COLUMN – The more things change . . . ?
A leader of this country once said that it was not a fig, plantain or banana republic. “Banana republic” is a derogatory term used in political science to describe a state run in a dictatorial manner. Another feature of a banana republic is that the masses are subservient, and those holding power and leadership abuse the interests of the masses in exchange for bribes and other personal gains.
The measure of how close or how far Barbados is from being a banana republic is therefore quantifiable, based on how much the behaviours in our system mirror the definition of the term.
The reply to the Financial Statement And Budgetary Proposals 2015 was laid in the Parliament of Barbados by the Leader of the Opposition last Tuesday. The presentation of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley underlined what seemed to be irregularities (at best) and “corruption” (at worst) in the governance of the island.
Given the gravity of the allegations, it was surprising the ruling party chose to start the debate on the Budget without addressing the issues placed on the table in the reply of the Opposition Leader. Even as the debate went on, those who did address the issues on the Government side failed to provide the answers expected.
In 2008, the Democratic Labour Party built a successful campaign that eventually won it the Government –– a campaign based on the premise that Barbados’ governance was being compromised by seeming corruption and a lack of transparency. Based on that, a number of promises were made to the public of Barbados, inclusive of integrity legislation, a freedom of information act, and declaration of assets for political appointees and high office holders –– as things needed to correct the system.
Seven years into the leadership of the Democratic Labour Party, most of the matters which were highlighted as urgently needing address, and which the DLP had pledged to address, remain outstanding. The DLP’s commitment to transparency was directly responsible for its success in the 2008 election, and some of the very issues were even reinforced (no matter how slightly) in its last election campaign.
On top of the outstanding legislation and attention to fostering transparency, the Budget Reply has thrown up fresh new and significant accusations about the actions of current ministers of Government.
None of the members occupying the Government benches in Parliament stood on points of order during the presentation. This seems to suggest that the public reasonably should expect answers to several
What are the details of the entity with contracts for Government work that has vehicles registered to it and driven by Members of Parliament?
What are the particulars of the lease related to the molasses tanks which were built in the Bridgetown Port?
Was there a memorandum of understanding signed between ministers of the Crown and any entity with respect to a plasma gasification plant? If yes, whose signatures were affixed to the document?
Was the memorandum of understanding approved for signatures of ministers of the Crown by the Attorney General and Solicitor General as is usual practice?
Is it fact that after agreeing the Sanitation Service Authority should negotiate with a company about the plasma gasification plant, Cabinet had no further briefing on the project (including knowledge of the signing of the memorandum of understanding)?
Has any company been given legal claim to all of Barbados’ municipal waste?
Has the tonnage of waste associated with any plasma gasification plant been increased from 650 tonnes per day to 1,000?
How does the legal bind to waste for one company and the increase in tonnage of waste affect the SBRC arrangement which Barbados is already locked into?
The Minister of the Environment in the April, 2014 debate on the Municipal Solid Waste Tax revealed that Barbados produces 375,905 tonnes waste yearly. When divided by 12 (to work out a monthly rate) and then again by 30 (to work out a daily rate), we produce 1,045 tonnes of waste per day.
Where will the waste come from to sustain SBRC, the current proposed plasma gasification plant and any others suggested by other investors?
Has the overall cost of the project climbed from $480 million to $512 million to $600 million to $700 million?
Has any company interested in a plasma gasification plant on the island been granted exemption from Corporation Tax, Value Added Tax, transfer tax on shares and property, withholding tax on interest and dividends, import duties on waste, tyres or other supply items, export duties in certain circumstances?
Has any company been granted the exclusive right to a plasma gasification plant in Barbados for the next 30 years, such that any other company would have to seek permission to develop any similar projects?
These questions are a small cross section of those which emerged in the Budget Reply. It would seem as if the “irregularities” which the people of Barbados sent a clear signal they wanted addressed and stamped out in 2008 are still firmly with us in 2015. The change of administration in Barbados did not seem to be enough to address the concern. This should be no surprise to anyone.
The legislative and policy changes which were needed to substantively address these “irregularities” were sidestepped by the current administration. Until these measures are put in place, wrongdoing will continue to be a threat, possibly driving up taxation and destroying the stability of a country.
The people of Barbados must now reflect on where their country is philosophically and in real terms. We can no longer be content that “politics doan affect we” or that “all o’ dum is de same”. Systemic delinquency affects every single person living in a country. The argument that “dem do it too” does not absolve any holder of public office from responding to concerns, especially when a campaign of change was the context for being in office.
Where the taxes collected by any government go towards the personal gain of a selected few, the health care system, education system, sanitation system –– every system which creates the social stability
of a country –– is eroded. Where is Barbados now?
Are we sure our island is not being operated like a banana, fig or plantain republic? One thing is for sure, without the engagement and collective questioning of the public, we will not create a safe and stable island for future generations of Barbadians, or address any issues of irregularities.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)