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Celebration, yes, but within wise reason

 Much is being made about Government’s expenditure on the national celebration of Barbados’ significant milestone of reaching 50 years of Independence this year.

The Freundel Stuart administration has a series of activities planned to mark this major achievement. These started with the launch of the celebrations on January 6 and are expected to culminate in spectacular fashion on November 30. Of course, taxpayers –– as they must –– will be footing the bill for this patriotic observance.

Needless to say, the prevailing economic times have occasioned –– with justification –– concerns and complaints that Government cannot afford to be too lavish in its spending on these celebrations. It is very much a situation of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The attainment of 50 years of sovereignty would bring celebrations in any jurisdiction and cannot and should not be ignored by our Government.

We daresay were the Barbados Labour Party the Government of the day, in similar economic times, there would also be an effort to celebrate the milestone in a very significant way. Indeed, any Government of any previous colony would show itself to be insensitive to history were it to ignore such a significant moment.

That, of course, is one side of the coin. The other side of the toss is that Barbados is currently enduring harsh times –– if not desperate. Some, with obvious political agenda, have been critical of Government’s planned series of celebrations from the outset. Others have drawn attention to a number of social services and amenities that are not functioning at their optimum and have suggested that state funds be directed to these areas rather than Independence celebratory “excesses”.

The arguments and reasons against utilizing the expenditure have run the gamut from Government’s unpaid tax returns and unpaid moneys owed to private contractors and service providers, to unpaid moneys owed to temporary workers found across the public sector. For many, this might be a simplistic way of looking at the issue, but in the real world of those enduring hardship, viewing such financial outlay will occasion more than an up-raised eyebrow.

In such an atmosphere, Government must be sensitive to the sentiments being expressed by its people. There should be dialogue between the people and Government. But with a few exceptions, the Freundel Stuart administration has never been overly keen on such discourse.

In many instances, while the likes of Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler have seemingly been willing to engage the public on myriad issues, such communication has had to be prised out of the country’s ultimate political leader.

The truth is that we believe the majority of Barbadians –– if not all –– are very patriotic and would not object to any lavish celebration of our 50th year of Independence. But we also believe the residents of St Joseph, or St Lucy, or St Andrew, who want to join in those celebrations, wish to be able to bathe first before travelling to the location of the event. Those individuals, patriotic as they might be, are certain to be less accommodating if there is no guarantee or hope that the problem of limited or no water supply will not be adequately and
swiftly addressed.

In times when austerity measures are very much part of our existence, and taxation seems to increase at every Budget, the image that Government presents of its financial prudence must be clear or properly explained to even the dullest individual. Unfortunately, this does not always happen with this current political dispensation and it leaves fertile ground for complaints about every social problem –– real or contrived.

Our ministers of Government still attend every international conference accompanied by large delegations where the benefits to the country remain as nebulous on their return as when they departed. And most of this is down to the fact, that with the noticeable exception of Mr Inniss, no one reports to the Barbadian public on what transpired at most of these conferences and what the benefits to be accrued were.

In times of plenty no one pays attention to such details. But these are not times of plenty.

We believe that the necessity for celebrating our 50th Independence is obvious, and we support the initiative to mark it in a significant way. However, Government must be prepared to dialogue with the public on all aspects of its costs, and whether such expenditure will adversely affect the provision of services to the public, or further delay moneys owed to those unemployed, underemployed, or simply out of pocket.

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