COLUMN – Why back to the polls now
I am taking up the challenge of a friend for this week’s column. We were having one of our usual discussions about the political crisis in which we find ourselves in Barbados. He is a young accountant with several entrepreneurial endeavours. Let us call him Ted, for the purpose of this article.
About a year ago, Ted and I decided to start a “group”. We were not trying to establish a new political party as much as we wanted to start a political entity that would serve to sensitize young people to their role in governance and democracy. The group got submerged in the humdrum of our usual lives, but it is still a project we should conclude.
Ted asked me to create a list of reasons why I believe an immediate election should be called in Barbados. I do believe that an election is a part of the mechanism to rekindle confidence in Barbados as a social and economic space. I do not think that the people who say an election is not possible because of the cost of the activity understand that there is also a cost of not having an election.
Since both options have a cost, it is then to determine which option is the more costly. Barbados’ economy is stagnant and the society has deep-seated and complex issues that are mushrooming in the home and school –– and at community level.
We have all been sideline players up to now. The majority of us have been lounging. We expect that somebody else will either fix our problems for us, or we elect to “wait it out”.
Another issue which Ted put on the table in his challenge was for me to explain why the Leader of the Opposition was not doing more to “speak out”. He was adamant that there was not a single person he knew in his various business circles who was satisfied with the running of the country, and yet the Government remained.
I responded by telling Ted that the last point was an indictment of him, and me, and every young person or businessperson in Barbados with anything to lose when –– not if –– when our dollar is devalued. That we sit by either too unconcerned, or too “frightened”, too uneducated or too full of free education to be able to analyse the situation has nothing to do with the Leader of the Opposition. That is all on us.
I pointed out to Ted that the Leader of the Opposition was talking; to the point where she is was often accused of wanting to destabilize the Government. The loud silences that Ted hears do not emanate from the Leader of the Opposition. They are the gaps where “the beloved church” is missing; the unions, mum; and the leaders of non-governmental agencies, nowhere to be seen.
The politics of inclusion and the politics of the two-party system have destroyed the organs of mass dissent. To ask the Leader of the Opposition alone to fill that void is to attempt to absolve ourselves of a responsibility that comes with the rights of citizenship.
For Ted –– the reasons I call for immediate elections in Barbados:
When Barbados went to the vote in 2008, it was on a campaign built on integrity and accountability in public office. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and its major campaigners had identified major areas of concern in how business was being conducted in the country. Barbadians voted for the party which it thought had recognized the issues we were having with governance and had a plan to fix the issues. With the death of the chief campaigner David Thompson, the focus on fixing the issues of governance changed.
However, 2015 Barbados reveals that those issues of governance which the masses took their eyes off of are still with us and their resolution remain urgent and paramount. Thus the Democratic Labour Party has proved itself no better than the 2007 Barbados Labour Party in terms of fixing the issues of governance, and we need and immediate election to give us a Government prepared to address the issues of governance.
The campaign in 2013 was mounted on a platform of the incumbent Government preserving the levels of employment, Government-subsidized education, transport and health care.
Nothing significant has changed between the outlook for Barbados when that mandate was proposed and now.
In spite of international trends the electorate was ensured that Barbados’ problems were only due to the economic turmoil of 2007/2009, and once the world righted itself, so would we. It is now 2015, government measures in the United States and other economies have slowed the financial fallout if not completely rectified the issues. Barbados is seeing no such recovery.
Thus the Democratic Labour Party becomes a Government without mandate because they chose to present plans to Barbadians which they should have known would not have been possible in 2013 or 2015. Since our system is based on voting for a party after perusal of a set of plans and policies, any party that changes the course as drastically as this Government has should seek a new mandate through an immediate election.
Since the alarm was raised (partly by the said campaigning DLP) about the economic situation in Barbados, the fiscal deficit has not fallen or the economic or financial outlook improved.
In 2006/2007 fiscal year, the deficit represented as a percentage of GDP was 2.6 per cent. In the fiscal year 2013/2014 it had risen to 12.3 per cent.
For the first three quarters of the current year the figure stands at seven per cent. Thus the financial and economic indicators for Barbados all continue to point in the wrong direction. The Democratic Labour Party remains comfortable with its policies and seems unwilling to change its course.
We need an election to find a Government willing to listen to stakeholders, including the business sector and international rating agencies and economists.
When the Democratic Labour Party came to power, it defined itself as a Government concerned with not just building an economy but also a society.
The societal indicators are also showing quick decline under the current Government. The health care system is teetering. The education system is in shambles. The crime rate is escalating and (young) people are losing hope because both job and educational opportunities are dwindling.
Thus on the matter of society, which the Democratic Labour Party singled out as critical, it seems like the performance of the Government is no better than the performance on the economy. An immediate election is needed to restore hope and confidence in the citizenry of Barbados in order to reverse the atrophy plaguing the major systems (education, law and order, health care) which support the Barbadian society.
The level of corruption in Barbados came under scrutiny as a part of the 2007 Democratic Labour Party Campaign.
As the subsequent years roll on, the situation with corruption is not getting better. There are the same concerns about how the court system works and how the Government purse is treated. This situation proves that the solution was not in changing the Government alone.
We need to change the way that politics is administered in Barbados. The current Government would not even initiate the discussion. Thus the Democratic Labour Party seems to have become comfortable with the system as it is.
The people of Barbados still need an election to find the people willing to address the rot in our governmental system.
The result of the last election was a statistical dead heat.
Had it been academic research, the experiment would most probably have been run over if the researcher wanted to claim a “conclusive result”. For any Government to be comfortable taking power with such a result is worrisome. Thus a new election seems due because the majority of the people in the democracy now seem unhappy with the course of the Government; and, in the context of its slender majority, returning to the polls is the moral thing to do . . . .
The moral thing to do –– hmmm –– but then again . . . . You know what? I’m done there.
What are your reasons for thinking a general election is due in Barbados?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)