Notes From a Native Son: A Nation with a Hollow Where Public Morality Ought to be

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

The political and economic failure of Barbados is like a slow motion car crash which onlookers are powerless to do anything about. As we look on, we can see the economy heading for a reinforced wall like a speeding, driverless car; we observe our leading institutions collapsing like a pack of over-used cards, while the high priests and priestesses of society preach about the solidity of these very flawed institutions. It is like Armageddon, we run screaming to the captains of industry, but there is nothing they can do; we plead with our politicians, but they are not listening; we ask our professionals for help, but they are pre-occupied with feathering their own nests. Repeating the growing lists of failings may hurt, but that is not like the pain felt by the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the outcasts. Like the man left on the floor of the hospital for four hours without any attention, then only to have a kind soul throw a sheet over him; like the man who collapsed at the wheel of his vehicle, only to find that calls for an ambulance could not be met – while the so-called Defence Force has an abundance of ambulances. Like a government refusing to pay Mr Barrack, while still pretending that it can engage in big capital projects.

Death of a Dream:
I seem to pinpoint the historical juncture when this rot set in when we started Barbadianising all our top management and public sector positions, regardless of the quality of the talent to fill those positions. This runs from the quality of programming at CBC, the leadership of our secondary schools and the nature of decision-making in the public sector. The only explanation is the rise of a petit-bourgeois nationalism in the years since constitutional independence which, in many ways, is driving the nation back in to the dark days of neo-colonial rule. The dominant belief now is that, no matter which political party one belongs to or support, this Barbadianisation of public sector jobs is a social priority over and above the quality of the service we deliver to the long-suffering public. In many ways, the irony is that this retreat in to a self-protective nationalism is taking place while the island itself is giving way to new forms of Barbadian-ness. This weakness is in most part an outcome of a weak public intellectual movement, as a reflection of the wider ruling elite. It is a small elite which has found it intellectually and politically cosy not challenging each other and accepting a consensus which is not ideologically tested in any way.

New Paradigm:
It is clear that one of the failures of constitutional independence has been the inability to craft a new paradigm to define the new society. The nearest we got, in terms of intellectual depth and social awareness, and indeed clarity, was the essay written by Austin ‘Tom’ Clarke in the independence issue of New World magazine in which he analysed the social and cultural symbolism of the canal that divided Combermere and Harrison College. Many young readers may not understand the significance of the great divide, but that moss-filled elaborate gutter between what is now the Transport Board and Harrison College stands for everything there is not to like about social class in Barbados.

Another feature of our society that is taken for granted is the notion of the Westminster/Whitehall model. Of course, it is not true; ours is a flawed democracy in which we exchange a semi-authoritarianism for a vote every five years; it is a society that pays lip service to human rights, to being meritocracy, to equal rights. None of these important issues are debated and defined by the ordinary people, or in parliament. A good example of this failure of democracy was the decision by Barrow to disestablish the church – no discussion, no demand – in order to spite Ernest D. Mottley, the Mayor of Bridgetown. In doing so Barrow also destroyed a tier of government that had, and would have continued to, strengthened our democracy. Our bicameral parliament is also out of synch with the grand model of Westminster/Whitehall. Others societies that have taken the same model have moved on: Ireland (now voting to get rid of the Upper House), New Zealand, and, of course, Scandinavia.

Our major failing, especially in times of trouble, is the lack of a collective vision; of the kind of society we aspire to. At least the Americans have a dream, in Barbados, even our most audacious dream is more like a nightmare. Take for example, the great promise of constitutional independence was that we as citizens could shape the future of our nation ourselves. The unarticulated feature was that the traditional merchant class will dominate the business sector, while the African community, using its numerical dominance, will control the political. This has failed. There is an obligation too on the part of native white Barbadians to play an active role in elective, rather than just hide behind the canvas of business or whisper from the sidelines. At no time since constitutional independence have Barbadian politicians faced a battle of ideas, ideological differences have never crossed the boundaries of their inward-looking politics. The crudity of personality politics and the opportunism of expediency have always been the benchmarks of electability. Take the key issues, such as modernisation, the economic crisis, the bloated public payroll, education, the collapse of the criminal justice system – in none of these has there been opposing views, apart from the juvenile one of tuition fees. It is a politics that has drifted in to a comfort zone, with no energy, no passion, no commitment. In important areas that are crying out for clarity, such as the role of the state and its relations with individuals and firms, there is not a single word. Not even when the DLP government imposed charges on treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, breaking a social compact that went back for generation, there was not a whisper from the Opposition, from health workers, nor from a representative group of patients. In time, the New Barbadians will push both communities to one side and take control. I say within 25 years, many others put the time span a bit shorter.

But what are we to make of a situation in which within 24 hours of independence the former colonial governor became our first governor general, in which our police force became as Royal Barbados Police Force, and admittedly three years earlier, our general hospital became the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. It was as if the pride of constitutional independence has passed us by.

Analysis and Conclusion:
There is no grand narrative of our island story, no social and cultural historical guide through the highways and byways that brought us to where wee are. All there is is a romanticism, a fairy tale that satisfies our thirst for a story with a happy ending, whether it is that we are terribly well educated, that we are the best cricketers in the world, that we punch above our weight – whatever it is we must perform above our station, our place in the cosmos. Of course, since we have failed to develop a coherent political culture, we often have to fall back on personal abuse and political tribalism to fill the vacuum. But a culture of factionalism has become part of our social and political DNA, an easy way of defining who we are and our place in the narrow universe of Barbadian-ness. We live in a society that has lost its humanity, its empathy for the down and out, the unfortunate, the maimed and the just unfortunate.

From 3000 miles away, it looks as if Barbados has lost its heart, that it is an every man and woman for her/his self society. It is a society in which kindness is now seen as a moral weakness, where friends and relatives steal from each other like bandits and think nothing is morally wrong with such behaviour. It is a society in which it appears as if the church – but not mosques, temples or synagogues – has most its moral authority, has failed to give moral direction to the rest of society.

This nonchalance is the reaction of a people who are tired, worn out, exhausted, not sure where they are going or where they came from. It is a politics, a social narrative, in which inherited assumptions are allowed to drift along by succeeding generations without as much as a sceptical question.

Take the folly of ‘free’ education: this 1960s mantra, said by Errol Barrow as a platform gimmick, has become a kind of creed, a central part of our belief system that is not challenged by one side or the other. One of our great intellectuals even called it a social contract; what nonsense.

At a time when we should be debating the kind of educational system we need, fast-tracking the brightest and best, and providing adequate remedial lessons for those who are slow and in danger of being left behind, we are bogged down in a juvenile row about tuition fees.

At a time when we should be moving towards upgrading the status of teachers to the highest professional level, we have public sector unions involved in ragamuffin rows about class room power.

At a time when we should be devolving power and decision-making to school heads, we have some petty jobsworth, in their cheap suits and nylon shirts telling heads not to speak to the press without prior approval.

A nation that spends millions of dollars on educating young men and women sits silently by as these young people are left idle and hopeless hanging out on the block while the few who managed to get jobs pontificate on how best to punish these young people. Some of us weep quietly inside when we see the quality of the people who aspire to be our leaders, when we see the parents and children of our contemporaries, when we see our home towns and villages and how they have declined, and know within our hearts that there are so many of us who can do lots better.

Barbados does not deserve this level of greed, selfishness, and incompetence; a once outstanding island-state, a people with great pride and decency, now lay helpless on the altar of a putrid, talentless middle class of our own making.

Let me finish on an issue which I think symbolises this moral decay: not a single one of our members of parliament, in these tough times, the toughest since independence and may be since the abolition of slavery, has volunteered to take a symbolic salary cut, even though most of them have second and third salaries. This tells us all we want to know about those who aspire to be our leaders.

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74 responses to “Notes From a Native Son: A Nation with a Hollow Where Public Morality Ought to be

  1. Hal Austin’s article is an interesting polemic deserving of some intellectual engagement. Whether we agree or disagree in part with his submission, it does raise the issue of the need for a new development model set in a 21st century Barbados. Almost every sphere of Barbadian life needs some level of transformation. The public sector needs to be less bureaucratic and more enabling, the private sector needs to be more innovative and enterprising, the political sector needs to do more governing and less politicking and the citizenry needs to embrace an ethic of discipline and personal responsibility. Management and Labour needs to abandon its historical adversarial relation and understand that the best future for enterprise and jobs is in a collective arrangement to improve productivity and competitiveness with worker participation in gain share dividends. The zero sum equation of Dees vs Bees, of Capital vs Labour, of Man vs Woman, of black vs white of rich vs poor, must go. The only viable equation is Barbados’ improving role in the world. This will require of us, a new spirit, a new ethos and a new focus. Time to get to work, Barbados.


  2. @Patrick

    You are correct of course BUT withou leadership or some disruptive intervention it will just be a wish on your part.


  3. @ Patrick. ….well said, BUT…
    “This will require of us, a new spirit, a new ethos and a new focus. Time to get to work, Barbados.”
    NEW spirit, NEW ethos, NEW focus……from the same old Brass bowls….?


  4. Georgie Porgie

    r u saying dat u cant teach old dogs new tricks?


  5. wait and to think that GP is a comediene really makes me LOL >>>>>>LOL>>>>>>>>>LOL……..


  6. David | October 4, 2013 at 11:31 AM |

    One wonders how the CCJ determined that Myrie was treated in an improper manner based on the public evidence AND the lack of cameras at the airport.
    It probably will be asking u too much to review the evidence . It all goes back to the chain of command, .small details like cameras conviently not working in the rooms or doorways of where myrie was being interview, Timelines which were inconsistent between the various officers as to who saw myrie befor and after her interview with the officers, the movement of her baggage ,and how it was handle and who handle and took control to take it to her .,there are a series of troubling links which does not make good enough sense to easily form a conclusion that something was wrong .too many missing pieces of the puzzle that makes one believe without a doubt that there was collusion and agreements among the immigration officers to coverup the Myrie story, another” telll “” too many incidents of i ‘Can”T rememberby the officers …….a very interesting case would make a good carribean made for TV movie and one that can make Myrie filthy rich ..


  7. The spirit of barbados has been spit on ! darg through the mud ! crucified and buried by the daily repetitive gibberish Escaping from the mouths of te BLP yatdfow.


  8. The Myrie case is now yesterday’s or was it day before news…….clean up yall nasty act and move on.


  9. Roy Davis Construction owned by Roy Davis and made famous by his role in the St.Joseph Hospital Inquiry and brother of you know who appears on the list of NIS defaulters.


  10. Solar Dynamics, one of our touted local companies finds it way on the list. This company is headed by James Husbands.


  11. Island Girl, he is a bare idiot. Yet as a Hungarian philosopher once said, in it’s life, every hen must pick up at least one good grain. Still searching for his oh dear. How can he be so intelligent yet such a fool at the same time?


  12. We have seen in today’s Sunday Sun (2013-10-06), that the publishing company of this newspaper has gone ahead and published on the behalf of the NI and Social Security Scheme the names of a sizeable number of statutory corporations, businesses and individuals that this criminal tax stealing NI and Social Security has been falsely claiming are owed to it whatever unpublished portions of incomes, payments and transfers of the particular employees and particular employers, over the years.

    According to the published notice, this criminal tax stealing government department states that “the names shown are those against whom unpaid National Insurance Certificates have been filed and served, who have not made satisfactory arrangements to liquidate the outstanding debt (what madness), who have not adhered to arrangements made and/or do not submit current contributions when they become due”.

    Well, we have been saying to many people on here and some other places in this country that so-called NI and Social Security contributions are downright abominable theft – except in situations where those persons who own businesses voluntarily contribute portions of their incomes or payments to the scheme itself, perhaps as a means of the said scheme saving for them some of those particular portions that they send to it.

    But the truth is that the NIS is wrong, evil and criminal in stealing the incomes, payments and transfers where ever it is done by them for the fundamental reason that the actual so-called NI and Social Security contributions are in fact STOLEN PROPERTIES – properties that have been stolen by the National Insurance and Social Security Scheme and by extension the executive legislative government of this country.

    So, we truly applaud the actions of the people, businesses and statutory organizations that – in spite of the threats of sanctions and such like against them by the Scheme – have not been handing over any of the respective portions of their own and their employees’ incomes, payments and transfers to this criminal destestable illogical TAXATION process of this wicked government of this country.

    We instead ask these people, businesses and statutory organizations to give back to those employees, the respective portions of their respective incomes, payments and transfers that they would have taken over the time from the incomes, payments and transfers of the same employees, under this criminal morally bankrupt insane NI and Social Security TAXATION System, fundamentally because it is their OWN incomes, payments, and transfers that they are entitled to do what so ever with.

    Finally, we are asking some of those people who have their names and the names of the businesses – wholly owned or associated – published in today’s Sunday Sun, and who are reading on BU our positions as currently outlined in this present PDC post, to continue not handing in any of these incomes, payments and transfers to the NI and Social Security Scheme and by extension to the government, and instead to tell other people about what they are not doing (not handing in NI Social Security taxes) and what we have said by way of this post.

    For sure these persons and businesses whose names have been published in the Sunday Sun are potential supporters of the creation by the majority of adult people of this country of a post-TAXATION society for Barbados in the not too distant future.



  13. Concerned parent

    @ David
    Most of the companies on the list are small and medium sized businesses and not “big” businesses as some people were alluding to before the list was published. My fear is that most of these businesses can be named and shamed , but they won’t be able to pay their debt in the present depressed economic situation. I’m sure that their debt will also include Vat. If they were made to pay they would have to close shop and even more people will be out of work.
    The problem is their cash flow.


  14. @Concerned Parent

    Many of the companies are defunct.


  15. David, what I set out to say got lost as I digressed as usual. I meant to say that cultural norms change depending on the culture and that tolerating gays, weed-smoking, etc. is just a flash in the pan. At the end of the day, might beats right as we saw in Nazi Germany. All the rights we have won for ourselves in this era would be quickly eradicated when might takes power over right WHICH IT WILL DO one day. The human race is not walking towards improvement, just doing so for the moment. It cannot be set in stone. In the future there will be ups and downs. But let it be recorded that this year humans were trying to do their best to be fair to all.

    I think that historically the early 21st Century will look to future historians like a golden time where huge economic crises threatened yet people were still concerned about welfare issues for their fellows.


  16. We congratulate all the more than 900 persons, businesses and statutory corporations for NOT handing over any portions of their own and their employees incomes, payments and transfers to this criminal sick insane fascist NI Social Security Scheme.

    They are absolutely RIGHT.

    What these people and organizations must do is to give back to the workers what they would have taken from their payments and transfers over time.

    After this is done and they will not take from their employers any portions of payments and transfers ever again, they will then become (not before such is agreed to be resolved to do if possible among themselves) some of the unsung heroes (not any NIS defaulters) of this country.

    If they had handed over to this Scheme and to the government those amounts that the stupid criminal NI Social Security is now so stupidly claiming, the country would have been worst off.

    For much of that that was not handed over by them to this TAX stealing TAX robbing National Insurance and Social Security Scheme indeed helped to provide for much needed greater use of money in this country over time.



  17. The fundamental facts underlying why so many people, businesses and statutory corporations having their names published in today’s Sunday Sun under the political backwardness of the National Insurance and Social Security Scheme is not a question of the LACK OF CASH FLOW, but are as part of the evidence of the multifarious consequences of this same evil wicked TAXATION system, Interest Rates, Motor Vehicle Insurance, the staggeringly high cost of use of money, and so many other factors, operating against them.

    It is purely naïve to think that their incapacities to hand over the amounts of monies the NI SSS seeks, their refusals to hand over such amounts of monies, their repudiations of many of the efforts of this scheme have been caused by the LACK OF CASH FLOW.

    The names of the people, businesses and corporation being published in a newspaper does show the extent to which a criminally insane sick TAX-stealing TAX-robbing Nationally Insurance and Social Security Scheme and by extension the government are helping to destroy have been helping to destroy, by means of stealing, theft, plunder and loot – much business and social life in this country.

    If some people are so infantile in the way they think that it is a cash flow problem for so many people, business and statutory corporations, such as not to know or strongly believe that thousands upon thousands of Barbadians already know that TAXATION is Theft of personal corporate properties and that they will do as much as possible for now to avoid it at least – mainly because many of them irrationally fear jail were they to have been seen outrightly campaigning against government robbing them – then for these people to be thinking about such in such a limited way would be for they themselves to be evidence substantially mainly of the serious and profound social political psychological material financial damage TAXATION system has been doing to them and others..



  18. According to the same Sunday Sun story says “the publication of the entities indebted (what madness) to the National Insurance Fund as at October 1, 2013, in respect of the National Insurance contributions and the various levied for which the National Insurance Board has responsibility”, comes two months after Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer Suckoo said government would publish the names of defaulters among measures to collect long outstanding funds”.

    Notwithstanding such, this political joker for a minister of government was the same minister that some time ago an employee of hers had issues with her concerning the employee’s ready access to unemployment benefits, upon her getting the rid of the employee.

    It seemed that the employee had to make a good deal of noise in the public’s domain in order to have got those so-called unemployment benefits.



  19. I missed the MoF’s interview about the status of the current implementation of the 2013 Budget’s measures and I am still bemused about several things.

    Anyone heard if the Minister made any disclosures on the state of the foreign reserves following the loss of 300 Million dollars in three months earlier this year? Anything about how the Government is doing in closing the 400 Million fiscal gap that was initially supposed to be substantially closed by the end of this financial year and how the changes in strategy since the budget have impacted this? Was there anything about the 1/2 billion dollar loan?

    Anyhow it may be that the Government’s main priority is not related to closing that fiscal gap but ensuring that its inherent promises re. the society vs. the economy are scrupulously kept and the economy can continue to play second fiddle.


  20. @checkit-it

    He stated the change to 2 and 3 percent at the top of the consolidation tax tier was a typo. Believe he also stated that the Municipal Tax as presented in the budget is correct. BU is willing to be corrected. This would be interesting if only Minister Inniss indicated to the contrary. Did not hear him refer to the forex matter.


  21. What is this man really saying?

    Oppenheimer’s Gregory Fisher says international investors are more at ease about including emerging market debt in their portfolios, but prefer some sovereign bonds over others.

    Additionally, investors across the globe are developing an appetite for Caribbean bonds, said Fisher, managing director of Institutional Emerging Markets Sales at Oppenheimer & Company.

    “A few years ago, if you asked someone in Hong Kong, or some parts of Asia about Jamaica, Cayman, etc, they could not tell you …, but now, those pension funds are owners of Caribbean bonds,” Fisher said Monday at a forum hosted by Sterling Asset Management.

    most attractive issuers

    The likes of Aruba, The Bahamas, Bermuda and Trinidad are the most attractive issuers from the Caribbean, he said, while Panama and El Salvador are popular markets in Central America.

    Barbados, at one time, was among the list of most attractive issuers, but its economy has faltered since the 2008 world financial crisis.

    Jamaica, whose economy has been struggling for over three decades, is now a more attractive prospect, according to Fisher.

    Both countries have sought bailouts from the International Monetary Fund.

    “I feel safer holding Jamaica debt than Barbados at this time,” Fisher said. “The austerity measures and they way it was implemented kept the country in line with the IMF programme and the noise created by Barbados is not going to affect Jamaica negatively. I think, actually, it is going to affect Jamaica positively. I think this is causing a lot of the larger funds to take another look and revisit the Jamaica debt,” he said.

    Fisher was referring to Barbados’s withdrawal of its repurchase offer for up to US$250 million of its 7.25 per cent notes due 2021 and seven per cent notes due 2022. Barbados also reportedly postponed plans to raise US$500 million of debt on the international market last week.

    “If they had followed through with it, I don’t think they would have raised the amount that they wanted,” said Fisher. “There is just not enough interest out there right now for Barbados debt,” he said.

    Rather, Fisher said Barbados should have executed a debt exchange, swapping out the old debt for new ones with new terms.

    a matter of confidence

    He said the preference for Jamaica debt is not a matter of credit rating, but one of confidence.

    “Barbados’ economy is almost 100 per cent dependent on tourism, but for Jamaica, their credit market is so diversified. Jamaica has lots of options: You have coffee, cocoa, bauxite, tourism, sugar, quite a lot of options, so people will feel more comfortable,” he said.

    Additionally, the appetite for Jamaica’s debt is linked to the government’s outreach to the international investment community.

    “I think the Jamaican Government is more seasoned and they know how to deal with international investors. The Barbados Government has not mastered that as yet,” Fisher said.

    “The Barbados situation has brought the Jamaica bonds to the forefront. It is now for us (investors) to take a closer look at Jamaica and see Jamaica’s progress. I think with Jamaica’s recent upgrade, the Jamaica bonds should be trading higher once things settle down in the United States,” Fisher said.


  22. David he is saying that they have no confidence in Barbados’ debt especially with an economy that is wholly dependent on Tourism. A more diversified economy is more attractive. He is saying what BU has been saying all along…..We are up a creek without a paddle and heading for the rapids without life vests.


  23. “I think the Jamaican Government is more seasoned and they know how to deal with international investors. The Barbados Government has not mastered that as yet,” Fisher said.

    Haven’t we been saying this all along? This is EMBARRASSMENT and INCOMPETENCE to the highest degree! The have now gone on the world stage to show off their ignorance. Lawd we really down a slippery slope without brakes! Wunna brace wunna selves for a hard landing! We sit and watch helplessly!


  24. When the Central Bank Governor is lauded for his arrogant stand with LaGarde the IMF head he understands that they will be smiling waiting for him to come back with the right attitude. Beggars can’t be choosers!


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