Getting the governance we deserve
British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill once famously quipped that an empty taxi turned up at No. 10 Downing Street and Clement Atlee got out. Barbadians too have experienced –– and endured –– several instances of empty official vehicles driving into the precincts of Parliament –– unfortunately of their own orchestration.
To borrow from a former Republican president, Barbadians should never look to Government to solve their problems. Government is the problem.
We are often swift to praise, and at times rightfully so, the role which successive Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party Governments have played in the development of modern Barbados. Of course, governments across the globe make laws, introduce policies and regulatory institutions designed to benefit their citizenry. It has been no different in this island.
However, it is the people and predominantly the private sector who should take credit for our national development –– despite our political governance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once noted that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. He explained that the ultimate rulers of our democracy were not a president (or prime minister) and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of the country.
Barbadians have generally been at fault in expecting too much of their Governments. It is a situation that has been fostered by politicians who pretend to have all the answers, when in reality, some are actually as vacuous as thistle in the wind. Indeed, at times if there were no Government, we would have very little at which to laugh.
But we reap what we sow, and if every five years we are lured into putting the best of the worst in Government, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves.
One of the greatest failures of voters is not holding their Governments to account at every turn. Unfortunately, we vote along party lines, often oblivious to the policies and philosophy of those for whom we vote; uninterested in the abilities of those who would seek our support; and in some cases, unaware even of the true identity of the individuals to whom we grant our prized mark.
Many of our politicians have fallen short of their promises, or have done great injury to their stewardship. In some cases, they have shown to be less than scrupulous in their management of our affairs. Yet we reward them with more time for embarrassment. Our only excuse, perhaps, is that within the context of our democracy there must be a Government –– good, bad or indifferent.
But how can we explain retaining any Government that seizes land compulsorily and breaches the law by refusing to pay for it? How can we contemplate returning the same Government to power that squanders more than $300 million on failed projects? How can we give succour to any leader who fails to discipline a parliamentary colleague brought to public shame by the highest court in the land?
How can we forgive any Government that has ravaged our agriculture sector? How can we forgive politicians who facilitate construction contracts without a bidding process? How can we be satisfied with leadership that doesn’t boast of achievements, but wallows in lofty verbosity, smug claims of not reading newspapers and punishing dissenters with laughter?
How can we not ask for accountability in situations where some politicians possess six high-end cars, obtained on Government salaries that are common knowledge in the Official Gazette? How can millions of dollars be spirited away from an insurance company and our Attorney General not demand a criminal investigation by the police? How can a state-appointed insurance supervisory body fail to carry out its mandate to the detriment of thousands of policyholders and no heads roll? How can an Auditor General annually expose instances of fraud and blatant theft and yet no one is held to account?
We might be prone to laugh at Government from time to time, but in reality, the joke is really on us. Celebrated United States Justice Louis D. Brandeis is quoted as stating that government teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law, he said. The late learned jurist added that such a circumstance invited every man to become a law unto himself, and invited anarchy. We should therefore be not aghast at anything our Government and our leadership do or don’t. We accommodate them.
We look around Barbados and we see bush growing out of highways; roads in potholes; salaries, wages and tax returns unpaid; sick and unkempt Government buildings; a hospital without equipment and medication; schools without basics; stalled projects here, there and everywhere, and we are reminded of a noted American politician who once facetiously said that one way to ensure that crime didn’t pay would be to put government in charge of it.