Tuesday, April 23, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: A false debate


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Just as the first casualty of war is truth, then so do elections make victims of factual, truthful and honest discussion.
This is seen most clearly in the orchestrated emergence of “privatization” as a major issue in the 2013 Barbados election, when indeed there is no distance between the two parties on the issue, and when Barbados is no stranger to privatization.
It is clear that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has made the issue of privatization a critical plank of its platform only because of the earlier adverse reaction of professional organizations and some academics to the Barbados Labour Party’s proposed policies as announced at its annual conference in late 2012.  
Whilst the Machiavellian imperatives of electoral competition may lead some to conclude that this is fair game, others wishing for a more honest policy debate should rightfully decry the over-hyped false quarrel over privatization as a distractive mirage luring voters away from wider and more urgent developmental questions.
If unchecked, voters may very well be casting their ballots over a manufactured non-issue.
The privatization debate is a false debate. It is “false” because the hardline verbal opposition to privatization by the DLP belies the fact that past and present DLP administrations have engaged in privatiation and future ones will. Indeed, only a few months ago, the Barbados Government sold off its remaining shares in what was the Barbados National Bank to its current Trinidadian owners.
The Government’s semi-autonomous NIS did the same.
The reality of the Government’s practice of privatization therefore is out of sync with the strong verbal expressions of ideological opposition to the concept heard in the campaign.   
In addition, some of the very institutions and areas of economic activity around which a firm line of opposition to privatization is being expressed already have a long tradition of private sector participation. A typical example of this is in the area of transportation where private “ZR” providers offer a service alongside the existing Government service.  
Given the intense energy and debate over which the “privatization of the Transport Board is being fought, an alien from Mars dropped in the middle of the 2013 election campaign would be forgiven for thinking that the concept of private transport providers is an unknown in Barbados.  
Often, when two apparently mutually antagonistic views are being contested, the truth is often found in the synthesis of what, on the surface, appears to be opposing tendencies. Instead of claiming innocence on the issue of privatization, and instead of making claims about being pro-nationalization which are not backed by reality, perhaps the parties should use their energies to achieve a “negation of the negation” of both privatization and nationalization.
Does this synthesis not lie in a process of worker and popular share ownership of enterprises beyond the state and small private elites?  
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.


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