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Barrow’s still speaks

speechesbyerrolbarrowHas Errol Barrow’s words fallen on deaf ears, and, will it take a Jew or white man to preserve and promote his unmistakable legacy?

For 2013 summer I am rereading of Speeches by Errol Barrow as edited by Yusuff Haniff. This is by design. I am trying to understand “three laws of performance” — the outgrowth of a study group which first met in Barbados and who now argue in a book, that language is the most critical factor in rewriting the future of any organisation, or anyone’s life.

It is very evident that Barrow’s actions had a clear predetermined context, that he had a personal board of directors that comprised people who had influenced his thinking, and that he was not a part-time visionary.

Michael Manley, a personal friend and former Prime Minister of Jamaica in his tribute to Barrow, in part said:

“Barrow made all his calculations of short term political advantage subject to his deeper principles and causes which they led him to uphold.”

And, concluded his tribute, with these words:

“Then again, there was his intellect. A man of wide reading and real scholarship, he could confound his opponents with a flash of repartee. He was equally quick to deflate the windbags of humbug, who liter any political scene, with a single thrust, no less cutting because of the laugh with which he could round of some sally of wit.”

Now listen, in part, to Barrow as he addressed a DLP conference on the matter of Caribbean and Barbados debt. (Page 138)

“A serious examination of the debt problem therefore is required before we are plunged into a depression more serious that afflicted us from 1929 onwards. There is no single simplistic solution…

The money sharks and influence brokers, however, who have shared out patronage on a vast scale while extorting exorbitant conditions, will have to bear the full scrutiny of public examination.”

Today, many years later, the debt problem is still with us and the world recession has flattened many economies.

Now that most have agreed that the economy has to be restructured why is there a reluctance (my view) to avoid the pain?

The castor oil, the lime and salt are on the table. The belt is hanging on the chair. And, yesterday folk are standing, awaiting our choice. Do we take the castor oil or the licks?

And if we don’t, what are we going to do when the second dose — the knife of technology — descends upon us, without asking any questions.

Let me explain. Sooner, rather than later, the rapid development of websites will allow young entrepreneurs to perfect Internet shopping. For small countries like Barbados, the modern retailer will take and deliver orders from a bond. Right now, there is a Canadian company that advertises in Barbadian newspapers, and customers make all orders via the Internet.

Perhaps, the actions Dennis, of one of our street characters, may explain our larger problem, the challenge of change.

It is alleged that Dennis, who once directed traffic somewhere in the vicinity of the Pine East/West Boulevard, was asked by a neighbour to check a paw-paw and, if it were ripe, to pick it.

A story teller contends that Dennis requested and secured a ladder from under the cellar, placed the ladder on the paling, climbed the ladder, tested the paw-paw, got down and returned the ladder to the cellar, and then asked for a stick to pick the paw-paw.

When the neighbour questioned Dennis as to why he didn’t pick the paw-paw after he had tested it, Dennis is alleged to have said:

“Mam, since when do you pick paw-paw wid ladder. All my years, we pick paw-paw, wid stick. You got one, or do I have to go home for mine?”

Note, that whether or not Dennis used a stick or a ladder, or even considered shaking the tree, he had in his mind what a ripe paw-paw looked like and felt like. And, consequently, his actions were guided by a series of steps that were founded in reality and not theory.

What do you think Dennis would have done if the ladder or the paling was found to be broken? I do not think that he would consider removing any of the rounds of the ladder or the sides of the paling.

Listen in part again to Barrow in his first Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals in 1962:

“The island of Barbados is to a large degree dependent on external trade. On the amount of money which tourist are able to spend in the island, and on the remittances we obtain from relatives, friends and well-wishers abroad. This is not a manufacturing economy wherein people consume the product of industry, and where we get a turnaround of the money in the country entirely independent of external trade.

“The proposals which I intend to make therefore must be read in the context of the peculiar nature of our economy.”

As we seek to restore the balance between income and expenditure of Government, what is our national context? In that regard Government is not an island, it is part of a river whose flow is sometimes compromised by the action of dumping, dredging, rainfall, etc.

The private sector has learned for example, to satisfy their growth needs, and leave the cost of the creation of foreign exchange, the protection of the environment, education and common services to others. Additionally, some of them have divested, regrouped, purchased and sold ownership as a means of satisfying investors.

Indeed, part of the 2008 crisis was the same approach by the private sector that led to the bail out of corporations by government. Barbados doesn’t have that luxury.

Peter Drucker argues that every organisation must be prepared to abandon everything is does to survive the future. I go further, if we therefore see the problem as Government’s responsibility alone, we are making mockery of the investments we have made in education.

The reduction in consumption of fuel we use is under our control. It provides a pathway to shared sacrifice.

Everyone should notice that when schools are out, the traffic flow changes and Government’s fuel bill is reduced, however small. So here are the ingredients of pain killer number 1.

* Formally, introduce flexi-time and extend the staggering of working hours.

* Reduce, the working day of civil servants that will now includes a 45 minute water break, by one hour and maintain same salary levels for two years.

* Introduce one hour of daylight savings time from May to October or put the clock forward by 45 minutes.

* Complete a public campaign that communicates statistics qualifications of the staff of schools and offer tax credits to parents who transfer their children to schools within their zones.

* Find a way to checking and reward car pooling buddy groups.

The significant reduction in traffic congestion levels will increase access to business, allow families to get home early, play sports, go to the beach, plant crops and gardens etc.

Perhaps if Barrow were alive he would tell a story about flying planes. He would argue that as a pilot one had to take risks and one could not defeat the enemy if the plane remained on the tarmac waiting for the wind to stop blowing. He may even contend that the fuel that we burn daily on the streets should be fuelling a cargo ship that ploughs between Barbados and Guyana.

Clearly, Errol Barrow always walked with a thinking cap and not a money bag. Like all stories I predict a happy ending. We all need to stand on the burning deck.

* Walter Edey is Barbados TODAY’s principal writer in New York.

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