Time to change the guard
One the biggest travesties about how we continue to organize education is the non-existent compartments we uphold between disciplines. The result is that social scientists, humanities specialists, lawyers and doctors, to use a few examples, seldom see the intersections between their daily professions and others.
This separation is to the detriment of development, especially in a small country like Barbados where the deep interconnections among seemingly unrelated things, can cause confusion and stagnation. Let me try to bring the point to a practical example.
The economy of Barbados has been limping for quite a long time now. In fact, this recession is historically the longest in the post-Independence period of Barbados. There have been economic strategies and medium term plans created but in spite of all this, we consistently receive downgrades by International rating agencies.
The latest has come from Standard & Poor’s with the country’s sovereign credit rating being put on the last rung of the B category. Anything below this rung is seen as substantially risky for business and so Barbados’ ability to borrow and attract business is currently severely restricted with the potential of a further downgrade cutting us off completely.
As we slip further into the mire, discussions continue to abound about what are the right ways to move the economy forward. I tend to agree with the people who see restoring confidence in Barbados’ economy as the first line attack to our worries.
I also feel that because confidence is seen as an abstract and affective thing, there is a tendency to dismiss it as unimportant or not substantial. This is the way in which the separations in disciplines and concepts are played out and we suffer for it. There is no premium to hard math or confidence in an economy like Barbados. Neither the historian nor the medical doctor has all the answers; the answer has to be a sound scientific one based in the historical contextualization which makes it relevant to Barbados.
Confidence is the innermost concentric circle on which an economy turns. Other circles would include things such as setting rules and practices for the Central Bank of the system as well as regulation for those in the money services sectors. It may be easy to define Central Bank rules and guidelines for commercial banks and so on. It is perhaps harder to define confidence as a set of rules or principles and yet, if the innermost concentric circle is not present or is dented, the rest of the economy wobbles.
In all that we continue to do in Barbados, we refuse to address the innermost part of our economy. If we cannot restore confidence to the Barbadian economy, it will not heal. In most endeavours in life, there is a finite limit to the number of chances given for being successful at a task. The average child has between five and seven years in secondary school. A person seeking to be elected to any post is usually given about two or three campaigns and we could go on and on with examples.
The Minister of Finance of Barbados has presided over failure after failure in the recovery of Barbados’ economy and one of the major factors dampening confidence in the economy is that the Prime Minister of Barbados seems comfortable not to put a finite timeline on the Finance Minister’s attempts.
The Minister of Finance seems to have been given the time and space to move from metaphorical training wheels, to a tricycle to bicycle stage in the management of Barbados’ purse. At every stage, there has been little or only anemic gains for Barbados.
Worse yet, though, is that many in the productive sectors have taken a wait and see approach because they are not seeing the level of management they expect at this time, either from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance. The result is that investment is cut off and the productive sectors are not firing.
The Government of Barbados has not made an official announcement but media houses have reported that Minister of the Environment, Denis Lowe, is hospitalized. I wish the Minister all the very best in his period of sickness and convalescence. There is another dimension to the Minister’s absence from is substantive post, however.
Firstly, an acting minister has not been named, at least by way of an official announcement. Secondly, with all that is going on in Barbados, we seem to have a member of the Government side who is battling major illness. This would be the second time in this period of Democratic Labour Party government, where the nation is being asked to bear with an ill Cabinet member.
During the illness of the late Prime Minister, David Thompson, the entire island paused while prayers, patience and support were showered on the Government. While I am supportive of this type of approach as the ‘Barbadian way’ of dealing with sickness and death, there is a price to pay for it. Every time we pause the business of Barbados to nurse ill ministers, the confidence in Barbados’ economy
and its performance is put under further pressure.
We simply do not have the goodwill and savings it takes to be so patient with those in charge of our economic recovery at this time in our history. The international ratings agencies are signaling in no uncertain terms that they do not have confidence in the management of the Barbadian economy. They are unhappy with the several failed attempts to recalibrate the economy.
Unlike the Prime Minister of Barbados, the international ratings agencies believe that there should be a finite number of attempts for a person managing the economy. If the attempts continue to fail, there needs to be a change of the guard to ensure that Barbados is seen as brave enough to fix its own affairs.
We are busy cutting and, of course, cuts are going to be necessary to ensure the streamlining of the Barbadian economy. More importantly than cuts, though, there needs to be serious political will to fix the circles of the Barbadian economy. This is not a time for the Government to insert political games and gimmickry where governance is required.
Barbadians must ensure that they read extensively. We must get the reports of the international agencies and digest these without political spin. This is what is required to uphold and defend the honour of Barbados at the moment. Our dollar is seriously under threat and I fear now it may be more a matter of when than if. But I hope I am wrong. I hope.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.