Submitted by Dr. George C. Brathwaite
“The challenge lies rather in the idea of planning, of purposeful, intelligent control over economic affairs. This, it seems, we must accept as a guide to our economic life to replace the decadent notions of a laissez-faire philosophy.” – Rexford Tugwell and Howard Hill, ‘Our Economic Society and Its Problems’ (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1934), p. 527.
This 21st century Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration has been the antithesis of its groundings in social democratic politics. Barbados has been tossed far away from the ideals and aspirations for which the pioneers of our development envisioned. Barbadian economic planners, under the direction of a DLP gone astray, have uncritically embraced the lull for the neo-liberalised version of laissez faire capitalism. This unflattering cuddle has derailed the socialist orientations which were instrumental in driving postcolonial Barbados and shaping the nation’s post-independent development.
In real and visible terms, Barbados has today gone off track. The macroeconomic planners and policymakers have shifted their developmental gaze away from people’s well-being and re-directed attention towards the attainment of multilateral approval. The technocrats of the IMF may be excellent singers of austerity but if the idea of effective economic planning continues to be ignored by the governing, it is very likely that the governed would voice their resistance to swelling hardship and social infelicities. History in Barbados, the Caribbean, and the developing world is replete with examples necessitating resistance and protest from the bottom.
Notwithstanding the financial and other macroeconomic variables that make economic planning difficult at best, the working class people of contemporary Barbados are drifting perilously towards ‘incivility’ while the economy, that up to a few years ago gave opportunity for an expanding middle-class, is being described in terms of ‘backwardness’. Furthermore, the Barbados economy is being characterised with ‘junk bond’ status by some of the very multilaterals to whom the country’s obedient policymakers genuflect while abandoning the strength of social consciousness.
Reluctant to admit it, Barbados’ political economy over the last five years, has been frustrated with countless but lame efforts at neoliberal economic recovery. The resultant failure to sufficiently spur economic growth by the current DLP administration has negated many of the social gains achieved in Barbados since 1966.
For instance, free education – as a vital investment in the logic of moving from underdevelopment to development – has suffered at the hands of economic slaughterers. Their main passions grew out of betrayal in order to appease accounting standards while thumping their chests and savouring their own successes of attaining political power. In fact, the then Prime Minister Errol Barrow on May Day 1987, exactly one month before his death had observed and warned us that:
“We are not going to achieve our common objectives of social justice if the workers are going to be there on the other side of the fence, having an antagonistic attitude towards the people who control the capital. We are only going to have harmonious relationships in this society if the people who now control the capital realise that the workers themselves are entitled to a share in the control of that capital, both in the managerial and ownership levels.”
Surely, the National Hero’s statement is a coronation of socialist principles within a context of the social democratic space that was opened at independence for Barbados. Equally, it is a foreboding that speaks to prioritising the worker over the dollar, although both are indisputably important. The quest for social and economic empowerment must remain in place so that Barbados can achieve its developmental objectives.
The fact is that in Barbados’ first 40 years of independence, despite whatever challenges emerged, our economic planners and leaders recognised the need for worker and business alliances. The public and private sectors grew together with the embellishment of a framework that was defined by prompt decision-making and a strong sense of certainty of purpose.
Paradoxically, the current Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance in Barbados stand out as localised points of instruction. The indecisive wavering that is closely situated in the customs of Stuart and Sinckler, also presents clear demonstrations of the dysfunctionality that has crept into the fabric of Barbadian society. What Stuart and Sinckler say and how they act have effectively become institutionalised setbacks. The pair has practically set the tone, not only for consumers and civil society in Barbados to baulk at positive reforms (e.g. BRA), but has incurred a lethargy in the investment climate. Investment classes – local and foreign – are reluctant to take calculated risks.
Barbados previously had a record of performing outstandingly well due to the factors of stability and certainty in our socio-economic space. Barbados has seen an about turn both in terms of governmental approach and in reciprocity. Prime Minister Stuart and his Cabinet colleagues have often demonstrated a naiveté with regards to inviting trust from the people. The chief Minister and economic planner have preferred to silence those who complain or object to the flawed macroeconomic management of the country.
Subsequently, working towards fixing the plethora of issues which surfaced under the DLP’s watch has proven to be extremely difficult and sluggishly prolonged. The overly cautious and procrastinating Stuart-led Cabinet has operated largely for the sake of political preservation while the opposition – viewed as an alternative government – wasted time and opportunities in seeming disarray if not outright internal disunity. Mounting evidence indicates that the indecision and wavering are constant factors in the DLP’s public policy and governance architecture.
The daunting clouds of uncertainty are prevalent under the DLP’s beleaguered administration. Uncertainty is perversely institutionalised so that local and international entrepreneurs and investors are watching and listening with apprehension to the nation’s decision-makers. It does not help us at home to hear the dangerous statements wherein culpability and responsibility for the nation’s affairs have become foreign to local Ministers of government (i.e. do not blame me). Nor, does it help those wanting to invest capital in the Barbados economy. The lingering questions arising on the ‘ease of doing business’ are still around, when in practice, little or nothing is done to change the situation.
Within this context of governance, ministerial escapism creates policy confusion and, mass uncertainty prevails in policy arenas. The Barbados government operates with unfathomable ambiguity on almost every set of public policies and regulatory pronouncements. While some economic planning does exists, the outcomes of taciturn practices have left the country adrift from obtaining optimal performances. The macroeconomic directions, for example, which repeatedly spoke of stabilising Barbados’ badly faltered economy since 2008, have largely failed due to the apparent disconnect between the real data and the whimsical analyses offered by tainted officials.
The unseemliness of many public policy decisions is often exposed in the ministerial contradictions. On public policy, government ministers ebb ‘to and fro’ among themselves (e.g. Ministers Sinckler and Inniss or Sinckler and Estwick). Professor Emeritus Ramesh Ramsaran in 2012 gave a protracted view of a fundamental concern facing Barbados and the region. Professor Ramsaran asserted that:
“Public policy exerts a crucial influence on the creation and distribution of wealth. But public policy is not confined to the discipline of economics or the management of resources. It straddles a broad area which covers issues of a political, social and economic nature. It speaks to the integrity and efficacy of governance institutions, the functioning of administrative structures and the balance between social costs and social benefits. It not only encompasses the factors that influence the real and financial sectors, but all the institutional elements that affect the functioning and well-being of society. It defines national social and economic objectives, and also provides strategies, direction and the framework of incentives for governance in response to changes in the internal and external environment. But consistency, coherence and effectiveness are often lacking in formulation and implementation.”
Since 2010, and after each Budget presentation, Barbados’ Minister of Finance has had to repeatedly remove the smoke-screens and hyperbole from his ‘levying’ pronouncements which either amount to good or bad public policy. Sadly, the demand for good public policy and the necessary implementation of such policies are of seemingly secondary importance to an irresponsible DLP Cabinet. PM Stuart’s Cabinets post-David Thompson, have largely failed to inspire national confidence although they have been quick to draw on self-congratulatory messages – written and posted by self.
Mounting frustration within Barbados’ political economy is typical of this grave uncertainty that has become exposed in other aspects of daily living in Barbados. Workers across Barbados are facing increased taxation, depressed wages, the rising incidence of serious crime, and plummeting living standards. People perceive of a political class that is less interested in service provision and more inclined to influencing the acceptance of parsimonious public relations wherein only the bare minimum of information ever reaches the public.
One wonders who in government hears the cries for water from the dislocated people living in several parishes across Barbados. The lack of urgency being exhibited by key state agents is indicative of the drought of ideas causing paralysis in the country. Indeed, Barbados’ economic activities are currently being fuelled by the need for survival and the necessity to push back against the last few years of stagnation and degradation.
Intuitively, the DLP government with all the goodwill in the world, will continue to struggle once there is jaundiced or inadequate planning at the apex of political and economic leadership. The wheels of the Barbados economy with its once socialist character will remain off track with the possibility of an impending crash which could be fatal. The Barbados fiscal and debt challenges are stubbornly acute, although in recent months, it is being suggested that some modicum of recovery is evident. One must still exercise prudence and forcefully say to Chris, it’s the lasting uncertainty that is dangerous for Barbados.
(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the UWI-Cave Hill Campus, a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )