Citizens at the heart of good governance

Barbadians have long been regarded as docile, certainly when it comes to taking action on national issues, when compared to their more assertive Caribbean brothers and sisters.

Hardly would Bajans burn tyres and set up roadblocks to protest a hike in gas prices to force Government back to the drawing board, as their Jamaican counterparts would.

But in recent months, citizens have been coming together in various groups and associations to raise their voices about untenable situations.

Immediately coming to mind is last year’s water crisis which affected northern and eastern parishes.

The residents of St Joseph were not afraid to unite under the leadership of one of their own, Andrew Dixon, to send a clear message that they had had enough after enduring dry taps for weeks on end.

No doubt the persistent pressure of the affected citizens, whether it was staging a demonstration, bombarding call-in-programmes or taking to social media to highlight their plight, forced authorities to treat the matter with greater urgency.

Even more notable than the cry for help was the effort spearheaded by Water Warriors who transported the precious resource every weekend to their water-starved neighbours.

Their action inspired other private citizens and businesses to play their part – a clear demonstration that Barbadians care about each other and that solutions do not only reside in the hands of the Government.

More recently, the island’s deteriorating roads have triggered another strong lobby by residents via social media to jolt the authorities to fix gaping potholes.

Frustrated road users have taken to the Potholes of Barbados Facebook page, created by Chris Brancker, who told this media house it was intended “to highlight the horrendous craters that frequently cost people hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in vehicle repairs” and alert drivers on which roads to avoid.

Again, Good Samaritans were stirred to action. Several citizens and businesses bought the necessary materials to fix the unsightly holes and the Barbados Road Safety Association erected brightly coloured flags along affected roads to alert motorists of potholes, but was forced to abort the move after the Ministry of Transport and Works warned it was illegal.

Again, these efforts gained some response from the Government. Only this week, Minister of Transport Michael Lashley rolled out a million-dollar emergency pothole patching programme and announced that Government has another $4 million to allocate to build much needed new roads.

This fresh approach by citizens of pressuring the powers that be to address key national concerns should be embraced.

It should not be regarded, as some would have the country believe, unnecessary noise about routine inconveniences.

The fact is citizens elect the Government and then fund public services with their taxes. They have a right to be active participants in governance beyond the ballot box.

Modern governments in this 21st Century must undergo fundamental changes. No political party elected by the people can afford to go it alone, without the active participation of those they serve.

For the last eight years, this country has been grappling to emerge from the economic doldrums. Even after a homegrown fiscal consolidation programme that included belt tightening measures – layoffs, wage freeze, higher taxes and the like – Barbados remains precariously on the edge.

We have no reason to believe that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and his colleagues in the Democratic Labour Party Government are not anxious for that elusive economic turnaround, but given the recent dire warnings from the Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell and Tuesday’s downgrade from the Caribbean Information and Credit Rating Services Limited, we desperately need a new approach.

We aver the time has come for the government to stop listening to itself and open up the door to all citizens, regardless of their political persuasion or status, to map out a realistic, effective strategy to return this country to growth.

The examples of citizen engagement efforts outlined before reinforce that Barbadians can and are willing to play their part. It is now incumbent upon the Government to embrace these efforts to lead a turnaround in the face of dwindling resources and increasing fiscal challenges.

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