They say we gone down de drain,
They say no more could we see happy times again
Now is the time to show we patriotism…
– We could make it if we try– Black Stalin
Some of the lyrics from the calypso, “We could (sic) make it if we try” performed by Black Stalin as long ago as 1988, have been running through my mind for most of last week, and it is not because, as some wag will be sure to observe, that there is nothing or very little there to impede its progress. Rather, it is because it is eminently possible for me to identify with the sentiments of Stalin’s effort, both as to the comparative direness of our economic situation and the optimistic but simple strategy offered in the hook line that we can make it if (only) we try.
Stalin sings –
Now we country facing its darkest hour,
So our people needs us today more than ever,
But in our fight to recover, if ever you feel to surrender,
It have one little thing I want you always remember
We could make if we try just a little harder…
Our darkest hour would have somehow become even darker still, if that were at all possible, with the news yesterday that the rating agency, Standard & Poor’s had further downgraded the island’s sovereign credit rating from a barely mediocre B- to a lowly CCC+, thereby reducing our bonds to a status below that of junk. And the Ministry of Finance has tried to take this “gentlemanly” mark in stride, attributing it to the challenges posed by our low foreign reserves levels, and declaring itself expectant of an imminent improvement in these and a concomitant diminution of the fiscal deficit. In other words, we will do better next time.
Regrettably perhaps, I am not to be listed among those who consider that the sole answer to our current predicament is to march in protest against the governing administration or even to inveigh for Prime Minister Stuart to advise the Governor General to dissolve the current Parliament and to issue a writ returnable within ninety days for a general election. While this latter initiative would doubtless please some of the contributors to the Brass Tacks talk show, some bloggerati and a growing number of others no end, the more critical mind is driven to contemplate whether this would not amount in effect in that colourful phrase, “ to shifting deck chairs on the Titanic” even as the iceberg of our midnight draws ominously closer. I digress however.
It is here that we might take comfort from Stalin’s lyrics and resolve to at least “try a t’ing”. While our problem might be economic in nature, I am not at all persuaded that the solution lies solely in that discipline, although I make haste to aver that I have no economic training of any kind. A lifetime of learning convinces me, however, that the optimal answer is rarely to be found in one perspective only. Nor, to my mind, is the most effective solution a political one, at least not as politics are traditionally practised in Barbados with a heavy reliance on partisanship; when it has for long been clear that neither side of the customary local political divide has all the answers to our current asperity.
One clear answer would seem to be for the state to engage the minds of all those committed to a soonest improvement in our fortunes; a thesis that would, however, recklessly drive a ZR van through the hoary and crowded streets of local political division. Just look at the consternation that the mere floating of a suggestion that the experienced economic counsel of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur should be resourced to assist the current governing administration in finding a solution to the contemporary morass has evoked among some Barbadians.
The attempt to engage the Cabinet, members of the Social Partnership and other officials in discussion on the matter yesterday (Friday) is of the same laudable order, although I must confess my disappointment at not noticing any members of the so-called alternative government, the Opposition, in attendance. If they were not invited, this would have been a regrettable oversight and a missed opportunity by Government to demonstrate forcefully the collective nature of the existing struggle. If they were in fact invited and failed to attend, then this is equally regrettable on their part, serves as a testament of the unhelpfulness of partisanship in the current context and, perhaps, reveals the true nature of the beast that we will first have to overcome.
Any advance towards bipartisanship or, preferably, non-partisanship in our political context will require first a massive re-education of the local electorate. Indeed, some will argue, not without some cogency, that we may need also to reform the current constitutional praxis that reduces the local formulation of public policy to be a matter for no one else save a hand-picked Cabinet and members of one political group.
I am aware as any that this reformation will require a shifting of the basic norm of our constitutional ethos. This does not come easily, especially since it would require the very authority with the power to alter the existing order to engage in an act of self-destruction. Hence, one of the more effective modes of effecting this shifting is a successful revolution or an overthrow of the constitution itself.
No sane national would seriously advocate this for Barbados at this time and the national psyche would, most assuredly, boggle at this possibility. Nevertheless, as we face our metaphorically darkest hour, traditional thinking will cut little ice. Hence, the logical necessity for a third way that will commit to a renaissance of the Barbadian socio-political compact. Alas, none of those groups that has so far raised a head above the parapet appears to want to do other than to fill the vacuum left by the traditional duopoly.
There is, however, another pertinent adage in which we may take some comfort at this time. The darkest hour, I have been told, comes always just before dawn.