Welcome to the ‘banana republic’ of Barbados
I was really pressed for time this week but after a conversation with my wife a couple days ago, I had to share some of her sentiments.
Many of you know that Barbados never had much of an association, if any at all, with bananas. Whilst periodically, there has been some conversation about becoming a republic, that too has never fully taken root in the consciousness of the average Bajan.
My wife reminisced earlier this week about when we were growing up in the 80s and the imagery that the term “banana republic” conjured in our minds back then. She then remarked that Barbados is today exhibiting some characteristics that define the term “banana republic”.
My wife rarely engages in political discussion, so anytime she ventures near the subject, I listen very attentively as any husband ought to anytime his wife speaks. We both agreed that typical banana republics have dictatorships and/or autocratic leaders. Their will is imposed on the people with impunity and there is little by way of strong democratic institutions or civic society to act as a counterbalance.
It is true that Barbados has elections where people vote freely. One can also point to certain institutions which appear to keep a façade of democracy. However, when one looks deeper and critically analyzes certain actions, then one cannot help but conclude that many of our public officials behave in much the same way that authorities stereotypically behaved in banana republics.
Here are some examples. Only in a banana republic could officials refuse to give account of public expenditures under their watch without sanction from the leader.
Only in a banana republic too could an official be told in a court of law to return that which is not his and there is no sanction from the leader, much less be advised by said leader to get a lawyer.
Only in a banana republic would officials, whose responsibility is to serve the public interest, be allowed to own and operate businesses without sanction from the leader. Only in a banana republic could officials lease vehicles for their personal use from firms directly benefiting from Government contracts without some form of sanction to avoid even the appearance of any potential conflict of interest.
Only in a banana republic, too, could public monies not be used for the stated purpose and there is no sanction. Only in a banana republic would officials raise their salaries without any consideration for the suffering of others who have not had an ease in nearly ten years.
Further, only in a banana republic would a Government sell lands earmarked for poor people for commercial purposes.
Only in a banana republic too could a situation arise where an official is acting in a position for a number of years, oversees promotions within the institution and yet does not have the qualifications required for the top post.
On behalf of the people of Barbados, I humbly apologize for this shambolic state of affairs.
This has easily been the hardest article I’ve written to date. The level of introspection is heart wrenching when one thinks about how just ten short years ago in February 2007, we were getting ready to host the Cricket World Cup and there was such a buzz across this country.
There was a sense that Barbados could do anything it set its mind to and everyone was involved in some form or fashion. Back then, the country had purposeful leadership with a vision to move Barbados up to a different level and a higher standard of operating.
Our task as citizens now is to resolve very clearly in our minds that regardless of whether you vote or not, whether you support a particular political party or not, whether you like a particular personality or not, that we would never again allow our officials to lower our accepted standard.
As such, we must be prepared to make changes now to save our beautiful Barbados before it becomes a full-fledged banana republic.
(Ryan Straughn is an UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados- trained economist and endorsed Barbados Labour Party candidate for Christ Church East Central. Email: email@example.com