Taking back the land I
The Barbados Labour Party 76th Annual Conference emitted an atmosphere of expectation, with party stalwart Dame Billie Miller advising the faithful to be ready for eventualities, amid a prediction of economic collapse. Following Dame Billie’s call to arms on Friday by telling the faithful to do footwork in the parishes, economic advisor Dr Clyde Mascoll forecast the country hitting rock bottom.
And an optimistic party leader Mia Mottley, who spent over two hours in an applause-punctuated address, told some 1,000 delegates on Saturday evening at the St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School Auditorium: “I ask you, therefore, will you stand to take back the land that we love? Will, you stand tall and rise up in peace and dignity and reclaim your birthright? Will you join me in the walk to freedom? For the longer we wait, the farther we will be from, and the harder it will be to get back, home.
“Our destiny is in your hands, and if ever there was a time, you the people will determine the future . . . whenever it is your choice, but our destiny.”
Below is Part 1 of an edited version of leader Mottley’s address to party delegates on Saturday.
I have delivered hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of speeches in my 25 years of public life and public service, but never have I had such great difficulty in formulating a presentation, as I did on this occasion.
It is not that I did not know, or did not have, enough to say –– far from it! Thanks to Freundel Stuart and his drifting DLP Government, every single Barbadian can speak for hours on the trends and happenings in Barbados today that concern them.
The reality is that never before have so many been so worried and distraught over the state of affairs in this fair land. Yes, there are a myriad number of social and economic issues of concern to the population, but for, perhaps, the first time since the introduction of self-governance in Barbados, there is growing doubt in the society about the ability of Barbados to bounce back from this current spiral of drift, inertia and indifference in the management of national affairs.
To many, it’s as if we are acting out the title to Chinhua Achebe’s seminal work Things Fall Apart.
So trust me, comrades and friends, my challenge on this occasion was not about having a shortage of things to say or not knowing how to say them. My difficulty was incorporating the views and submissions of hundreds of volunteer speechwriters! Believe me, I never knew so many people in Barbados could write as well as I observed this past week.
I never knew so many people were thinking as deeply as I observed in recent days. I must have received at least 300 texts, emails and phone calls, advising how I should approach this address, and what I needed to make sure was included.
Let me tell you something, brothers and sisters. Barbadians are quiet –– but they are not sleeping! They may not be walking up and down the street, blocking traffic, but there is a growing anger in this country that only Freundel Stuart and his cabal of parliamentarians cannot sense or realize.
Red Plastic Bag said it: Something Is Happening –– and for the Barbados Labour Party, that something is sooooo exciting!!! But I will return to that a little later.
Every single person I met and spoke with in the last two weeks had a take on how I should frame this address. Some wanted me to say just enough, others wanted me to say everything. Some said I should advise the Government what to do; others said I should leave them alone and let them stew.
Many persons –– and I am not only talking about known Labour Party supporters –– of all political persuasions went to the trouble of actually penning me a few lines and sending me notes on just how I should say this and how I should say that . . . . It is as if the entire country is eager . . . to hear someone articulate a position that makes sense –– a perspective that reflects their true fears, concerns and aspirations.
Barbadians are today not asking for much. All they want is a little hope; a little assurance that Barbados, when it finally escapes the clutches of this Freundel Stuart nightmare, can be saved; can be turned around; can return to a land of beauty, a land of splendour; to a land they are proud to call home . . . .
Barbados and Barbadians need to hear and know that someone is willing to stand up for them; that someone is willing to stand in the breach and offer this country the type of leadership that it so desperately needs and deserves. The question was therefore asked: “Who will?” And, the answer overwhelmingly this evening is: “I will! Mia Mottley and the Barbados Labour Party will stand for Barbados and for the attainment of the hopes and aspirations of all Barbadians! . . . .
I know the rumour out there has it that I am at death’s door, and that I have somehow fallen silent because my throat is diseased and my voice is no more. All that I can say, ladies and gentlemen, is that rumours with respect to my health are the product of someone’s very fertile imagination.
As you know, I never deal with rumour and innuendo. I deal with facts. And the facts are that I am in good health and good voice. I am not being treated for, nor have I been diagnosed with any illness . . . . Mia is fine! Mia is fit as a fiddle!
As far as the frequency of my speaking is concerned, the seeming reduction is deliberate. I have appointed a Shadow Cabinet and it is my intention to give members autonomy and opportunity to function. All of the BLP team have their assigned responsibilities and they are all very capable of speaking on behalf of the party on matters within their purview . . . .
Like me, they are conscious of the enormous responsibility that they carry in defending the people’s interests in a time of gross mismanagement and incompetence by the hapless Government we are all called upon to endure. And they are ready to step into the breach whenever our citizens say the word . . . .
On the national front, . . . same story! Same characters! For Freundel Stuart and his hapless bunch, it is business as usual. Talk is now even cheaper . . . .
Politics is said to be the art of repetition. However, there is even a limit to how much you can repeat yourself and expect a different result. That, according to Albert Einstein, is the classic definition of madness.
Every year since 2008 we have had to address the steady and continuous decline of the Barbados economy. Barbadians do not need any more recitations of how bad things are and how much worse they will get, especially with respect to the economy. Barbadians already know. They know –– they feel it.
Daily they struggle to make ends meet. Daily they resign themselves to the fact that they no longer recognize their own country. They feel that this is a bad dream. They want to be awoken from their awful nightmare. But the Sleeping Giant will not set them free!
In essence, Barbadians feel trapped. Trapped by a Government that is completely out of its depth. Trapped by a Constitution that keeps this Government in office not because of its performance, but because the power to decide when an election should be called has been vested in one man –– and one man alone . . . .
Nothing happens under Freundel’s watch. Everything is falling apart under his watch . . . while our leader travels or sleeps.
So today I will speak not about statistics, numbers and formulas; failed economic policies, deficient fiscal and growth strategies; ruthless retrenchments, rising unemployment; escalating acts of violence; the ruination of health care and education; draconian taxation or looming interventions by the IMF.
I am here to ask how much more can you take before you lose all that you love? And also, whether you are ready to articulate and demonstrate that feeling of entrapment . . . .
Given the Government’s determined refusal to accept any sort of good counsel from any quarter during its six years in office, I am now fully and finally persuaded that the most pressing challenges facing this country extend deeper than the economic and fiscal quagmire in which we now find ourselves.
Our problems are rooted in an absence of vision. And The Bible warns us in Proverbs 29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Fellow Barbadians, our nation surely is perishing. It is perishing because it is broken.
What is broken in Barbados is hope. What is broken in Barbados is confidence. What is broken in Barbados is pride.
And as Barbados flounders, many have little choice but to pick up and leave. Stripped of the opportunities that once kept them here, Barbadians, on whom we need to rely to rebuild, are now reverting to the emigration patterns of old and seeking their future farther afield. Weren’t you shocked to hear this past week how many Barbadians are now living in Trinidad
–– of all places?
Barbados is broken because we have saddled ourselves with an administration bankrupt of the ethics, values and principles of good governance that peace, stability and progress demand. The Book Of Ezekiel warns of the judgment awaiting those leaders who exploit and abuse their people [New Living Translation, 34:2 to 4].
“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks . . . . You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.”
. . . No amount of policy planning, no strategic formulations, no conferences, meetings, consultations, no amount of money, no raising of the debt limit, no analyses or prescriptions from a Central Bank Governor . . . can bridge the gap created by an absence of vision, ethics, and leadership.
So I have not come to quote statistics to you today, nor to recite the endless litany of broken promises and failed strategies that shall be the legacy this Democratic Labour Party Government leaves as an inheritance for us, for our children and for our children’s children. Rather, I have come today to pose a series of questions to you concerning what the last several years might tell us about who we are as a nation, who we have become as a people. I want to know who you think we ought now to aspire to be.
I am here to ask you whether you think the Barbados of today truly exemplifies the fields and hills beyond recall the architects of Independence would be proud to call their very own. I want to know whether the heritage this DLP administration has so callously created over the short span of six years is the sort of which you choose to be the guardians, the sort you are content to pass on to the generations now here and the generations yet to come.
Would the Father Of Our Democracy The Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams believe that Barbados has so descended in the eyes of our neighbours and the international community that we are no longer seen as leading from in front as we have?
Would the Father Of Our Independence The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow be at ease with how the party he founded has treated the people of this country over the last several years?
Would that stalwart of the labour movement in Barbados, The Right Excellent Sir Frank Walcott, be satisfied with the manner in which it is now perceived that our unions have allowed the Government to ride roughshod over the Public Service workers of this country while yet seeking to hold the private sector to a higher standard of behaviour than that to which they have held those responsible for designing, ratifying and enforcing the laws of this land?
Would that great humanitarian, entrepreneur, and member of the élite of his time, The Right Excellent Charles Duncan O’Neal, applaud the silence and, indeed, the apparent collusion, of so many members of Barbados’ privileged class in the face of the ongoing decimation of the hopes and dreams of the poor and working class in this country?
Were she with us now, would The Right Excellent Sarah Ann Gill, a woman of exemplary Christian faith and charity and devotion to the principle of religious freedom, not now be exhorting all church leaders to take a stand against the injustices being perpetrated on the poorest and most disadvantaged members of the flock by the present Government’s callous, unapologetic and repeated breaches of faith against the people whom they were elected to serve?
Our National Heroes and countless men and women like them sacrificed their comfort, their safety –– some, their very lives –– to build a nation where we might enjoy the advantages denied them in their lifetime.
As architects of our freedom and democracy, and ultimately, of our Independence, they dreamed of a democratic, independent, just and equitable society where our values, ethics, choices, and actions might justify the griefs they endured so selflessly all those years ago in order that we might survive and thrive, with the courage and the will to bind our hearts from coast to coast in preservation of true nationhood.
Today, we have people in command who do not know what it means to be truly Barbadian. They have wrecked the essence of our Barbadian way of life and are robbing us of our identity.
It is not your birth certificate that determines if you are Barbadian.
Rather, it is whether your soul and your actions reflect those things that matter to Barbadians. And they are reinforced every time we interact with one another. And you would either have to keep to yourself (which our Prime Minister does so well), or be extremely insensitive and callous to the legacy you have inherited and to the people with whom you interact daily to put at risk the soul of our people.
For is that not what this Government has done?
Everything that is germane to who we are and what we feel strongly about has been put on the auction block or gutted. We have been infested by political ticks –– sucking the lifeblood out of our people, and out of everything that is distinctly Barbadian.
Let us look at it in detail.
Fairness and equity. Barbadians believe in fairness and protecting those who are least capable of taking care of themselves. We do not believe in sacrificing the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. We have had over our life as an Independent country the greatest wage equity in the Public Service between those at the top and those at the bottom.
But who has this Government sacrificed?
When the Budget of 2013 was on course to fail, as was the case with the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy and the Revised Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy, the Minister of Finance announced the layoffs of 3,000 Government workers.
And from where were they chosen? From the very bottom of the ladder! People earning $300 and $400 per week.
And contrary to what members of the Government say, the majority of these Barbadians were not spending money at Hennessy Artistry or buying Remy. They were struggling to pay Barbados Light & Power, picking up and putting back down goods at Popular, buying food to prepare lunch for their children at Sawh’s shop or Quimby’s shop in the evening, one day at a time, when they had money.
And should we mention how they were informed. From the Drainage Unit on December 31, 2013, to other departments across Government, workers were told not to work that day or not to report to work on the next day! Shameful! Scandalous! As if the welfare of their families meant nothing!
And worst of all: how were they chosen at the NCC and the Transport Board? Employees with eight and ten and 15 years’ service –– some even more –– were unceremoniously removed from their jobs while others with two, three and four years only remained on the job . . . .
And while the workers of the NCC have been left to their own devices to seek redress from the Employment Rights Tribunal (which cannot hear a single case in the six months since the filing), the members of the Employment Rights Tribunal continue to receive a monthly pay cheque! Can this be fair?
Can it be fair that some of these dismissed workers in their late 40s and 50s are to suck salt and be deprived of ever reaching a full pension? Shameful! Scandalous!
And what would it have taken for this to be resolved? Simply that the Chairman of Cabinet, the Prime Minister, instruct his ministers at the NCC and at the Transport Board (both Government entities subject to general policy instructions of the line minister, according to the law) that he as Head of Government had made a public commitment to the country that in the execution of any layoffs it would adhere to the “last in, first out” policy and would not target sole breadwinners in a household.
Consequently, any decisions made by any board breaching these commitments must be reversed. That is all the Prime Minister had to do. But in a choice between the NCC workers and Minister [Denis] Lowe, he chose to sacrifice the workers!
I am happy that the Transport Board workers have finally received their severance pay, even though it took six months. But what happens to their expectation of working until retirement so as to get a full pension, or at least a better pension? Where are they and the other workers to turn after the Unemployment Benefits & Severance runs out?
That is the record of this Government. One that cares little or nothing for the plight of the people! . . .
Let us consider the unprecedented incentives and tax concessions for Sandals. Not just for duty-free access for all building inputs or food and beverage, but also for concessions and work permits for their non-Barbadian employees, creating two classes of workers in the tourism industry. Special terms and conditions to allow a few to maintain a standard of living not just, but far, beyond the imagination of the others whose misfortune is simply to be born in Barbados.
These special few will get a duty-free car. The non-Barbadians do not have to go to Courts or Massy or Standard and buy furniture, probably on hire purchase; they will get theirs duty-free. Two different Barbadoses!
And while I am on this matter of Sandals, we need clarity on the recent amendments to the Tourism Development Act.
Where is the fairness in telling local hoteliers that they are getting the same benefits as Sandals were given, when neither they nor the Barbadian public, nor Parliament have ever seen or been made privy to the content of the MOU signed by Chris Sinckler and Richard Sealy with Sandals?
I repeat they did not sign it for themselves, but on behalf of the people of Barbados; and it will bind Governments long after they have retired –– or shall I say been removed?
–– from Government.
Where is the fairness when the To Whom It May Concern letter giving Sandals the tax concessions gives it to them as of right for 25 years in the first instance and then at 50 per cent of the waivers for the next 15 years. The local hoteliers must apply and wait for a discretion to be exercised. No clear timelines are given for the exercise of the discretion –– and time is money. And if granted the concession is for 15 years –– not 25 or 40!
And what about the range of products? Those listed for Sandals appear to be wider because of the way in which it is drafted generically, while those allowed under the Tourism Development Act are specific by name and still have to await the exercise of a discretion by the minister. If this is a level playing field, then Death The Leveller shall be the fate of many!
And where is the fairness for the restaurants which cannot or will not be considered as tourism providers by the minister? First, they wait and then maybe yes or no. If no, they buy a bottle of wine at over $10, duty paid, but the hotel benefiting will pay at just over $3 per bottle. If yes, then as a restaurant they too will have a benefit that the vendors at Oistins or Kermit’s Shop or Marshall’s Bar in Holders Hill are unlikely to receive.
Where does it begin and where does it end? Two Barbadoses!
To be continued.