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Thinking out loud

Why is it that after two decades spanning three political administrations the disorder plaguing public transportation has not been vanquished once and for all? Why haven’t there been any meaningful legislative or administrative initiatives to exterminate the unabashed flouting of road traffic regulations or the vile lyrics and pulsating rhythms which have become characteristic features of many public service vehicles?

Did successive administrations lack the will to act in the public’s interest? Are there incestuous relationships between PSV operators and the political class, the security services or the judiciary that underline parasitic conflicts of interest? Do the authorities lack the will to act decisively in order to create a reliable, efficient, comfortable and orderly public transportation system?

There has been a lot of rhetoric over the years about the social ills of the minibus culture and its deleterious impact on the nation’s children, yet there have been no meaningful attempts to reverse the decline. It’s no secret that primary school children who rely on public transportation are not speared the socially corrosive diet of smut from musical cesspools masquerading as conduits of transportation. Moreover, these PSVs have also become a menace to other road users.

The longer this vexing issue continues unabated the more it snowballs and the greater the adverse impact on: the socialisation of young people, road safety and traffic flow as well as productivity at school and in the workplace. What became of suggestions such as ticketing, a demerit licence system, the wearing of uniforms, prohibition of stereos and other audio equipment on PSVs in addition to firm and consistent enforcement? Impounding the vehicles of repeat or flagrant offenders for a week or so may also serve as an effective deterrent.

The time for talk should be long over, it is time to arrest the problems that have been plaguing the sector and fuelling social decay. Public transportation is yet another area that is yearning for leadership. Why deny it a better future; one that is profitable, reliable, comfortable and disciplined? Political leadership has been too complicit.

Why is it that Barbados seems to be unwilling or incapable of permanent solutions to many national perennial problems that have been plaguing the country for decades?

Not all of the nation’s problems are economic in nature. Many of the solutions are known. In some cases there is broad consensus, yet no action. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, a blot on our nationhood. The country requires transformative change.

Like pre-Independence Barbadians that built an enviable nation out of an assortment of villages, the post-independence generations have a responsibility to answer the call of history and create a Barbados for future generations that is far superior to the Barbados that was inherited.

The independence project must continue. Nation building is not a destination, it is a continuum. Barbados must reach of the stars. Barbadians need to dream big again and endeavour to ensure that their children are equipped with the tools and environment needed to create and enjoy a better quality of life and standard of living than their forebears.

There is no shortage of talent or intellect in Barbados. Any paucity of skills or technology can be imported in the short-term and overcome in the long-term with technological transfer and education that emphasises creativity, critical thinking and application. Of course, sustainable development also requires capital, more specifically liberalised access to capital. The country must find a way to allocate cheaper finance to small businesses and bidding entrepreneurial pursuits — large or small.

Growth is not seamless. Indeed growth could be painful at times. There are many pitfalls, setbacks and failures. Without risks there will be no reward. Barbados cannot catapult itself into a more prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially cohesive future by stubbornly clinging to past glories, antiquated systems of public administration, a broken judiciary, poor customer service or timid leadership. As Albert Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

As was emphasised in a previous article, social development is as important as economic development. It’s imperative that deliberate, coordinate efforts are made to rekindle a strong, positive and enduring national identify. Bajan children should be afforded a more comprehensive formal education that creates more rounded civic minded citizens.

More contemporary history should be taught in primary and secondary schools. The curriculum should include lessons on the history and evolution of Caribbean civilisation; subjects such as Caribbean national heroes, the era of pre-independence self-government, the federal experiment, the independence project, the formative decades of post-independence, Caribbean rebellions, the significance of West Indies cricket, when sugar was king, Caribbean exemplars that excelled in the arts, sports, politics, business etc.

The formal education experience in Barbados could also benefit from lessons on the origin of various genres of Caribbean music and their role in Caribbean cultural development. Civics and voluntarism should also be integral pillars of Barbados’ education system. Education is not only about language, maths, the arts or sciences, formal education should be relevant, designed to meet the needs of the present and the challenges of the future.

As US President Barack Obama said in his inaugural State of the Union address, “… we did not come to fear the future, we came here to shape it”.

* Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience.

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