Taking back the land III

Optimistic Barbados Labour Party leader Mia Mottley, who spent over two hours in an applause-punctuated address, asked some 1,000 delegates on Saturday afternoon at the BLP’s 76th Annual Conference at the St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School Auditorium: “. . . Will you stand to take back the land that we love? Will, you stand tall and rise up in peace and dignity and reclaim your birthright? Will you join me in the walk to freedom? For the longer we wait, the farther we will be from, and the harder it will be to get back, home . . . .”

Below is the Final Part of an edited version of Mottley’s address to party delegates.

Mia Mottley
Mia Mottley

Barbadians believe that “manners maketh man”. That when someone writes you a letter, you should acknowledge it and respond –– even if that person is the Leader of the Opposition writing to the Prime Minister.

But we all know that if we had to rely on the Prime Minister communicating for us to eat, we would starve. I can do no better than to be inspired by Duke Check ED Shirt when commenting on the things done or not done by a previous leader of the DLP:

These are the things that Freundel said: . . . .

These are the things that Freundel said: . . . .

These are the things that Freundel said: . . . .

Truthfully, Freundel has so distinguished himself that he deserves to be  recorded in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the most silent Prime Minister ever to have served as Head of Government in the Commonwealth.

We keep looking to him for a response from the economy to Ebola. Not a word is spoken that can calm Bajans, or give us that rare currency of confidence. I say to you today: “Do not hold your breath.”

Bajans or human beings anywhere do not expect stoic silence from anyone with whom they have a relationship. You do not expect it from children, from your parents, from your boss –– from anyone.

We demand that children speak in school or at home. We demand it from employees in their workplace. Refusing to speak is unmannerly. But worse than that there is a heightened state of anxiety in the country and it will only be further compounded by this stubborn stoic insensitive silence. If we were describing a marriage it would be aptly referred to as mental abuse.

The value of honesty and integrity. Barbadians do not like being deceived.

“No layoffs”, “no sell-offs”, “no students’ fees”.

The salt in the wound came for Bajans not only at the realization of this deception, but in the memory, the vivid memory, of the posters of the general election of January, 2008, that dotted the landscape of Barbados: I Shall Not Lie, I Shall Not Steal, I Shall Not Cheat . . . .

We were told then that the DLP should be elected as there was growth but no development. Now we have neither growth nor development.

We were told then elect the DLP so that they could turn Kensington Oval from a white elephant to a cash cow. Now we have Kensington as the poster child of the DLP’s cash flow problems –– not a cent has been paid of the $8.4 million for more than five years and counting to the BCA under the agreement that the DLP negotiated and signed in 2009.

We were told then elect the DLP so that they could introduce Code Of Conduct, a Declaration Of Assets, new Integrity And Public Accountability legislation and the strengthening of the Public Accounts Committee. Instead, we have had a bill to repeal the Public Accounts Committee Act; no Declaration Of Assets, no Code Of Conduct, no accountability to the public and little integrity in the Government’s actions. I should tell you that the PAC has been meeting regularly over the summer recess taking evidence, even though the issue of publication of evidence has still not been resolved.

We were told then elect the DLP so that they could save Barbadians from the plan of the BLP of leaving education to fend for itself. Instead, we now have the students fending for themselves.

We were told that land must not go to the highest bidder. Now we have ministers trotting around the globe to get foreign investment that they cried down in 2007 here with all the fervour of a real estate agent looking for commission.

From Adams to Barrow, Sandiford to Arthur, there were values uniquely Bajan that were held dearly. This is what Bajans believe in. From the markets to the churches, from the schools to the playing fields, from the rum shops to the dance halls –– in our homes –– these have been the values that were reinforced in us that have made us distinctive as a people.

It may easily be said that many of the supporters and members of the Democratic Labour Party of the Barrow, Sandiford and even some in the Thompson era shudder at what their party now represents, and how it has so utterly failed the Barbadian people. Indeed, they find more comfort now with the actions and words emanating from here this afternoon!

I say to them, as I say to you, we need Barbadians from all walks of life to come forward and join together in a movement to save Barbados, and to safeguard our stability. For truly our only asset is our stability.

So I have come to ask whether you count yourselves among those strict guardians of our heritage, those firm craftsmen of our fate upon whom the future now depends. Do you still have dreams? Do you still have “expectations great” for yourself, for this country? Do you have any hope left for your future and your children’s futures?

Barbados is broken. There is no disputing that fact. And I fear that the spirit of the Barbadian people is equally crushed by the political and economic trauma visited on us by the present DLP Government over the course of the last six years.

Faced with such brokenness and despair, what is it that as loyal sons and daughters we all ought now to do to salvage our nation and restore it to good fortune? Will the majority continue to stand in collective silence as the Government remains deaf to the cries of the people?

. . . What are we going to say to God in defence of our stewardship? How do we justify to Him our abdication of responsibility for the state in which this country now finds itself?

When I was growing up, I often heard the old people warn: “God will not do for you what you will not do for yourself.”  Even now, I believe God is watching closely to see what we are going to do as citizens, as loyal sons and daughters all, to restore this country to good governance, to responsible, fair and ethical Government.

Will we continue to be silent, to conspire with the Democratic Labour Party to “mash up” everything Grantley Adams and Errol Barrow and all who came after held dear?

Make no mistake, our country now stands at a crossroads as critical as that at which it stood on March 31, 1938, when the founding fathers of the Barbados Labour Party met at a home in Bay Street to form a political movement to fight for the birth of our democracy out of the historic National Disturbances Of 1937.

Our country today stands at a crossroads as momentous as that at which it stood on a rain-soaked evening in November, 1966, when the Union Jack was lowered and the Broken Trident raised, signalling the birth of a nation and the formal beginning of the first phase of a compelling journey towards national self-determination.

During those periods in our history, we were blessed with visionary leaders who acted fearlessly to champion social justice, free education, improved health care, better housing, and political expression for all Barbadians, unburdened by fear or threat of reprisal. Our leaders of that generation worked to reform the industrial relations climate in Barbados, providing critical leadership for the working class at a time when their very survival was under threat.

For 25 years, with these empowering markers as my guide, I have had the privilege of serving the people of this nation in various capacities within and outside of Government.

I have done my best to serve with humility, with joy, and with commitment and passion, ever conscious of the solemn pact a leader must make to the people she is called to serve.

Leadership is not a right. It is a responsibility.

Leadership is not a career. It is a calling.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart nor the small of mind.

In this, I am acutely aware that God Himself holds leaders to a far higher standard . . . . As such, I stand before you today more sensitive than ever to the weighty mantle that rests upon me as the political leader of this party and the Leader of the Opposition in a nation now beset behind and before by challenges largely of our current Government’s own making . . . .

Sadly, I have lived to see every marker that guided my life in politics now carelessly shattered. This is the challenge that confronts us all as Barbadians –– and in particular the Barbados Labour Party.

We must convince the public that, when given the opportunity, we as a party will not only manage the people’s affairs, but we will undertake the task of transforming this country. This requires of us unity, discipline, commitment and empathy.

We are a family. This party is yours and you must own it.

Be proud of it and do not be intimidated by anyone –– this is your family. Families stick together and stand up for each other . . . .

For the first time in 76 years, I am happy to report that the parliamentary party of the BLP settled and agreed over the summer recess standing orders governing a range of issues, including how we resolve our differences . . . . We do not want to stifle people’s creativity and expression, but there must be discipline if we are to remain focused and inspire confidence in our ability to lead this country. Of this, I am certain . . . .

Similarly, we have completed and presented to the National Council a paper entitled Candidates Selection Criteria. I wish to thank the other members of the Candidate Selection Committee –– Sir Richard Cheltenham and Senator the Honourable Jerome Walcott, our general secretary. The BLP was able to start this process of selecting new candidates last Sunday with Colin Jordan –– a fine young man who has been raised by a community with whom he has remained close and for whom he has a passion to serve. He is, above all, caring, competent and articulate.

I give you the assurance that the BLP will continue apace with our selection of candidates. I am heartened by the interest being expressed by many persons who recognize that this country needs good men and women to step forward and offer themselves for service at this most perilous of times.

Our team will reflect experience and youth, professionals and community persons. It will mirror the Barbadian society. But above all else it will be a team that will value at its core how we relate to and treat people; for without that caring and heart we can never properly represent our people.

This is a solemn commitment I make to you.

Our Barbados Labour Party family must come to be regarded as people who by their actions believe in the upliftment of others –– not just by our words and our policies for Government and Parliament, but by our good works for people too. This was the call to action I made on the occasion of our 75th anniversary.

We must be committed to easing the pain of our neighbours in whatever small way we can –– so that they may rest easier at night. For it is in the little things that we do that we come to be known. It is also the little things that inspire people to join us and to be confident that working together we can wrestle down the large problems . . . .

Doing it differently. Many of you have asked, and continue to do so: “But what can you do differently?”

It is critical that you know that there is a different path and a different way. Yes there is.

We are clear that our most urgent priority must be the stabalization of the Barbados economy while laying the foundations for the return to growth of this economy. It is like a patient who has colon cancer but is bleeding out. You need to stop the bleeding immediately if the patient is to survive the next few days; but once you do that, you have to deal aggressively with the cancer, if not the patient will still die in a few years.

It is not a simple exercise, and requires many different inputs and skills. The public finances would be akin to the bleeding, and the ridding of the body of cancer would be akin to the restoration to health and growth of both the foreign reserves and the economy.

Accordingly, the economic team of the BLP has been working assiduously for the last 18 months monitoring and analyzing what we can, and planning for what we know will inevitably befall the nation. We understand what has to be done and we are prepared and ready to do it whenever the people of Barbados say they are ready for us to do so.

The first thing therefore that has to be done is to deal with the public finances of this country. Any serious effort to address the issue of public expenditure management will necessitate multiple approaches. What is the purpose of Government in the second decade of the 21st century in Barbados? What is absolutely essential? What is highly desirable? What is optional and may be better delivered by someone else? What is optional and may be deferred?

This is an urgent exercise which must be undertaken and will be undertaken with our guidance across all sectors of society. And there is a very good reason for this.

There is no doubt that there must be sacrifice; but the burden must be fairly shared across the population according to what each individual can bear. It cannot be done simply by arithmetical cuts, as if there is nothing to defend in this society and economy, or as if there is not a distinctive Barbadian DNA to be protected.

When an inclusive and transparent process is undertaken people are vested with the will to work towards the attainment of the goals set. For it is not only what we set out to do, but how we do it. Life is about hard choices and we must make those choices collectively as a people for they will affect us all.

Similarly, we must urgently reduce the cost of our debt service. We are now spending the same amount on servicing our debt as we spend on wages and salaries in Central Government and our statutory boards. We need to restructure and refinance our debt to give us the elbow room we will require in the next three years to restructure our economy.

We will still have to borrow, but it cannot be for wages and consumption. It has to be for developmental purposes, as we consistently did as a country prior to 2008. We need to ensure that we pay for our current expenditure out of our revenue and that we generate sufficient revenue to contribute to our capital projects that are so necessary to fuel growth.

We must also make serious decisions on what assets and services may be better owned and managed by others in this society. We need to enfranchise ordinary Barbadians across the board to step up to the plate and grasp the opportunity to assist in building out Barbados. It cannot be and must never be the preserve of a few, as this Government is intent on doing in its divestment programme.

We have engaged in the process of enfranchisement as a nation across both political parties for the last 75 years –– political enfranchisement, worker enfranchisement, social enfranchisement, economic enfranchisement. The mission is not completed and must now be pursued in a manner that is consistent with the empowerment of Barbadians across the board.

In so doing, we will bring back stability and confidence to our public finances. This will allow us to access the capital that we need to fuel growth across the board. For the denial of access to credit is starving not just the Government of oxygen but also our private sector which must take the lead in growing this economy

We are confident that these actions will give us that elbow room which we so vitally need to restore stability and lay the platform for transformation.

Equally, as we work to do these things, we must address a few key matters. First and foremost is the issue of our energy policy.

The cost of energy affects every business, every household. It impacts on the state of our foreign exchange. It must be a holistic policy that seeks to keep the costs realistically affordable, that builds out both our offshore and onshore drilling and that develops our renewable sources to the benefit of Barbadians as investors and consumers.

We have already indicated that our pricing and taxation policies must reflect the first goal of making the costs of electricity, diesel and kerosene affordable. It is for this reason that we have warned Barbadians that the sale of Barbados National Terminals Co. Ltd is likely to lead to an increase in prices at the pump and for electricity as the mark-up in our current pricing structure only allows BNTCL a tiny return on capital –– or about two per cent. This is unlikely to be acceptable to any private sector investor.

This is the consequence of selling this particular asset at the very time when Barbadian businesses cannot absorb any further hikes in their cost of living. We are already baffled as to why the continued decrease in energy prices internationally has not led to a substantial reduction of prices at the pump and in the fuel adjustment clause in the electricity bill.

We are also clear in our minds that tourism will lead our recovery effort. But there must be clear goals and strategies to arrest a decline that has now become chronic. We need to believe in ourselves and know that we can set a goal of one million long-stay tourists by 2020 and a minimum of $4 billion in earnings from the sector.

This will necessitate improving existing product and building out new product –– not promising to do so every three months for the last three years. To do this, we have to aggressively unlock access to capital through creative means. We have already announced our commitment to the establishment of a National Tourism Refurbishment Fund. We need to properly provide for the funding of our marketing and be creative in how we do it.

Similarly, we will address the issue of airlift capacity. Creating new institutions and overlapping layers of bureaucracy are not the answer. Smart and technologically savvy approaches can be found. It is not beyond us.

Similarly, our whole approach to agriculture must change. Yes, we must maintain a sugar cane industry, for it is vital for the maintenance of our ecology, for crop rotation and to extract the greatest value added from the manufacturing of sugar and rum. However, we need to create the environment where Barbadians see farming and fishing as viable entrepreneurial activities to assist in our goal of food security.

Similarly, all must and will be done to ensure that persons are not robbed of the fruit of their labours. This has to be undertaken through dedicated enforcement and a re-education of our people as to the stake we all have in farmers being able to legitimately benefit from their labour by reaping what they sow.

I could go on and on with respect to international business and the need to diversify into niche sectors like asset management and arbitration, especially as we face continuous global assault on our policies and tax regimes. Or why we must become a major hemispheric transport hub. Or how our manufacturing must be premised on the symbiotic relationship that already exists with our history or our way of life –– rum, Bajan sugar, furniture, sea-island cotton, peppers –– but we must take it all to a new level in terms of re-engineering and design while guaranteeing access to capital so that small and medium-sized businesses working collaboratively can change the profile of the sector.

Equally fundamental to our transforming the economy and its costs is a deconstruction and a reconstruction of our regulatory environment. What is the public mischief we are trying to correct? And given the substantial improvements in information technology and our commitment to e-Government, can it be done in a manner that reduces the costs and burden on the person or entities being regulated?

All of this we can expand upon at the relevant time . . . . But what matters is not only what we do, but how we do it and who does it. This is the critical point. Equally, there must be an urgency and a responsiveness in all that we do; because as a country we are almost out of time.

There is never a shortage of good ideas; but we define what is it we value and we want to protect and build upon. Why it is critical that as we attract foreign capital to rebuild our nation we creatively find opportunities for persons and businesses with local savings to invest here and indeed in the wider region. Why there cannot be a continuation of this Government’s policy to concentrate wealth creation in the hands of an absolute few who are already flowing in cash. Why it matters that we commit to the provision as of right to the unfettered access to education for all young Barbadians for our future’s sake.

Similarly, in case we forgot, we now know that Barbados must have a robust public health system if we are to survive and thrive. And it is a priority on the public expenditure as is the maintenance of a safe society.

In this case, we must meet our commitments here and with respect to the alleviation of poverty through undertaking capital projects that are better suited to small contractors by their definition. We benefit both in terms of our social goals and the stimulation of economic activity.

And, equally, we must wrestle the difficult issue of the financing of health care as an absolute imperative, for Barbados must cease being a country where having money determines who will live and who will not. There are only four options for the financing of health care, and we must settle as a people once and for all on which one we want to pursue.

Yes, colleagues, there is much that we can do differently, and that we can do better. Ask yourselves a simple question: what do we expect when we elect a Government to run the affairs of our nation?

Do we not expect our Head of Government to be a strong and decisive leader, capable of inspiring confidence in those he or she leads, both within the Cabinet and in the country at large? Do we not expect him or her to treat us like the educated, thoughtful adults that we are?

To listen carefully to our divergent views and concerns and weigh them all in the balance before devising and enacting policies that will directly impact our well-being?

. . . To have the sense to know that all human beings are fallible, and the courage to acknowledge mistakes and change course when the vital interests of the nation are at stake?

Do we not expect to have a Cabinet, of a size that we can afford, made up of individuals of commitment and integrity?

Do we not require that they have the competence to manage our economic and social affairs, and to do so with certainty of purpose and coherence of policy?

Do we not expect them to pull as a team, and to speak with one voice, not break for themselves in a mad dash for self-promoting headlines?

Do we not demand that they remember that their sacred calling is to serve the public good; not their own self-interest?

. . . There is indeed a different path and a different way. I hope it will not be long before the people of Barbados give me and the BLP team the opportunity to prove this to you.

Many believe that simply by articulating alternative policies the BLP can make change happen. Well, we have been doing so since the disastrous 2008 Budget, but nothing we have said or warned has been heeded.

The simple fact is that we have a fundamentally different approach to the management of Barbados, both as an economy and a society, and the people now know, through painful experience, which approach has delivered successfully for them.

But it is important for the people of Barbados to understand that, at this juncture, alternative policies can only serve as exercises in frustration when those proposing them have no authority to implement. It is up to the electorate of Barbados to entrust us once again with that solemn responsibility. Until then we are merely spitting in the wind.

It is important, too, for the people of Barbados to understand that it is not solutions that we lack. Day after day, week after week we hear suggestions from all quarters on what we in the collective must do, followed by lamentations on what has not been done. We receive thoughtful positions from the private sector, the unions and civil society, and from credible international institutions; but little happens to translate them into action.

For, regrettably, solutions do not function in a vacuum. To bring sound ideas to fruition requires an enabling environment that responds to our most critical risk factors: the ability to inspire, the ability to mobilize, and the ability to execute.

Let me repeat: ideas have never been our problem. We have them in abundance. The issue is not what we have to do, but how we do it, and who we choose to get it done, and get it done right.

I am convinced that all patriotic Barbadians believe that they have a stake in bringing Barbados back from the brink and then taking it forward again. They want to play their part, but they don’t know how. They are crying out for positive, motivational leadership. And they are certainly not finding it on the Government’s front benches.

To the colleagues assembled here, and to the people of Barbados, I come to you with one simple message. With deep humility but passionate conviction I say to you: I am ready to fill that void. For 25 years I have served my apprenticeship. I have listened, I have learned, I have formulated and implemented policy, and I have managed change.

I believe, in all sincerity, that I understand a lot of what has to be done, not just to rebuild this economy, but equally to restore to the Barbadian psyche that vibrant confidence and spirit of self-worth that six years of oppressive, unjust, uncaring and incompetent Government has stripped to the core. Above all, to give the people back their hope.

I believe I know what has to be done, and I believe I know how to do it. It is not about solutions in the abstract. It is about building a platform for recovery that everyone can understand and relate to. It is about leading in a way that is transparent and participatory, that inspires others to come on board not for personal gain, but for the simple pride they feel at playing their part.

It is about mobilizing the patriotism of Barbadians everywhere, about reviving the values of community, of compassion and of love for one another. It is about national partnership to create a shared vision for the future of our anguished country and its despondent people. It is about changing despair to hope and fear to inspiration.

It is, in short, a Movement For The New Barbados.

I know that at the political level the great party that I have the honour to lead is building the right team to take the country forward. I know that within the Social Partnership there are many constructive and innovative views just waiting to be treated with seriousness and respect. And I know from my conversations with the tourism sector, our large and small businesses, our farmer s and fishermen, our church leaders, our artists and sportsmen, the youth, the elders and other civil society partners, that they too are committed to making a difference.

Together we can do whatever we dream, but we must be determined to do.

My commitment to all Barbadians this afternoon is to recreate a Barbados that we can all once again believe in, a Barbados that works, a country in which we are once again our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. This is the Barbados that your parents and grandparents believed in and held dear; a Barbados I have worked my entire professional life to uphold; a Barbados that you can also embrace.

I commit to you this afternoon to work every moment of every day to rebuild this nation, to once again punch above our weight, to forge a new positive destiny for each and every citizen for decades to come. To shape a model for development in which each and every “Bajan” born here or naturalized can find his or her rightful place and true calling.

A nation that empowers all and limits none. We will work hand in hand with all of our citizens to build a Barbados that is the smallest fully developed nation in the world, and the envy of those in the developed world. Our call will not be “Yes, we can”, but rather “Yes, we will”.

I pledge to you today to work to ensure that we have always the best people in the right places in Government and to partner with the leaders at all levels of the private sector, the unions and civil society to guarantee that the same is replicated all across this nation. We will work to create a true performance based culture that rewards excellence and encourages all citizens to strive for distinction.

Our Barbados will be one in which we will choose methods of communication which are easily accessible to every citizen and in which a two-way flow of information is even and consistent. Barbados will once again become a country in which our citizens go about their daily business with a sense of urgency and purpose.

I vow today to place you –– our people –– at the centre of all that we do, to listen to your wants and needs, and to do our best to cater to them. This is my solemn pledge to you: to walk with you always not only as a leader, but as a confidante and as a friend.              

I want to make you feel safe again in this country . . . . I want to make you feel confident that you can go about investing your savings, knowing that we will not pluck them from you with new and higher taxes that leave you at the mercy of the elements.

I want to make you passionate about the Barbados we knew –– the Barbados that was good to us and the Barbados that is the only home we have.

It is not our fault that this Government has brought us to our knees; but it will be our fault if we remain on our knees.

So tell me now, citizens of Barbados, where do you stand? Are you ready to do your part to rescue Barbados?

Nothing can happen if you talk but do not act. For we are not a nation of factions, of political tribes. We are a people sharing a common set of values and aspirations. And we rise and fall together.

So will you stand with us to take back the land that we love? Will you stand tall, rise up in peace and dignity and reclaim your birthright? Will you join me now in the walk to freedom? For the longer we wait, the further we will be from home; the harder it will be to find our way back.

Will you join the Movement For The New Barbados?

Our destiny is in your hands. You the people. The choice is yours!

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