The Tom Adams Model

Today, as a public service, we publish the second and final part of the 2016 Tom Adams Memorial Lecture delivered by General Secretary of the Barbados Labour Party, Opposition Senator and former Minister of Health, Dr Jerome Xavier Walcott. The first part was published yesterday.

Starting with the abolishment of the then onerous 5% sales tax, Tom Adams embarked on a path not travelled in which, he said, “the answers are to be found in the formulas of better management and improving confidence.”

He fashioned an advanced approach to economic management that utilized tax breaks to spur investment and build social capacity – moving from taxes as an annual Budgetary punishment, to taxation as a tool for prosperity and what he described as “putting money in people’s pockets”.

From the man, Tom, of whom it was said, “his vast knowledge of the structure and functioning of economics was perhaps the largest knowledge available to this country, possessed by one person”, came the international financial services sector. This remains a significant pillar of the Barbados economy second only to tourism in contributing to GDP.

In fact, it was then that the novel concept of a services economy based around tourism and financial services was born. This thrust took place notwithstanding the fact that sugar production and food crop output, reached new heights.

That period was also characterized by bold forays in developmental economics, fully understanding the role Government must play to stimulate progress. This resulted, among others, in the creation of the Barbados Development Bank, the Insurance Corporation of Barbados, the Barbados National Bank, the Arawak Cement Plant, Heywoods Hotel, the Central Bank and the promotion of the credit union movement as an indigenous alternative to the banking sector.

The legacy of these institutional initiatives was wealth creating opportunities for thousands of average Barbadians which led to more of them, than ever before, owning small businesses.

Perhaps more relatable is Tom’s foresight in creating the infrastructure without which transportation in Barbados would be unimaginable. The Spring Garden Highway; the ABC Highway; the Northern Access Road and plans laid for Highway 2A; Warrens as a town centre with commercial and manufacturing activities; a redeveloped Bridgetown Port and the new Grantley Adams International Airport.

An elderly resident of Jackson described Warrens, as being “cane fields and rock” before the construction of the highway. Tom thought that it was essential to have a direct link between our air and sea ports. He felt that along this highway, manufacturing and commercial activities would spring up.

He conceptualized a four-lane highway; hence, the necessary land acquisitions were made in the 80s and therefore were not required when the country finally got around to making a section of it four lanes, thirty years later. It was estimated to cost $30 million at that time. To make it a complete four lane highway today would cost six-seven times as much.

This was vision.

Reflect on the fact, too, that 30 years ago, Tom Adams, the visionary, was not only speaking of four lane highways but of the impending computer revolution. He stated emphatically in 1985 that, in a few years, computers would replace type-writers on every desk in offices. This was remarkable for at that time the average Barbadian had only heard of this new “machine” called a computer and hardly knew anything about it.

Another visionary idea was his thoughts on alternative energy. We are now wrapped-up in discussions about a green economy and renewable energy, but thirty years ago, Tom Adams was promoting the use of solar energy and tax incentives were introduced by him to encourage persons to install solar heaters as he promoted the benefits of a solar industry in Barbados.

Still Visionary!  In education, there was the new Education Act of 1981, a very much expanded school building programme with 6,000 new places for primary school children, removal of the restriction that led to 14-year-olds having their education automatically terminated, and the awarding of a special scholarship to spur an interest in foreign languages. This move recognized the importance of Barbados needing more of its people trained and equipped to take advantage of the opportunities in the offshore and tourism sectors.

Government housing programmes were massive. Developments included Wotton, Kensington Lodge, Ferniehurst, Haynesville, Oxnards and Rosemont. Together with the private sector, an average of 1200 homes were built annually. The sites and services programme, which facilitated the Barbadian culture of purchasing land and gradually building a house, was introduced. And in another radical move, residents were relocated en masse from the poverty of Springhead to the modernity of electricity, roads and piped water of Sion Hill. Anyone here from White Hill must be apoplectic.

Mindful of time constraints, you can mull over this list at leisure: the National Petroleum Corporation, the Export Promotion Corporation, the Unemployment Benefit Scheme, the National Training Board, the National Sports Council, the new Bridgetown Fisheries Complex and the new General Post Office.

During Tom’s tenure, Parliament was truly a place for the people’s business, an engine for growth with a prodigious output of complex legislation relating to governance, social programmes, business development and new ventures. Included here were the passage of the Family Law Act, Property Act, Ombudsman Act, Companies Act, Immigration Act and Administrative Justice Act.

Ladies and gentlemen, to cover the benefits to Barbadosof the spectrum of Tom’s achievements can, and should be dealt with in a series of lectures; they cannot be dealt with adequately in one lecture.

Time constraints or not, we must pause for some reverence to five seminal ones which focused on the development of people. This is important because Tom not only visualized the development of the economy, but the enfranchisement of the Barbadian society as well.

Each measure shows Tom to be far more multi-dimensional than just the political and economic guru of his time, and reflects an unchanging component of his philosophy; that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “the care of human life and happiness is the first and only object of good government”.

The work of the Adams administration on the Status of Women, leading to the establishment of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, was the catalyst for the women of Barbados to take their rightful place in society in every sphere alongside men.

The benefits of the removal of the concept of illegitimacy through the Status of Children Reform Act will endure as long as there is a Barbados.

The establishment of the Barbados National Drug Service fundamentally changed the lives of thousands of Barbadians, reinforcing one of the basic provisions of Government, the health of its citizens. This was revolutionary in our Region. It is one that should never be sullied.

The creation of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), recognizing the importance of cultural identity to a young post-colonial population and the need for appropriate cultural activities to be organized, supported and sustained. Hence, NIFCA and an enhanced Crop Over Festival with emphasis on developing the local calypso art form.

Coupled with this was the commissioning of the Emancipation statue, a symbol of freedom from the shackles of our history of slavery. This was aimed at instilling in Barbadians a sense of identity. Ironically, Tom was preparing a major speech for the unveiling of this statue when he passed, some six days before the planned ceremony. It is noteworthy that his foresight for such potent symbols was continued by the Arthur administration.

That is why today all of the major national statues in Barbados were commissioned and erected under the BLP. By far, the greatest of these measures championed by Tom was the Tenantries Freehold Purchase Act of 1980. This Act completed the total emancipation of the Barbadian society by empowering thousands of working class Barbadians to own property and enjoy the modern amenities that were mushrooming across the island.

Almost 8,000 individuals were the immediate beneficiaries of this legislation, the core of which was that the land occupied for generations on plantations could be acquired for ten cents – yes, ten cents – a square foot; a price governed by considerations of public policy.

It also provided for tenants to acquire the land they were “working”; with the Adams administration providing services including surveying and conveyancing under the Tenantries Development Act. While 300 years after slavery, the call for reparations continues, Tom Adams institutionalized Barbados’ own reparations to its people.

It is impossible to capture the freeing from the dehumanizing aspect of the plantation system. But the social and economic transformation of the Tenantries Act is there for all to see – and in motion to this very day.

It is doubtful that in the annals of the history of Barbados whether any initiative will be as encompassing, of the scale, or as uplifting of the spirit as the social and economic revolution of the Tenantries Act. On that alone, Tom Adams is incomparable.

These days, we hear about “building a society”, yet this was exactly what he and the BLP were doing 30 years ago. But true greatness is never a result of chance occurrence or a one-time effort or achievement. It requires a multitude of correct decisions for the everyday choices between putting the country in reverse or progress.

If Barbadians came to know first-hand the depth of his great brain between 1976 and 1985, the resoluteness which Tom Adams brought to the nation in spearheading national development was nothing short of phenomenal. It was a time requiring the greatest fortitude. Leaders led and Tom Adams led from the front. He communicated consistently with the people and readily took responsibility.

There was the resolve to hold together the BLP after the devastating loss of 1971 and at the age of thirty-nine, to persevere against attempts to remove him from the leadership of the party. Of course, this is the realm of Party politics.

There was the resolve demonstrated in directing two by-elections and a general election in one year – all of which he won. There was the resolve demonstrated in disbanding the sales tax immediately on assuming office in the midst of parlous government finances. There was the resolve shown in appointing Sir Harcourt Lewis, then Treasurer of the DLP, to be the Manager of the new Barbados National Bank, in the face of criticism from some of his colleagues.

There was the resolve in standing firm, even against his Cabinet colleagues, on matters such as the construction of the ABC Highway. From all reports it was a difficult time in Cabinet. Of course, there was massive criticism from the Opposition DLP. With charges that it was unnecessary and would only serve for the landing of ganja planes.

Indeed, the Rt. Excellent Errol Barrow posited that he would never drive on it. However, his name is now attached to it.  What a travesty! There was the resolve against the push back of many policies by the DLP, ably supported by sections of the media. You would not believe that the Opposition led the charge against the introduction of the Tenantries Freehold Purchase Act. However, they later still voted for it on a division.

And there was the resolve to take Barbados into an IMF stand-by arrangement programme on Barbados’ terms and successfully overcoming the economic hiccup which prompted it. All of these domestic challenges paled into insignificance to the fortitude required of the leader as a number of catastrophic occurrences, with international consequences, called for quick and decisive action.

As Sir Louis Tull said, “before the team could warm their seats in Cabinet”, a Cubana airlines crashed off the west coast of Barbados in one of the most devastating acts of terrorism involving the bombing of an airline in the Western Hemisphere up to this day. The monument at Prospect, St. James, is in memory of that for those of you who are not familiar.

With the then Cold War still in full effect, the dynamics of power relations between the US and its allies, and Russia and theirs, of which Cuba, 90 miles off Miami was one, the crash had the potential to put Barbados in a cauldron in which it would be cooked. Tom Adams’ perspicacity allowed him to navigate this minefield such that Barbados remained an ally of the US and developed strong relations with Cuba.

There were invasion threats from the likes of Sidney Burnett-Alleyne. There was the issue of the HARP gun, another calamity of international proportions, involving South African connections in a time of apartheid and Israeli intelligence. For reference, you can google Dr. Gerry Bull and read of his fate allegedly at the hands of the Mossad.

Tom Adams handled these with the aplomb of a man who was not the Prime Minister of a small, insignificant country, but a leader in the developed world, and maybe even one of the war generals he loved to read about.

And just when one thought his “testicular fortitude” was beyond question, he was further challenged to an extreme, initially by a coup in Grenada when Maurice Bishop and his New Jewel Movement seized power in 1979, and then in 1983 when that communist government imploded with mass executions.

Against considerable odds, Tom Adams forged an alliance first with then Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, and then other regional colleagues to spearhead a US-led intervention of Grenada. Fortunately, Tom had the foresight to establish the Barbados Defence Force in 1979, in the face of tremendous criticism, which was then able to participate in this action.

The circumstances of Caribbean politics and lives might have been so very different without the tenacity of Tom to take a stand for democracy in the region. Tom’s resolve extended to foreign policy, in which, despite the East-West divide, by 1977 he had established diplomatic relations with countries in Communist Europe, not because it was pro-socialist but because Barbados was looking for cheaper sources of imports, for technical assistance, and hoped it could attract East European tourists.”

Clearly, the new direction for Barbados’ foreign relations was tied to its economic realities. Pragmatism was the only “ism” Tom was interested in. An unrepentant regionalist, Tom also recognized the potential of a unified and prosperous Caribbean; more critically, the benefits for regional people.

Speaking at the 5th Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Nassau, The Bahamas in July 1984, Tom Adams insisted that among the Caribbean territories, “renewed fragmentation should be anathema.”

He suggested that insularity characterized by increasing fractureswould “run counter to our efforts at strengthening our external role and promoting our political standing, but it could even make it more difficult for us individually to satisfy the reasonable needs and aspirations of the people we represent”.

So where does this leave us? Unmistakably, the Tom Adams model calls for fortitude – the courage to make decisions in the interest of citizens. As part of the propensity for reinvention, we have moved from “pro-active leadership” to “adaptive leadership.”

Do not be surprised if sometime soon, you do not see or hear being trumpeted the benefits of the “leadership of silence.” Luckily, we already know what those benefits are. What is leadership if it is not proactive and adaptive? Barbados will do well to look to the Tom Adams model to recapture what it is like to lead.

Tom Adams’ phenomenal accomplishments were entrenched in a short nine years. It was an enormous amount of work. The lesson for us is that geniuses also work. Indeed, there is a body of work that suggests you only become great by constantly honing your skills.

Barbados has been described as being in a state of inertia. When we look around, we see evidence of laziness and complacency.No society that chooses laziness, excuses, procrastination and complaining can survive. We must show up for work, whether it is at Parliament or dealing with files. Barbados can only move forward if, from the top to the bottom, we show up for work. And work.

We agree the uniqueness of Tom Adams will probably not be replicated anytime soon. But a large measure of that uniqueness was the fact that not only did he do great things, but he did small things in a great way.

Yes, there was the extraordinary, the remarkable, and the unusual. But Tom Adams also excelled in what is called “secondary greatness”, the issues of REAL LIFE – those things in a country that are relevant; in fact, necessary, for the common and universal good and day to day living.

Can you imagine a Tom Adams administration glibly presiding over the severest water problems for almost two years? The least we can expect from our leaders is to deal with the “issues of real life”, provide at the very least the five basic components for which Government exists – to provide shelter, health care, education, sanitation and transport.

Tom’s indubitable political skills and economic prowess became profound and life changing because he understood that people must be at the centre of development initiatives, and that there must be excellence in delivering the most basic services.

Interestingly, this very point, that development must be built on people’s needs and aspirations, was only made recently by the CARICOM Secretary General while speaking on the 2016 UNDP Human Development Report. That prioritizing informs why the initiatives of Tom Adams remain so sweeping and indelible even now.

In coming years, a new set of challenges will present themselves. Government will have to deal with what the Economist calls “post truth politics” in the age of social media. There will be the challenge of communicating with and regulating the Snapchat generation; e-government and governance. There will be the challenge of the relationship between private provision and public service, between accountability and transparency.

This 50th anniversary finds us very much, ironically, in need of a future. I am suggesting that it is imperative that we reach back and learn from the man Tom Adams and his time. Barbados needs the Tom Adams model. A Tom Adams approach, a Tom Adams vision, a Tom Adams decisiveness, a Tom Adams actualization of the dreams of a nation. I suspect that regardless of the challenges, we will be equipped to deal with them if we are informed by the Tom Adams model.He is matchless as the pre-eminent and most transformative leader in the last 50 years.

So why is John Michael Geoffrey Manningham, “Tom” Adams not among the pantheon of National Heroes of Barbados? Given all that he achieved in eight and a half years, can you imagine if we had Tom Adams at this juncture of our history? Just imagine.

One Response to The Tom Adams Model

  1. Carson C Cadogan September 29, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    What “Tom Adams model”?

    Beating women and breaking their arms?


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