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Being self-led

by Walter Edey

Great political questions stir the deepest nature of one half the nation but they pass far above and over the heads of the other half – Wendell Philips.

Everyone now needs to become a self-led organisation.

Perhaps, except for the presumed silence of Prime Minister Stuart, I cannot recall any public statement in recent times that enrolled the nation, that caused people to stand up, that created noise and fringe groups or provided a conceptual framework upon which a society can be transformed — diddlely squat, nada, nothing.

I therefore continue to ask: How long will we continue to look in the light for something that we have lost in the dark? What will it take for us to understand why Shakespeare hated ingratitude in man more than lying, vainness, drunkenness, or any taint of vice, who strong corruption inhabits our frail blood? Will it take pestilence?

It is regrettable that the current public debate (Budget debate included) about how we should handle existing circumstances continue to be framed in the short term, in narrow context of government and without due regard to our achievements as a society and the many assets that we have in our cupboard.

Indeed, the unsaid and the sleepers we are afraid to touch now form a far greater deafening silence than is perceived as lacking in Stuart’s leadership. In the final analysis, Stuart is the mirror through which many now see themselves. Clearly, the change we seek must begin with a shift in how we see ourselves and what we are prepared to do. We need to reinvent Barbados through the process of public education and that includes everyone.

The current reconstruction project of the Constitution River provides a perfect example of how we think and make decisions. I have heard no major protest, so I am going to presume universal buy in. In the short term, the project provides work and wealth and will beautify the City and its environs.

However, it does not appear to be part of a long term project that acknowledges the historical and ecological purpose of the river — to collect and transport water as part of a larger vascular system. Neither has anyone connected the absence of river (or water pathway) to the man-made levies that have been constructed over the years — the blockages that the highway and housing developments have created and which now make flooding a greater threat than hurricane winds.

When the flooding occurs, and it will, will we remember that it was the collective decisions of successive Governments and buy in by the public or, will we blame the Government of the time?

As with our water pathway, economies have structures and pathways that move economic, social and political activity throughout a society. Over time they become blocked or the existing channels are unable to carry the flow. The current adverse situation has hastened the decrease in flow of activity in our economy. Only the evolution of the structures will increase flow.

And like the river path, everyone has had a hand in altering the flow of the river. It was our desires that led the way — we wanted new roads and houses and there is nothing wrong with that. What we didn’t get was that the geography of the island also matters. If we understand this connection, we get to see how lucky we are. The major adjustments that we have to make are within our control.

The essential debate must be about and flow. As vague as the future appears to be, we need to connect to it, for it is the only meaningful context. If we remain hooked on the present and we will continue to connect to open our box of fears.

We need new and generative language and enroll the public. The discussion must move from the corridors of politics, the homes of the private sector and the pedestals of the union chiefs into the marketplace. That is the only way our future can be put on sale.

The questions of laziness, productivity and quality are cases in point.

The retail sector is a large part of our economy. A large part of this sector import goods and resell them. If we track imported goods we will notice that goods flow through these structures: the port, a storage point or a secondary redistribution point and retail outlet, before reaching the customer.

In this flow process Government levies duties and taxes; business adds the cost of handling, costs, wages and markup etc. The only real added value is the customers’ access to something they want. There is no production line.

And, at no time are goods sampled to see if they meet quality standards so that corrective measures can be taken before they reach packaging stage. In these circumstances, how does productivity or quality become relevant?

That discussion is simply a myth. Nothing is being produced. At best, we can only speak of about efficiency. Additionally, the points of leverage are now tired or the source of conflict.

For example, the unions and owners have flogged most of the known motivators — equal pay, car, allowances, and travel etc. The only one left is share capital, but there is nothing being produced to tie it to. Furthermore, today, because the union and the Government have fought for workers, many of them feel a sense of entitlement, and some go as far as linking it to the fact that they are educated.

The crux of the matter is that the businessman wants to continue to increase or maintain in profit and the customer wants cheaper prices. Neither the customer nor the business takes any responsibility for social needs or concerns. This creates the space for a government to argue and believe that it has to take care of transportation, garbage, environment, security and foreign exchange.

In this scenario the Government is handcuffed and the business is in a vice grip, the water forms puddles and pools that gather moss. Then, some look into the pools and puddles and as they see their diminishing profits, they cry: “Leadership, where are you?”

This is an unsustainable situation no matter whoever is the governing party. But which government is willing to touch this hot potato, especially when the said imports fuel the tastes of the voting public?

As I have written before, the genius of Errol Barrow provides a pathway. In the 1960s our economy was stagnant and flat. The removal of school fees, redirected the flow of students, created a demand for higher education and laid the foundation of UWI, Cave Hill as we now know it. The efficiency of our education system can now be tested by its proximity to the shape of a pyramid.

In real terms, the challenge for Government or private sector is to look for ideas and projects that create space, build networks, and promote flow. The caveat in this suggestion is that we are primarily a society of imitators and do not naturally think outside the box.

So here are a few generative projects: Zero garbage, flexi working hours, daylight saving time, 35-minute access between any two points in Barbados, land share farming, outdoor kitchens, an intellectual property bank, a national cultural bank, mobile police stations and restaurants, art studios and auditoriums in schools instead of art rooms and school halls, farmers mini marts and a worm train line.

Note the Barrowisms in all the projects: they all appear impossible, they impact on the society as a whole, they can be done in stages, they link existing activities, and they create economic activity networks.

The outcome of the implementation of many of the above would be a significant reduction in our fuel bill. For the doubting Thomases I will illustrate how flow is generated.

The minister of education mandates that all art rooms should become art studios that document and interact with community in which they exist. Annually the studios will participate in regional and then a national art show. The minister could mandate that a test piece should be done on or use residual material — card, cloth, board etc.

Finally, if we say that Barbadians are lazy and unproductive we fool ourselves, we show a lack of understanding of the ebb and flow of our economy. If we can’t identify, understand, and evolve the structures that make our goods, services and money flow, we will never be able to create a different future or a better way of life. And if we fail to accept that this period of time is a turning point in world history and no longer a recession, the conversations we have will have no relevance.

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