Government for whom?
Sincerest apologies for the absence of this column over the past six weeks. I was battling recurring writer’s block and was forced, somewhat reluctantly, to take what proved to be a much-needed break to rest and rejuvenate these ageing brain cells. Thanks to those of you who, on observing my absence, sent emails to enquire about my well-being. The thoughtful gesture is much appreciated.
What really is the purpose of the Government we elect every five years? Whose interests do the representatives we choose to provide political leadership of the Government really serve? Since last week’s presentation of the Freundel Stuart government’s 2016 Budget, these questions have persistently crossed my thoughts. Why? Because it seems the incumbent is not listening the cries of the people.
If it were, we would not be facing the prospect of additional hardship through a further increase in the cost of living via the proposed two per cent National Social Responsibility Levy when an already struggling population made it clear we can’t take any more. Has this tax and spend Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government forgotten that it took office in 2008 on a promise to lower the cost of living?
Throughout most of our post-Independence experience, particularly when the Right Excellent Errol Barrow was prime minister, Barbadians never had compelling reason to question the purpose of the Government they elected or seriously ask whose interests their elected representatives are serving, as is happening today. Our fore-parents could point to many examples of progress, measured by improvement especially in their personal circumstances, as solid evidence that the Government they elected was making a difference in their lives. Few can point to such evidence today.
As we approach the 50th Anniversary of Independence, which ought to be an occasion more for sober reflection than excessive celebration given the dire economic circumstances, it is quite obvious that Government and the broader political system are facing a crisis of confidence. Government is seen, especially by our youth and hard-pressed middle class, as being out of touch with the day-to-day struggle of the average Barbadian. Hence, the solutions it provides are widely considered as irrelevant to our developmental needs and aspirations.
In other words, Government is no longer seen as working for the people. What has fundamentally gone wrong? What is the basis of the mistrust, the cynicism, the chasm which exists between ordinary people and politicians today? What is ironic is that the present crop of DLP politicians are mostly of working class origin and owe their upward social mobility largely to progressive policies by successive administrations since Independence. For example, fully public-funded university education which the incumbent ended two years ago – a decision seen by many young people as a case of kicking down the ladder.
A lot of the mistrust has to do with a fairly wide perception that politicians today, generally speaking, are not genuine in their commitment to the advancement of the people, as their predecessors were, and seek public office to pursue selfish ends and the interests of friends and relatives. Which explains why it has become quite common to hear many Barbadians describe politicians as users.
It is a most unfortunate characterization and needs to be addressed by the political class if it is serious about repairing a fractured relationship with the people. As I reflected on the crisis of confidence in our politics and Government, the need to return to basics became quite obvious. In other words, the principles and values which have underpinned the development of the modern state of Barbados from Independence on November 30, 1966. The political architecture of our country, including Government, was founded on a strong Judeo-Christian ethos. How many Barbadians are actually aware of this?
The evidence is found in our Constitution, the supreme law of the land. It makes clear that we “are a sovereign nation founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God” (my emphasis). It is a most profound statement which implies, when analyzed from a theological perspective to gain a deeper understanding and meaning, that the ordering of our national affairs should be guided by an interpretation of what is the divine will.
Government, seen from this perspective, serves as an instrument through which Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God, works his purpose out. What is Yahweh’s will for his people? Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, provides a clear insight when he stated “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly”. In other words, God wants everyone to enjoy a life of fulfillment and happiness, especially the poor and marginalized.
When Jesus uttered these words, he was not speaking about the sweet by and by, as some are inclined to say, but about the here and now. Seen from this theological perspective, Government’s policies are supposed to be geared towards achieving this objective within a context of social justice where the less fortunate in particular are given a hand up instead of a kick down. It amounts to the pursuit of a just society which our Constitution speaks to and was clearly seen in the progressive policies of Errol Barrow in particular. Given his background, it is not surprising that Barrow would have pursued this kind of development agenda.
Besides exposure to Fabian socialism, Barrow, no doubt, would have been exposed to the theology of his progressive-minded father, Bishop Reginald Grant Barrow, a priest. Barrow’s deputy too, James Cameron Tudor, would have similarly been influenced by his father, James A. Tudor, who was a man with deep spiritual insights. Not surprisingly, Barrow-led governments served as instruments through which the divine will was executed, allowing blessings to flow to Barbadians on many fronts. If Sir Grantley Adams was our Moses, Barrow certainly was our Joshua.
Further evidence of the design of our Government as an instrument for the execution of the divine will is seen in the fact that the policy-making and implementation units are called “Ministries” and their leaders “Ministers”. Both words have Latin origins and a strong Christian association. Minister means someone who serves and attends the needs of others. The concept of ministry – service to others — is central to the practice of Christianity, this island’s dominant form of religious expression. The choice of nomenclature clearly implies that service to the people was meant to be a foremost function of our governmental model.
A government can discover the divine will by listening to the people. The Romans had a well-known saying, “Vox populi, vox dei”, meaning “The Voice of the people is the voice of God.” This government has persistently not heeded the voice of the people. Which explains why there is a lack of confidence in its economic policies; they were formulated without any critical public buy-in.
Solving the economic crisis and placing Barbados back on a sustainable path to growth and development can never be achieved by Government acting in isolation. It can only happen through forging an effective partnership with the people and engaging in negotiation to arrive at a national consensus to inform public policy.
In other words, a genuine people-centred government which empowers rather than pauperizes. A government of the people, for the people and by the people.
(Reudon Eversley, a Codrington College theology graduate, is a political strategist,
strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)