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Our national future

What a to-do we are witnessing! Since both parties summoned their deepest reserves of intestinal fortitude to mention the “P-word”, we had last week almost an entire Brasstacks programme devoted to the pros and cons. We were also blessed with an astute and very courageous moderator in person of Peter Wickham, to whose lot it fell to pick through a slew of mainly emotionally driven “reasons” why this prospect is to be despised – or at least, to be distrusted.

I sometimes wonder how a highly educated, concerned, and sensible mass of our citizenry, cannot dispassionately examine a given issue that virtually screams out “FIX IT”! Granted, there are many sociological reasons/aspects, that are yet a bit fresh in the minds of many Bajans, who are perhaps still too close to the comfort of the trees, to see the forest clearly.

I refer of course, to those trophies of having “arrived”, neatly displayed in our “national glass-case”: our attainment of independence; the rise of our political parties and trade unions; our deserved and proud standing amongst nations of the world.

But the flip side of this coin hides the creeping advance – almost an addiction – of the pervasive, out-of-control government benevolence. If each day, a plane landed at GAIA with unlimited cash from heaven, none of us would have any qualms whatsoever, but in the absence of such scheduled flights, we now face reality.

The reality that we need to plan our national future based on making socio-economic policies fit for this century; an awareness that we are indeed, responsible for our own welfare, and that our current malaise is not divine or devilish vengeance visited upon us (it’s all over the world), but a reflection of the fact that we must adapt like every living thing on this planet, to changing circumstances, or reap the whirl-wind!

These attendant foot-soldiers of “freenesses”, are persistent: they will not go away just because we choose not to look at them. They also ask inconvenient questions, such as: “What is the opportunity cost of using these resources elsewhere?”

Most of us will concede that we have become accustomed to “free” education; medical and drug services; free-to-air TV; subsidised transportation, etc. etc., and a panoply of other minor dispensations… Education excepted as being sine qua non of opportunity for each breathing Bajan, there are obviously too many babes a-sucking on the proverbial breast.

Suddenly, either the IMF, or Standard & Poors, or perhaps just simple arithmetic, has clicked-on the light and behold: everyone now sees the elephant sitting right beside us. Simply, it has been, and remains unsustainable at current levels, no matter who is in charge.

Granted, in our efforts to apply commonsense solutions, we should of course expect some knee-jerk reaction, as is the case when one tries to “take away” something from someone who has simply become accustomed to having a virtual “right”, or an “entitlement”. And no more just deserts, than that those who “gave” these gifts in the taxpayers’ name, should now take up the task and strain (and some pain) to recover them! But that is why we elect leaders, and trust them to do all that is necessary for the greater good of the nation as a whole.

If you will forgive me, even Ossie Moore would see the folly of seven folks arriving to make your natural gas connection! Unless, perhaps, Ossie spotted that amongst the seven were four he recognised: his son, his nephew, a brother, and a neighbour!! Therein lies the curse of a small island/society: we all know each other, and emotions distort what is otherwise plain common sense.

Effin you doubt me, try this on for size: you are in Calgary, Alberta, and need to put in small PABX in a new business you are starting. Which would you choose: to have a “union-managed” entity which sends in three separate technicians (linesman; internal wiring-man; and a PABX guy) and you pay an arm-and-a-leg during the next three weeks, or send in one technician in his truck, and an hour-and-a-half later, the PABX is up and working? No, I haven’t made this up. My brother-in-law was in the truck, and I saw him do the installation! And yes, it was in winter, and I was urging him to hurry up with the minor miracle he was performing whilst “up the pole”, before I froze!

This sort of shotgun wedding of “social development” and “economic necessities”, is replicated all over this beloved country. Inured to it, we live it and breathe it daily, and no longer see its corrosive effects! Our social and political zeal encourages us to look directly ahead (tunnel-fashion), avoiding political potholes that threaten many citizens who need to make sound decisions daily, but our national gaze needs re-directing to the yawning precipices either side of our careening vehicle.

Of course, many “passengers” recognise our peril, but salve consciences by rationalising that as we boarded the bus of our own free will, what can we do but hang on tightly, and grit our teeth, lest we speak and offend the all-powerful driver – lest he throw a tantrum? Or perhaps, free speech notwithstanding, we fear a back-lash of having no “social sensitivity”? The outcome is our whole nation thereby becoming captive to the collaborative acquiescence of silence, with all of us worshipping at the “Church of the Status Quo”. Not good. Not at all good, Sir!

If we are really serious about attaining a national quantum leap in our effectiveness and efficiency of governance, and in restructuring the economy, we have to bite the bullet at some time. We must urgently switch-over from “talk-mode”, to “we-are-doing-it” mode.

I can absolutely say, “Yes we can”, as the herculean efforts of our early leaders in the run-up to self-government, and then to Independence, has proven for all to see. We are indeed a people of ability, energy, civility, moral and spiritual underpinnings and all other attributes of civilized living. If we have come this far on the backs of our forefathers, we can indeed re-invent ourselves; we can re-brand this country as “Barbados World-Class”.

Keeping those things that we do very well, and eschewing those that have lulled us in to a state of complacency; into a fog of dependency. And in so doing, visiting injury upon personal self-accomplishment and attainment. Some interesting math: 30,000 folks on the payroll is a lot of folks/voters, but that still leaves 245,00 other equally-important folks to remember. What sort of can are we going to leave down the road, for the young to clean-up? Today is important, mainly for the reason that it is the father of tomorrow.

Every Bajan deserves such things to be explained to them clearly, coherently, and with openness and honesty. And with the ultimate prize being clearly placed in view: a prosperous, competitive, confident Barbados. A slimmed-down, efficient, effective, nimble and responsive state apparatus. A vastly more empowered private sector, where entrepreneurs – be they big, small, corporate; be they Trinny, Grinny or Yankee; or individual; or black, blue, white, yellow or green; or you; or me; where we will all find a level playing field.

A Fair Trading Commission with real teeth, to ensure the consumer enjoys similar effective protection as we now afford voters, and as tough on any who seek to “carve-up” a market, with tough anti-trust laws as we know of in the US. And with banks and other financial institutions recognising that they must needs get into step with the new drummer – or continue to surrender the moral high ground to our ever-advancing credit unions!

And one small, but very important word to any who think that this writer places little or no store by the vulnerable in our society. Of course we have to look after our most unfortunate citizens. But how we do so, also deserves a careful review, including the fuller and more efficient use of resources via our many NGO’s and private-sector nursing, geriatric, and church and charitable institutions.

One can only pray that with these winds of change now blowing, the main parties will drape some clothes over the policy outline now being seen, and that all of our leaders (political, union, private sector and clear-thinking individuals) – everyone who puts country first, will explain, debate and eventually forge a national consensus that we have the wherewithal to create a new Barbados.

This will to “do it”, resides deep within each of us. Leaders must lead. If they are unable, or unwilling, we need to tell them. Not just once every five years, but regularly. And with increasing volume. And I say to all those who are in favour of the status quo: If this is what you wish – doan worry, be happy – just keep your wallets and credit-cards handy.

Please: no more kicking that can down the road: Let’s do it! And with a tip of the cap to Mr. Peter Boos, and to many others who have said the same, but more eloquently, articulately, and unfortunately, also repeatedly.

Hey, I almost forgot, teaching that bull-elephant to dance isn’t difficult: just whisper in its ear, where you are gonna swat that baseball bat! No, not there – you gotta hit him in the wallet!

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