political assassins stalking public figures; we do not have drug addicts at every street corner nor toddlers taking drugs, no matter what self-promoting ‘criminologists’ may say; we do not have organised criminal gangs, apart from those people in influential positions who make it part of their project to rip off the tax man. In the main, Barbados is a relatively law abiding and decent society, despite pockets of deviancy and vulgarity.

Broken Promises:
The great promise of constitutional independence was that there would be an overall improvement in our lifestyles, not one built on household and public sector debt, but on new efficiencies, creativity, human capital and dynamic leadership. But, to a large extent, ordinary Barbadian people have been let down by the very professional class, a gaggle of people one or two generations away from cane cutters, carpenters and field labourers (not that there is anything wrong with any of these occupations) who now turn their backs on the old communities such as the Pine, Grazettes, Carrington Village, and so on, and pretend that their rightful place is in the Heights and Terraces. They are the two post-independence generations that should have provided the leadership and vision for a new Barbados. Instead, they have failed the nation and themselves. They are the ones who should have benefited from the explosion in house prices on the West Coast, in reality there are the fledgling attorneys and real estate agents making a few crumbs from the tables of the super wealthy. They are the two generations who should have set the nation ethical and civic standards to aspire to, instead they are the thieving lawyers, doctors and politicians cashing in on the poverty and ignorance of ordinary people.

And this failure is represented by the very institutions they have established. We have what passes for a health care system  in which injured people could be forced to sit in accident and emergency department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for hours while nurses pounce about like young rabbits on heat; a health care system in which doctors, highly trained at taxpayers’ expense, unscrupulously go about their commercial business like an organised Mafia, totally ignorant of the concept of care.

We have a public transport system that is chaotic, disorganised, loss-making and dangerous in terms of health and safety, yet the band of technocrats meant to supervise them have failed to. This is not to be over-critical of young working class women and men who, through good fortune and their own endeavours, escaped the boredom of a routine job to do one that, at its heart, should be at the caring of people. It is the degrading culture, a post-independence culture of expectation, of greed, materialism, selfishness and conceit.

Caricom/CSME/CCJ:
One of the great defining moments of our immediate, even long-term future, will be the resolution of the chaotic Caricom/CSME/CCJ agreement. Yet, it is an issue not often heard on radio or written about during this campaign. As things stand, the structure of regional government we now have in place is the worst and most undemocratic attempt at regional unity since the abolition of slavery: even those fledgling attempts in the 1870s, the 1920, the 1960s, were far more superior and transparent – and democratic.

It is not a coincidence that the strongest regional organisation – the West Indies cricket team and the University of the West Indies – had been formed before the granting of constitutional independence. The current failure runs deeper than just institutions, it runs to the very inability of the highly paid public servants and politician to even countenance new and workable ideas for managing our region.

The scandal of Clico has been allowed to rumble on for years, in Guyana, the Bahamas, St Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad, yet Caricom has failed to step in with a solution fit for the entire union, or even to establish a Caricom-wide banking and insurance regulatory body; it has failed to establish a Caricom-wide crime fighting apparatus; it has failed to create a regional health care policy, in which each member state takes on a special responsibility for research in various health conditions (for example, sickle cell in Barbados, diabetes in Jamaica, etc).

The simple point is that we do not have any trust in each other, either as nations or individuals. This trust deficit is well recognised in social science and may explain why people are often reluctant to face reality, preferring inward-looking, rhetoric-ridden, slang-based political discourse as a form of ideas-free political campaigning. Why discuss serious issues which only cause one to worry when one can simply enjoy personal abuse which passes for entertainment, much to the amusement of ill-informed crowds?

Then there is the self-delusion that the corporatist idiocy of a tripartite government, called the social partnership, is somehow unique and workable. This, when unions are calling for a ten per cent pay rise in these austere times, when business is ignoring government and filling their own pockets with regular, above-inflation price increases, while government is impotent in the face of all this anarchy. Yet the continuing deception that because they sit around a table every so often, that the social partnership is working is beyond belief. It is not, and such coalitions cannot replace real and competent democratic government that the majority of the people voted for in a popular mandate. Of course, there is something in this rag bag of a coalition for everybody – politicians and civil servants pretend they are the cutting edge, unions can bully government in to giving ridiculous pay rises and businesses can continue to rip off taxpayers.

In the meantime, we have a stagnant economy, record-breaking youth unemployment, a breakdown in law and order and a desperate people still looking for good leadership. This is what our high calibre of education, our progress, our dynamism has brought us to – the foothills of state failure.

Analysis and Conclusion:
In the final analysis, the people of Barbados, the voters, must determine the quality and integrity of the people elected to serve them. As long as they continue to pretend that personal abuse from political platforms, verbal gymnastics, empty promises and outright lies can lead to someone being elected, then they will continue to get what they deserve.
But the debt black hole in which we have found ourselves, and which our political masters and policymakers are hopelessly incapable of dealing with, is not the sudden result of global problems, as policymakers continue to fool themselves, rather of over forty years of political ineptitude and folly. It is one of the unintended consequences of a political culture in which holding office is far more important than the policies implemented while in power.

Barbadian voters can only postpone reality for so long. At some point, no matter who wins the general election, the brutal reality is that there must be a drastic cut back in public sector spending and, if done carelessly, the net result will be an even more massive rise in unemployment. Delusions about being a middle income nation, of punching above our weight and repetitive nonsense about a high rate of literacy cannot hide the fact that we are in the process of managing decline.

Fourteen years of BLP rule, and five of DLP incompetence, must, at some point, wake us up from our dream and bring us back in to the real world – reminding ourselves that we are ill-equipped to function in a highly technological global economy. Taking ill-thought out policy advice from people who ought to know better, on the basis of their paper qualifications, is what has got us to where we are.

On February 21, the people have an opportunity to change this course. I hope they make a choice they, and their children, can live with.

27 responses to “Notes From a Native Son: Are Barbadians Ready to Face the Political Music?

  1. Hi Hal,
    A very good Post, apart from:
    . . . “Fourteen years of BLP rule, and five years of DLP incompetence”. . .
    Which opens it to divisons. After the general election we can only hope that the solid mantra I often think of:
    “Every morning I wake up, I thank the Lord I am a Bajan”. Still has its usefulness.

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  2. It only took a week for Austin to go from “the collapse of law and order” to “Barbados is a relatively law abiding and decent society”

    Judging from the two conflicting statements he must also think that Bajans have the attention span of a gnat.

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  3. Anything for controversy.

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  4. @ Well Well

    The collapse of the court system, the inability of the police to manage the street, 30000 uninsured cars on the road, etc. That is the failure of law and order. We can do much better.
    However, relative to what is taking place in Jamaica, for example, and most of central and south America, Barbados is a relatively law abiding country. Our crime, although irritating and a saocial nuisance, is small relative to Brixton in South London, huge parts of the US, Sydney, Bombay, etc.
    One is a statement of cultural history, the other is comparative. To my mind, there is no about turn.

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  5. Interesting article; interesting because of the conflicting arguments. I will comment on this at length after acute analysis because it must be studied in depth. I feel a sense of frustration because of the many untrue and uninformed things you include in it. For instsnce, your remarks on the Social Partnership: in your words, “the self delusion that the corporatist idiocy of a tripartite government, called the social partnership in somehow unique and workable…” Clearly it has worked for the almost 20 years since its introduction and the worldwide acclaim for what is indeed “unique”. The latest example being just two weeks ago when a nationwide strike was averted by the astute leadership of the prime minister and the co-operation of both Union and Management of LIME.I find your article self-serving and depracating…”a rag bag of a coalition”..? why thie epithet? I plan to write a full analysis of your article and refute all your cahrges and assertions. It needs such an analysis.Alvin Cummins (albootsbarb)

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  6. @Alvin Cummins

    Look forward to you critique of Hal’s submission, it is what BU is about read ideas contending. Make sure to include any measurable outputs which can be attributed to the Social Partnership, be specific and quote the relevant protocols.

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  7. Alvin Cummins

    @Hal. How has the Court System collapsed? Where do you get the figure of 30,000 uninsured cars? How was the figure authenticated? Police can’t control the street? If you get a ticket for speeding where would you get it from? Where is the failure in law and order? It is time that people stop making these off the cuff remarks, based more on feeling rather than fact. Some peo;le might believe you.

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  8. Fractured BLP

    Alvin,

    Do not waste your time with Hal !
    In case you did not realise ….he never uses his full name on BU site….which is
    HAL LUCINATING !!

    This Hal…you refer to is a dreamer and impostor .

    He spent the last 5 years of a DLP government talking $hite !

    For balance….ask him for the comments on OSA 14 years of $hita – mania !

    Come on dreamer….show us a copy of your comments then !

    Outrageous IMPOSTER !

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  9. @ Alvin

    The figure of 30000 uninsured cars came from the police, who said some time ago that a third of motor vehicles on the rod were uninsured. There are roughly about 110000 cars in Barbados. So the real number of slightly higher.
    How would you describe a system in which people are remanded in prison for three years and sometimes more, civil cases can be on the court books for 20 years and more; and, as to street crime, my eyes are still fairly good, people in the system have admitted this, and just talk to ordinary people.
    Anyone who has ever worked in a criminal justice system, no matter what level, can tell when the system is out of control.
    How then do you explain arresting a man, remanding him in jail for eleven months for an offence where two sensible and highly intelligent women say they had got the wrong man.
    The two police officer accused of a similar offence and they could be remanded on bail.
    Or a man involved in the shooting death of his son can be allowed to go to Miami for minor medical treatment, then have the charges reduced by the Guyanese director of public prosecutions, a case which should have been decided by a properly constituted jury.
    Some of us just have different expectations.

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  10. millertheanunnaki

    @ Hal Austin | February 8, 2013 at 2:48 PM |

    Your response to buttress your assertions is quite sound. The facts speak for themselves unlike the poppycock lame duck excuses coming from Alvin to justify and promote mediocrity and falling standards.
    Let him wiggle his way out of the assertion that people are on remand for excessively long periods and in some cases in excess of 4 years thereby violating people’s constitutional right to a timely and fair hearing before a court of law. Justice delayed is justice denied. The recent case of the man accused of rape but freed by the same women has made the local police and justice system the laughing stock of the region and in the eyes of the media in the UK makes Barbados looks like just another third World black managed banana republic.

    I too, like many others, heard on more than one occasion senior police officers making the claim that approx. a third of vehicles are operating illegally on the road not to mention the rodeo stunting motor cycles and bicycles should be paying an unenforceable annual licence fee of $25.00 as proposed in the 2009 budget.

    The behaviour of operators of ZR vehicles, motor cycle and bicycles on our road adds further testimony to the lawlessness that reigns on our roads.

    BTW, Hal you guys that live North of the River always like to have a go at the South of the River Brixtonians (LOL!!).
    But what you claim is just old hat. Try buying or even renting property in an around Brixton today and see the amount of dosh you will have to cough up. Only the loaded can move into that culturally mixed SW area now rather quiet upscale residential setting ideally located with every thing at your door step.

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  11. millertheanunnaki wrote”that people are on remand for excessively long periods and in some cases in excess of 4 years.

    This is allowed to happen because of the social standing of the people charged.They are perceived to be guilty and “en come from nuh way” soduh cuh stop dey.

    No white Bajan would be on remand for 4 years.

    No Lawyer caught tiefing would be on remand for 4 years.

    Are there any Lawyers in Barbados who believe in basic human rights?

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  12. You know, some of the people did take a stand – BIPA. All that happened is that they, and particularly their spokesperson, have been ridiculed and insulted on this very blog. You gotta love Bajans!

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  13. Gabriel Tackle

    @Hal Austin
    Your overview of the state of the Nation is spot on.Barbados has been for the past five years lurching from one crisis to another led by an administration that is sick,feeble,incompetent,visionless,uninspiring and undynamic.There is nothing ‘unique’ about the Social Partnership.There have been at least two attempts by media contributors of substance to lead an unwitting readership into the false belief that the SP is a barbadian thing,that the late D Thompson is credited with introducing the concept.Nothing is farther from the truth.The notion that the Government,Unions and Commercial Interests can meet to establish agreed guidelines for ensuring some balance to their constituent interests is nothing peculiar to Barbados.It has been in existence since the 40’s
    in our neck of the woods.
    We seem to have an ample supply of politicos who think they can mislead the electorate with promises,then fail to deliver,and return to the electorate with the same old,same old and expect acceptance for another five years.They have tasted of the fatted calf,like the priveleges afforded and to hades with principle.

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  14. @ Hal Austin
    “I hope they make a choice they and their children can live with.”
    What choice would that be? do you see a third way?

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  15. @peltdownman

    The BIPA is out to sea in what is a very complex matter. Which should not be confused with not supporting their effort/right to mobilize.

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  16. Austin’s modus operandi is to take a kernel of truth and apply a humongous serving of hyperbole to support his narrative. Individual cases do not portend a breakdown in law and order, would you write that about Britain after Stephen Lawrence? Was the death of Jean Charles De Menezes a symptom of the collapse of law and order? How about Jimmy Savile? What about Hillsborough and the resulting inquiry which wasn’t worth the paper it was written on? What led to David Cameron’s apology re Hillsborough?
    Talk about a system out of control and “different expectations” ,why this is the Mother Country what are we in the colonies to do?

    BTW what does the nationality of the DPP has to do with anything?

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  17. Lots of pros and cons in any country, in my opinion the total break down in law and order stems from the known fact that only the poor and unknowns go to prison, very rarely do minorities who break the law serve time and lawyers and politicians, not at all. I think that is a way lot more than break down in law and order, that is outright and blatant in your face corruption. That is what has to be dealt with in a most serious way, given the size of the island.

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  18. @ Sargeant
    What point are you making? No group has suffered more at the hands of British police, and authorities in general than black people.
    I was a reporter on the Daily Mail when Stephen Lawrence was killed and interviewed his father. So I know that the paper’s initial intentions were not honourable.
    I was also invited twice to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and refused both times because its brief was too restricted. The people who suffer most from the British press are black people, yet not a word was mentioned of this in Leveson’s 2000 page report.
    The problem is the short-sighted view that every time someone critiques Barbados apologists come out of the wood work suggesting that things are worse elsewhere.
    We are not concerned with elsewhere, we are concerned with Barbados.

    @ miller

    I live South of the river and have done for over 40 years – living in the same house for 25 of those years.

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  19. THINGS AINT DRED SO I AINT VOTING RED

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  20. WELL well owen think we foolish, he started out by saying he will possibly give public officer an increase. The pun is on possibly as he know it cant happen. Barbadains had an asjustement to the tax band, with the middle class taking home additional a little over $2700 a year. Thats better tna an increase. Futher, the taxin of entertainment and housing allowed persons to get more gratuity and bigger pension. Further, it is gainst the income tax law not to tax them. Frank Forde on retiring said it. Is owen going to break the law, and if he does so, what about those persons who would have accrued benefits towards grautity and pension from being taxed. Come owen, we aint foolish.

    He will solve the clico issue, clico issue is a regional one and there can be no barbados soultion withoout the oecs. Where will he get the 70 m, is he gaoing to get it from barack. Then George Payne would have to negotiate with barack for him. Is is a coincidence that June Fowler decide to go to court at this time. I note that the BLP Ad said that 600 000 spent on AX issue,at least there is a solution. Almost 2m spent on st Joseph Enquiry and what solution was there? None.

    I could recall Professor Howard warning against giving the private sector any stimulus as he know quite well that sector pockets what is given to them. But it is the private sector who is financing the blp campaign, as it wants the transport board, the ncc, the saniatation authority and npc, among others. Then lay off will follow.

    We have done well and bardians are not foolish. Germany going to a recession, england its thir recession, dont talk about spain or greece.

    it was clyde mascoll who worked on the introduction of vat at 15%, the current govt moved it to 17%, if the dlp was an irresponsible govt it would have reduced it to 15 and prastice fiscal irresponsibiliy, to catch votes. Even if owen were to win and vat is to return to 15% food prices will not drop, the merchant bout here dont drop prices unless the food shelf life about to expire. Come owen give me a break. I could recall when he was subsidising the electricity, i could recall the blp advising the present govt to withdraw the subsidy. Why dont owen tell barbadains the havoc such decision had on the NOC.

    .

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  21. Meanwhile in other news:

    CARACAS—Venezuela’s government announced Friday that it is devaluing the country’s currency, a long-anticipated change expected to push up prices in the heavily import-reliant economy. Officials said the fixed exchange rate is changing from 4.30 bolivars to the dollar to 6.30 bolivars to the dollar.

    http://www.guardian.co.tt/business/2013-02-09/venezuela-announces-currency-devaluation?utm_source=&utm_medium=&utm_campaign=

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  22. @Hal Austin
    I have been as critical of Gov’t and institutions in Barbados as much as anyone so you can omit me from the class of “ apologists” as you describe. The issue I have with some of your submissions is that they lack “context” as they are written in such a way that the casual reader who happened upon the blog will think that these issues arose in the past five years while we know that they have simmered and percolated for decades.

    I would hope that as a columnist you would apply the same journalistic discernment about where you reside as you do to Barbados but your damning critique of Barbados is not unique it is a malady that those of us who live elsewhere suffer from (yours truly included) we apply a microscope and expect perfection from the small rock while our society is fraying at the edges around us.

    BTW why is the nationality of the DPP relevant?

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  23. Slavery, we are living in a Slavery

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  24. and if the blp gets in we will have to devalue our dollar and things would be cheaper for the externals and costlier for us,hah hah,

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  25. It has always been more expensive for Bajans to live in Bim, I have never known an instance where it was cheap to live there. Politicians never think of that because they can go where ever things are cheaper and shop.

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  26. Pingback: A Children’s Treasury of Quotations from Hal Austin Esq. on Barbados Underground (Part 1) | Barbados BlogWatch

  27. College Basketball
    Number 3 Mercer beat number 1Duke.. Wow!

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