COLUMN – A sure case for change
A defining Barbadian characteristic is our perennial tendency to complain about problems instead of taking firm and decisive action to solve them. This baffling attitude suggests we somehow see ourselves as powerless and helpless and believe deliverance is not possible through individual or collective action.
We have been complaining about high prices for years, to give a good example. In fact, the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) took office in the general election of 2008 after making the high cost of living a major campaign issue and promising that reducing prices would be job No.1, 2 and 3. What do we have to show seven years later?
Instead of coming down, prices have actually gone up more.
Listening one day to an elderly lady complain about the price of a particular food item in a supermarket, I gently reminded her, after she expressed her concerns to me, that she still had the option of not buying if she was so offended by the price. Her response, reflecting surrender, did not take me by surprise.
“Son, what can I do?” she asked. “You and I still have to eat, and we can’t eat the money.”
It is this kind of thinking that contributes to keeping things the way they are. Our predictable behaviour makes it easy for people to have their way and take advantage of us.
When are we going to realize that every time we buy, after all the complaining, we are effectively validating the status quo of high prices? We are essentially saying to suppliers that the prices are okay. By so doing, we undermine our case for a reduction.
Similarly, we have been complaining for years about the poor representation we get from some people we elect to present and promote our interests in Parliament. We perennially complain of “being used” by politicians who can be easily found at election time when they are seeking our vote but are hard to find after accomplishing their objective. Yet we keep electing the same kind of politicians, as if we can do no better.
In a sense, we deserve what we get. As a boy growing up, a life lesson which my beloved late great-grandmother taught me is that people can only treat you how you allow them to. She said it was always important at the beginning of every relationship to establish ground rules, so that everyone clearly understood the terms of engagement. How many of us attempt to do this when politicians visit our homes for the first time to beg for our vote?
Instead, we are restrained by an irrational fear of politicians which we have developed. We allow them to behave as if they are our masters when, in fact, they are still our servants.
If some speak contemptuously to us when we express legitimate concerns or raise valid questions, it is because we have allowed them. If we have had enough and believe we deserve better, especially after the disappointments of recent years, the next general election presents a golden opportunity for a new beginning.
Democracy, based on my understanding of its origins and evolution as a political concept, is about the paramountcy of the people and their interests. It is about people power. Through our failure to demand accountability, and by condoning vote-buying and other insidious practices, we have allowed politicians to hijack our democracy where our interests sometimes seem secondary to theirs. The next general election can be a watershed if we use it to reclaim the power we have surrendered.
Meaningful change has to begin at the constituency level, where people power truly lies, and spread from there across the entire political system. We, the citizens who make up the voting population, are the majority shareholders of an entity called Barbados. Just as the shareholders of a company will not elect any and everybody to serve on the board of directors, we too must adopt a similar approach in choosing our parliamentary representatives.
Our focus must be on determining what exactly each candidate brings to the table that would make a meaningful difference in our lives. We must subject each candidate to an eagle’s eye scrutiny by asking searching questions about their motivation for seeking public office, and what they intend to do to make life better for all of us at the constituency and national levels. If they cannot answer these questions convincingly, their unsuitability should be quite clear.
Because someone is popular at a constituency or national level does not mean he or she will make a good parliamentary representative. More than popularity is required.
Firstly, they must demonstrate a genuine love for people and must be driven by a passion for selfless service. Secondly, and this is especially critical in the context of modern public administration, they should have at least a basic understanding of public policy. Thirdly, candidates should be persons of integrity who demonstrate a commitment to regular constituency engagement –– not through useless branch meetings –– so that they remain in tune with the needs of the people.
Questioning candidates about their philosophy of politics is also necessary. Too many voters fail to do so when candidates come calling.
“You ain’t got to worry about here. The whole house is yours!” is all many voters tell candidates before they move on to the next house.
We should not be surprised, therefore, about the poor representation we receive in some cases. A major reason why political decision-making in Government is so disappointing sometimes is because there are some politicians we elect to provide solutions to our problems who do not have a clue about making public policy. Simply put, public policy is the response of Government to problems or issues that require attention. Sound public policy always draws from a multiplicity of perspectives.
Make no bones about it, change starting at the political level is necessary to rescue Barbados from the present downhill slide! Without political change, there will also be no meaningful economic change. Change is no longer an option; it is a must.
We the people, as the majority shareholders of Barbados, must take responsibility for effecting this change. Demanding a better quality of parliamentary representative to promote our interests is the first important step.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist.