The present crises in so many spheres of Barbadian life should bring us to a painful realisation. The realisation is that the fundamentals of the economy are weak. The social order is in decline and the moral fabric is decaying. The old template will no longer suffice. The challenges are so varied and so profound that nothing short of a fundamental strategic rethink can restore our fortunes.
Firstly we need a sense of ‘gravitas’, high seriousness about the array of difficult problems that confront us. If we muster the gravitas, then we would also need the critical insight and most importantly the implementation skills to solve the problems. Let’s not fool ourselves with glib reliance on an ostensible Bajan resilience and blind faith in a Divinity whose commandments we have long rejected for other false deities.
In Barbados words like innovation and creativity are bandied about with complacent ease. How many times have you heard it said that we have to find ‘creative solutions’ to this or that problem? The speaker offers that notion as if it were a profound revelation, but and not a single creative proposition is proffered.
Barbadians were never particularly creative, but before the ascent of mediocrity, we used to be reasonably efficient. We never took kindly to divergent thought; one gets by either by keeping silent or agreeing with authority. Some even claim that silence is now a workable technique of political leadership.
Assuming the gravitas and creative thinking, there is still the thorny issue of implementation. Barbados now suffers from a new non-communicable national disease. That disease is ‘dropsy’. Extreme morbidity, lethargy, inertia, tardiness, apathy and overt mindlessness. This at a time when the world is becoming increasingly competitive. How many times have we heard it said that a problem was drawn to the attention of some authority, but nothing was done about it? A headline in the NATION of June 25 stated $1 Million EU Grant Goes Begging, and the sub-heading reads Both Civil Service And Private Sector Dropping EPA Ball.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Maxine McClean is reported as saying that it was with some dismay that she discovered the funds were returned because ‘people don’t seem to appreciate the importance and purpose of delivering’. This not a unique case. A foreign grant was sent elsewhere when the proposed recipient, a local tertiary institution, failed to act promptly on a charitable endowment for the arts. This deficit in execution affects the most vital areas of our economic life.
The quarterly magazine of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (October-December 2013) notes that Barbados slipped three points in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. It fell from 44th place (of 144) in 2012 to 47th (of 148) in 2013. Another report placed Barbados 88th in the world for ease of doing business. St Lucia placed 58th, an amazing 30 points higher.
There seems to be wide agreement that there is an implementation deficit in many areas of national life. There is the predictable rhetoric of repositioning but little of the praxis. The most telling admission of the reality of a deficit came recently from no less a person that the Attorney General himself. Recognising that steps must be taken to speed up the pace with which things were done in the justice system, he admitted that the same approach needed to be applied to just about every aspect of doing business in Barbados. He concluded: “We talk about wanting to be a First World country, but we really can’t be, when we have such a big problem with implementation.’ The deficit, according to the Attorney General, can be attributed to an excess of ‘red tape’ and the lack of a sense of urgency, which are stifling the country.
Examining the problematic factors in doing business in Barbados, the BIDC Quarterly identified ‘inefficient government bureaucracy at 20.7 per cent., access to financing was only marginally higher at 20.9 per cent, with a poor work ethic at 15.5 per cent. The issue here maybe one of weak institutional structures or one of misconduct or incompetence of persons within the institutions. The Attorney General did note that ‘we have people who build up their little fiefdoms and operate on the basis that you must come to them so they can show you how powerful they are’. That any bureaucrat could be wilfully frustrating the governmental process is ridiculous. Any ‘revised charter for the delivery of government services’ must not only reform the Public Service but revise and reinforce the disciplinary structures within it.
It should not be too difficult to remove the administrative bottlenecks that clutter the system. The other concerns, the lack of a sense of urgency, weak work ethic and general disengagement may be more problematic because they may reflect the culture, the prevailing values, attitudes and sensibilities that motivate or fail to motivate our daily lives. Lloyd Best said it long ago that the problems in the Caribbean are not technical but cultural.
• Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator.