COLUMN – No going back, no, to Owen!
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur presided over the Barbados society and economy for 14 years and did precious little to advance the economic structures bequeathed to him by the previous governmental administrations of Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow and Tom Adams! (And please note I have omitted any mention of a Sandiford administration legacy, for the simple reason that aside from the establishment of the Social Partnership –– a dubious achievement at best –– the Sandiford Government delivered little or nothing of lasting substance.)
The Grantley Adams administration made a significant contribution by breaking the formal political and governance power of the white merchant/planter obligarchy and establishing “labour” and its organizations –– the trade unions and political parties –– as major national institutions that command national respect. The Grantley Adams era also laid the foundations of the welfare state, and established a national principle of a right to gradual improvement in the living conditions of the masses.
The Errol Barrow administration established a National Insurance and Social Security system, cemented the social-democratic paradigm of the society, and modernized and diversified the economy by fostering a modern tourism industry and a light manufacturing industry.
The Tom Adams administration, for its part, further diversified the economy by fostering the development of the local finance/credit union/banking/insurance sector and by establishing an offshore or international business industry.
Since then, however, there has been a stagnation in the development of the Barbadian economy, and –– particularly over the past three years –– a retrogression in the social sector of our nation.
If we look back over the 14 years of Mr Owen Arthur’s “reign” in Barbados, we will note that there were basically two “new” developmental ideas that he purported to champion: namely, the establishment of a CARICOM Single Market And Economy (CSME) and the development of a cultural industry in Barbados.
Unfortunately, Mr Arthur conceptualized the CSME as a neo-liberal, private sector-based enterprise that would serve as a preparation for CARICOM’s full immersion in a larger, neo-liberal, United States-dominated Free Trade Area Of The Americas. As a result, the CSME idea was robbed of the potential it would otherwise have had to deliver genuine enhanced life opportunities to the Barbadian and other Caribbean masses.
In addition, Mr Arthur took over the culture portfolio from Miss Mia Mottley, but ended up only talking ad nauseam about the development of a cultural industry, rather than actually doing something substantial to make its development a reality.
But to be absolutely fair to Mr Arthur, we must record that he did possess a talent for stimulating commercial activities by pursuing popular consumerist policies that put disposable income in the pockets of the Barbadian people. His policies also did much to expand access to mortgage financing and therefore to a growth in home ownership. However, he seemingly was never able to appreciate how such developments could and should have been made the basis of the development
of new productive economic structures.
In spite of the limited achievements of Mr Arthur’s stint in Prime Ministerial office, however, Mr Arthur seems to believe he is the only person competent to be the Prime Minister and maximum political leader of Barbados.
I would urge any Barbadian who is captive to such a self-negating idea to pay special attention to the long speech that Mr Arthur recently delivered to the Institute of Charter Accountants of Barbados: a speech in which he purported to diagnose Barbados’ economic ills and to outline the Owen Arthur prescription.
When we cut through the considerable verbiage of Mr Arthur’s, we discover that his principal ideas are:
(1) Our Barbadian system of social democracy has run its course and is no longer viable; the Barbados Government should therefore reduce its funding of education and health care and leave it to the private sector and individuals to fill the gaps . . .
(2) In the future, the access of Barbadians to “social services” will have to be rationed.
(3) Government should set about to reduce its debt by inviting local owners of Barbados Government bonds to retire their existing bonds and replace them with bonds of a longer maturity; and Government should also engage in a programme of privatization of state assets and a programme to “restructure” the operations of state enterprises.
(4) While he supports in principle alternative energy, green economy, cultural industry, and food production initiatives, as far as he is concerned, the real focus of attention should be on tourism, and tourism should be developed by providing Sandals-type concessions to the entire industry and by removing the constraints on adult entertainment (presumably casinos and sex-based shows?).
(5) We need –– as a country –– to improve our “ease of doing business indicators”.
(6) He would dismantle any remaining policies or devices that protect Barbadian enterprises (such as bound rates), and he would move with speed to enmesh Barbados in the new
neo-liberal mega bloc trading associations which are being put in place internationally.
This, then, is the supposedly “visionary” programme that Owen Arthur would seek to implement were he ever to become Prime Minister of Barbados again!
Some of it is simply the well-intentioned but meaningless generalities that one hears from just about every politician or businessperson: improve our ease of doing business; give more concessions to the tourism industry; restructure the operations of state enterprises.
Some of it constitutes the worst of the current policies of the existing Democratic Labour Party administration: cut spending on education and health care; ration social services; privatize state assets.
And some of it constitutes the worst of the policies of Mr Arthur’s 14-year tenure as Prime Minister: dismantle protection of local Barbadian enterprises; seek to enmesh our country in a neo-liberal mega trading bloc; privatize state assets.
The only concrete idea of real merit that Mr Arthur advanced in his long and winding speech is that we should borrow the Jamaican example and attempt to get local bondholders to replace their existing bonds with new longer maturing ones.
It is clear to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that Mr Arthur has no prescription for rescuing Barbados and taking it forward.
There can be no doubt that Barbados needs change in general, and desperately needs a change in Government in particular. But it is equally clear that the way forward for Barbados cannot be a return to Mr Owen Arthur and his backward policies.
We must therefore search for a different and better solution to our current predicament. Forward, Barbados!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)