Saturday, April 20, 2024

FIRING LINE: The quick fix solution


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I was in Samoa for the third International SIDS Conference and, no, I was not part of the large Barbados delegation and therefore did not attend at taxpayers’ expense. The money is already spent so I will not engage in the debate over whether or not the Government should have spent the enormous sums taking the overly large delegation, especially when the negotiations had been previously concluded months ago in New York.

What I cannot get straight in my head is why governments would invest so much money in attending a meeting but fail to effectively implement the obligations and outcomes of the meeting. It seems we like attending the party but are not too interested in the clean-up and house straightening that comes after. One of the main stories of this SIDS process is – you guessed it – lack of implementation. We just keep dressing up and going to the party.

Interestingly and perhaps a bit obviously this Government is quietly keen on a couple of related areas in particular green economy and the renewable energy. Anyone wants to guess why?  These two areas are being touted as the two new growth areas with the potential to positively impact the economy.   

Do not get me wrong. These are essentially critical areas. However, what is frustrating for me is that our whole orientation seems to be about the bottom line, which is actually the antithesis of the sustainable development agenda. This agenda is a key element of the entire SIDS process.

The sustainable development agenda suggests that we ought to have an integrative approach to development, where no pillar – economic, social or environmental – is prioritised above the other but rather the policy approach would see them as an integrated whole. To achieve the ideal, governments should take a long term approach to development, which would see synergies across the pillars, and policies would not be implemented if they endanger the integrity of one of the other pillars.

Yeah, right! All of that good wisdom goes straight away in the context of an economic recession. All of the Government’s policies in the last year have been about the money. Indeed there seems to be no long term approach to thinking through our development which recognises that there is a long-term impact of short- term quick fix policies designed to either boost economic growth or fix the deficit.

The reduction in Government’s support to tertiary education, specifically the University of the West Indies, is a case in point. The Government’s aim was to address the immediate need to reduce expenditure but it is not clear that all of the collective wisdom that we have in our Cabinet looked past the immediate to consider what would be the long-term impact of losing our capacity to produce a highly qualified cadre of young professionals schooled at home. The emphasis on being schooled at home is deliberate – it would take another article to talk about the socio-cultural political importance of this.  

The almost immediate effect of the policy as evidenced in the drastic reduction of UWI enrolment for this year would suggest that if left unchecked we will be facing a severe a human resource problem in the near future. Was the short-term gain worth it?  It is hard to explain in one article how this one policy is so interconnected to other areas of our life and how it could potentially have a negative ripple effect on other areas.

Sorry, Mr Jones. With all due respect, telling people to stop talking about it will not make the problem go away. Politicians come and go and collect fat pensions but the society as a whole has to deal with consequences of the policies.

Similarly, like all Barbadians I am appalled and honestly scared at the brazen level of crime that is emerging. It is for me unprecedented. I grew up in the era when we saw the gang phenomenon raising its head when there were nightly shoot-outs and there were certain communities you could not walk through. This, however, was contained and one could isolate oneself from this. These new hitman-style killings that are emerging without care are disturbing on a number of levels. Our response, however, has been about enforcement, punishment and the impact on tourism.  

There is clearly no understanding that crime is a social phenomenon. All of the studies on crime and security suggest that it requires an integrated approach. I do not want to hear only what the police are doing but I want to know about why it is emerging, what is fostering this attitude, what has changed and what collective approach is being developed to undermine the circumstances for its emergence.

I am also intrigued by Michael Lashley’s suggestion that the Transport Board should move to charge school children catching buses after 8:45 a.m. (I was not clear whether this is a policy which will be enforced or the minister’s own attempt at problem solving). The suggestion is that this will help to address some of the lateness and delinquency that we are seeing among schoolchildren. On which planet?

Rather than have an approach which says let me get my house in order so that I can make sure that buses are running efficiently and on time and then create a plan to work with education officials and other social agencies to address the issue, the solution is to come up a quick fix of asking students to pay.

The quick fix solution quite interestingly will allow the Government to get some additional dollars in its coffers – the way the Transport Board is running now this could add up to be a tidy sum – and then also task the police to do extra patrols. I went to the University of the West Indies when it was still free – so I am not easily fooled. This is the next phase in Government’s continued unravelling of its own social platform in an effort to address the economic situation.

Who started that rhetoric again about Barbados being more than an economy?

• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.


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