Dr. Fraser- Point of View
August 19, 2005
Election season

Over the past couple weeks the atmosphere in this country has become electrified with much publicity and even glamour surrounding a number of government projects.

There really was never a dull moment, as these had become the talk around town. We are of course well and truly into election season. And surely no one has any doubt about this for no effort was spared to demonstrate that these were geared to elections. A lot of the rhetoric clearly amounted to campaign speeches. {{more}} I guess this is to be expected but we have to be careful for we are dealing with projects and issues that are serious ones.

Quite a lot of questions are being asked and really have to be asked, for the development of the country cannot be treated like a political football. The development of the country especially when it involves major projects that would tax the capacity of countries such as ours demands to be taken seriously and requires the cooperation of citizens.

Once it becomes a football and is thrown at the public in this way then we are threading on dangerous grounds. Let me be clear on this, matters concerning the development of the country are matters that should enter the domain of election debate. But there is no room now and no atmosphere for serious debate. It has evaporated, that is if it ever existed. Really, it amounts to Mitchell’s “Not Yetters and No Butters”

The International airport is a major project. Certainly all citizens of this country would want to have easier access to international travel. There are of course issues centered on having a jet port or an International airport.

The question is what do we want or really what is possible and at what expense. And I am not here referring to monetary costs but to the other costs the country will have to bear. Taking all things into account is this proposal a feasible one? What does the country have to sacrifice to get it? What is the cost/benefit? To simply throw something like this on us on the eve of an election and not expect certain questions to be asked or the development of a level of sceptism, is perhaps to expect too much.

I have raised before the matter of our ability to handle so many projects at the same time. These are questions that need to be asked and of course there are many more, that of funding for example, for one gets the impression that all of this has not been tied down.

In the Prime Minister’s address, from what I can remember, the private sector contribution was left hanging, with only references to PM Manning putting Dr. Gonsalves on to some private sector persons.

By the way it was good to recognize Dr. Gonsalves’ concern for the ecology of the country. This was one of his objections to the use of Kitchen. I am only sorry that this same concern was not evident in his bid to build a cross- country road. So the hype is going to continue and I am sure there are going to be more announcements made.

While all of this is happening and the energy of top civil servants and technocrats are pushed into selling these projects we have to hope that some attention will be paid to some of our more basic issues.

There are a number of matters that should concern us. The International Monetary Fund’s commentary on Barbados must alert us, for we have to remember what to do when our neighbour’s house is on fire. The IMF drew attention to Barbados’ high debt, large fiscal and current account deficits and ‘build up of public debt’. The IMF prescriptions are the usual ones. They made a call for cuts in funds to state enterprises, suggested that fluctuations in oil prices be ‘reflected immediately in domestic prices’, an increase in cost of major public services, especially water rates and bus fares’.

The Caribbean continues to be in trouble. Barbados has always been hailed as one of the more disciplined and organized countries in the region. This is not the first time they have gotten into trouble. They were only able to avoid it the last time by the serious decisions that Erskine Sandiford had to make and the rallying of the private sector. The continued falling fortunes of bananas and sugar are further complicating the Caribbean situation.

We are not a sugar producing country but whatever impacts negatively on other Caribbean countries would inevitably affect us.

We have really not been able to come up with a strategy to deal with bananas and are left at the mercy of the WTO and EU. Questions are now being raised about the quality and effectiveness of our diplomatic thrusts especially when Brazil and Venezuela sided with Latin America on the call for the lowering of the banana tariffs. But intellectual discourse is now moving to the heart of the matter.

One writer had the following to say, “To be effective, political leadership must be able to respond to the objective demands of a given society…The challenge for leadership is in bringing together the relationships necessary to develop the physical and social infrastructure of the society that will facilitate…the movement ‘to a higher level of integration of the society into the global economy.'”

The truth is that a lot is demanded of our leaders, matters that go beyond political rhetoric or small talk. What is demanded is a higher level of political organization and operation. We are into a different era with different issues on the table. It cannot be business as usual.

The political actors will have to show a higher level of sophistication and understanding of the issues and of the climate within which they are functioning.

The worry is that these matters of vital importance to the future of our country and to the livelihood of our people will be neglected as the struggle centers on the occupation of the political stage. But would the conclusion of the elections change this or would we continue into a political tail- spin, indeed a permanent election campaign? We really cannot afford that, but alot depends not only on the leadership of the country but on the state of public opinion and our ability to rise to the challenges.

The media in particular has a serious role to play but would it be able to lift itself from its present state? As we approach the elections and take in all the talk about projects and who is capable of delivering what, and what is going to be delivered, we have to remember that there is life beyond elections or at least should be.