Towards the end of 2016, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler – speaking at a meeting of the Christ Church constituency branches of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) – asserted that his struggling party will make morality a key issue in the next general election. For some, it is hip-hip hooray! Yet, numerous Barbadians are convinced that disingenuous concerns of morality should not take priority over economic and governance issues.
Indeed, Canon Isaacs an Anglican cleric, contended that if morality is going to be central in election campaigning, it must be “broadened to include bribery, kick-backs, victimisation, squandering of taxpayers’ money, intentionally misleading the public and many other issues that are dishonest,” but which are issues of governance. There is an overabundance of allegations regarding political mischief in Barbados. Isaacs posits that “the main item should be vote buying which is a form of bribery,” and this sordid affair surfaced in the national discourse by leading members of the governing DLP after the 2013 general election.
Therefore, to push governance issues behind blinkered views of morality, amounts to hypocrisy on the part of self-aggrandising advocates. Lawyer, Alan Dershowitz suggests that “hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you’re moral, saying you’re moral is not the same as acting morally.” What a reminder for Sinckler and his supporters! Similarly, the great political philosopher Edmund Burke stated that: “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” Barbadians beware!
The fact is, economic and governance concerns are expected to be addressed by those in and outside of political office. Political trust happens when citizens through the electorate appraise the government and its institutions, policy-making in general and/or the individual political leaders as promise-keeping, efficient, fair and honest. Writing in the British Journal of Political Science, Arthur Miller and Ola Listhaug argue that ‘political trust’ is the “judgment of the citizenry that the system and the political incumbents are responsive, and will do what is right even in the absence of constant scrutiny.” It is reprehensible therefore, that an incumbent administration would want to hang its hat on morality, while minimising or hiding the extent to which many situations under its watch would have led to political trust being compromised in Barbados.
Crucially, credibility is a major topic in the context of good governance. The concept of credibility may be defined as “the perception and assumption that the operations” of the politician (e.g. Ministers, Members of Parliament, and prospective candidates) “are trustworthy, responsible, desirable and appropriate.” To be credible, politicians – especially leaders and the face of political parties such as Stuart, Mottley, and all others surfacing before the next general election need to publicly demonstrate competence, integrity, and honesty. As a co-requisite, they need to be truthful, and they should not be in politics for personal gain or to rescue a marred image. Selfish action is the antithesis to public service and good governance.
Put differently, politicians must demonstrate their skills and knowledge and capacity for good governance. In terms of good governance, this article uses one of the earliest definitions that emerged from the World Bank:
Good governance is epitomized by predictable and enlightened policy making (that is, transparent processes); a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions; and a strong civil society participating in public affairs and all behaving under the rule of law. (World Bank, 1994: vii).
Entering the national political and governance landscapes, therefore, is social capital which refers to ‘the set of norms and values’ that the Barbados polity can positively embrace, and that permits ‘cooperation’ between the governing and the governed. These norms flourish in conditions of honesty, reliability, and fairness. Therefore, credibility and social capital concerns in Barbados merit our attention. Political elites thrive based on the social capital manifesting in the formats of trust, appreciation, respect, and confidence in the relationships between the governing and the governed. Analytical assessments must undeniably focus on people’s perceptions, popular discourse, and the politicians’ rhetoric.
A useful gauge must be the people’s perceptions about the DLP and the accountability of the current Cabinet. The DLP has held the reins of governance in Barbados for the better part of the last 10 years, although the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) does have a record inclusive of the Arthur years worthy of examination and critique. There are no new parties that fit into the frame of analysis.
Hence, it is reasonable to ask whether the Stuart-led Cabinet has effectively communicated and displayed the characteristics of honesty, transparency, fairness, justice, and overall performance? The polity’s perceptions of credibility in political institutions, and the extent that Barbados’ sense of democracy and good governance have become uncertain, happen to be useful signposts. Clearly, the Stuart-led DLP administration leaves much to be desired; already the foundations of credibility in Barbados are being dismantled from their pillars.
It must never be forgotten that leading up to the 2013 elections, the DLP under PM Stuart pledged that ‘no government worker shall be sent home’. For Stuart and his followers, such an occurrence was out of the equation should Barbadians give the DLP a majority vote of support at the polls which, they received. Equally dangerous to political trust was the flawed impression that the BLP wanted to “privatise statutory corporations and send home workers.” Within months of winning the election, the DLP Cabinet went back on its assurances and promises. The DLP Cabinet callously sent home more than 3,000 public servants to join the many more thousands that were ejected from the private sector. This was a definite betrayal by the DLP of the public workers’ trust.
In addition, PM Stuart and key members of the Cabinet after repeatedly denouncing privatisation, once again reneged on their assurances. Since 2013, more and more the wafting administration has engaged in privatisation practices, and often done so under the guise of another label or the suggestion that closer ties with the private sector will bring about the efficiencies which have been elusive to the Stuart-led administration. The build-up of mountains of garbage across Barbados, coupled with the catastrophe evidenced in public transportation quickly come to mind. The festering disrepair of long-neglected roads further expose the sham even to the most passive onlooker.
Contrary to the pre-election gimmicks, the DLP regime has since “begun the privatisation of statutory corporations with the sale of the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL);” this is almost a done deal. Stated policy positions that were shared with the public, either through the DLP’s 2013 Manifesto or other official statements from Ministers, have been abandoned or side-stepped.
For instance, Prime Minister Stuart as early as 2011 had indicated that free tertiary education will remain in place under his administration. Again, in September 2012, DLP spokespersons gave the assurance that university education would remain free to nationals while recognising that in recent years, there was a significant increase in financial contributions to the University of the West Indies (UWI). Back then, Finance Minister Sinckler asserted that the administration would meet “every possible commitment” to Barbadian nationals attending the UWI.
All havoc transpired while Sinckler arrogantly insisted that “there is no person or institution or political party in this country that can challenge or contradict the absolute commitment of the Democratic Labour Party to public education” in Barbados. Undoubtedly, the subsequent bungling of bursaries and the railroading of bright minds came within a year of the ruse. The colossal blunders spoke to yet another monumental about-turn by the Stuart-led DLP administration.
Who can forget the careless utterances of the Ministers when they were dismissive of the plethora of downgrades that Barbados received from the international rating agencies? PM Stuart, often loathe to speak on financial and macroeconomic matters, argued in 2014 that what the rating agencies say “is only relevant if we want to embark on an orgy of foreign borrowing in which people should know how much we should have to borrow, how much our money should cost.”
With intellectual elasticity, PM Stuart would two years later remark against another downgrade. He suggested that despite insignificant economic growth, the country was still achieving development. The Prime Minister whimsically stated: “Growth tells you how much the pig was weighing at the time of slaughter, while development tells you how much people will get piece of the pork.” Surely, with the fatted-calf having been reduced to bones, the pig is starving; and the pork is too little to feed the suffering families across Barbados.
The exit of the Sagicor Financial Corporation’s headquarters out of Barbados after the island’s series of downgrades, further reveals the ineffective ways in which this DLP Cabinet responds to economic drift. In contradistinction, Sagicor managed an upgrade since it moved to Bermuda. That single change exposes the Cabinet’s level of incompetence previously unheard of in the annals of Barbados, perhaps with 1991 an apt comparison. To date, the Barbados economy continues to experience major challenges, including low growth, a very large fiscal deficit, and a high debt burden.
Who will dare forget the fiasco and insidious statements from Environment Minister Denis Lowe on the Cahill disaster that was waiting to happen? Lowe was adamant in the face of constructive criticisms that Cahill Energy offered Barbados “a real solution to becoming energy independent.” No agreements were said to be signed, but certainly signed documents were leaked into the public domain.
What about the disdain with which the very DLP has abandoned its 2008 and 2013 Manifesto promises of transparency and accountability? The Barbados Today has reported that sources have “advised that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was not required under the Town & Country Planning Act, therefore there was no reason for any further delay to the US$100 million Hyatt Centric Resort.” Oh really? The 2013 Manifesto clearly states that: “Government has an inescapable responsibility to assume the lead responsibility for ensuring that the environment is managed effectively” which would include the erection of the proposed Hyatt Resort on beachfront property.
The same Manifesto promisingly reveals that: “The process of environmental care is the concern of every citizen and resident of Barbados,” yet the DLP Cabinet has hitherto refused to be upfront with the people of Barbados. Led by PM Stuart, the Cabinet has been dismissive of real concerns mounted by various groups on several aspects of the project. Credibility and good governance are surely far removed from the actions of the current DLP.
Still, there are numerous other questions to be asked. Should Barbados trust the current Freundel Stuart administration? On the evidence, perhaps not. If the trust element is already damaged, will Barbadians even pay credence to the next government regardless of who is the leader? Not without thorough scrutiny. Professor of Political Science, Michael Johnston, asserts that “a democracy needs strong and sustainable political parties with the capacity to represent citizens and provide policy choices that demonstrate their ability to govern for the public good.” In that regard, the DLP appears to be facing tumultuous times and possible total banishment. Yet, the beleaguered Cabinet is showing a pugnacious face in the presence of a ruined credibility.
The lessons to be drawn should serve as ‘notice’ for all those presenting themselves as serious candidates in the next elections. All current members of parliament will attract scrutiny directed at their levels of representation (i.e. competence and stewardship). New candidates will be watched for their orientation to things such as skill-sets, community service, and national likeability. New political parties will be made to lay bare under the layman’s probing eyes for their raison d’être due to the national rejection of the DLP’s fascination with families first and paramountcy of the party.
Notwithstanding, the DLP knows better than any other entity the truth of its disappointing performances that have been ongoing for almost a decade. The 2013 Manifesto purports that: “There is a need to restore the image of Government in Barbados to one of decency, ethical behaviour and serving the interests of the people, instead of the interests of powerful groups and politicians themselves.” This statement is so very true and at the same time, serves as the DLP’s self-condemnation which could lead to its eventual demise.
The people will ultimately decide if and what difference new political parties can contribute to Barbados, particularly if the leadership of the respective parties comes across as being any of the following: naivete, bland, politically expended, roguish, corporatist or too elitist to seriously capture the national imagination. None of the candidates nor the political parties should get a free ride from the public. Rather, all candidates and parties must be put under the microscope by the electorate to get a sense of both their credibility and the social capital that they bring to public service.