After every election, certainly in the Caribbean, but also in much bigger countries as well, there is a feeling of euphoria in the winning camp, almost as though all (good) things are possible and that the sky is the limit. Expectations are especially high, though many of these are personal and selfish and bear no semblance to reality.
This is the situation facing the new Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration in Barbados following its clean sweep at the polls last week. Things had become so bad in that country, long considered a “model” for democracy in the Caribbean, that one could sense that the 30-0 election victory carried with it more than a hint of desperation.
Barbadians had been experiencing very difficult times for the past decade or so. The economy was in its most serious slump since the early nineties, the debt burden was unbearable, foreign exchange reserves were low, unemployment plagued the young, and the government’s response in terms of heavy taxation and cuts in social services, had just about everybody worried about the future. Even such ‘flagship’ services as the health system, free university tuition and the much-lauded public transport system were in tatters. Worse, a country heavily dependent on tourism was faced with an apparent insurmountable environmental hazard in the collapse on the sewerage system, particularly in the vital South Coast/Bridgetown area.
It was therefore no surprise that the electorate turned to the BLP, led by new Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley for rescue, whether out of conviction or desperation. The BLP had been favoured in 2013 but lost narrowly. This time though, so great was the national sense of frustration that it swept all before it.
Many have been the campaign promises, exciting the various categories of voters. The challenge now, as it has been to many incumbents before, in Barbados and the wider Caribbean, is one of delivery. The new administration has pledged to “fix’ the many ills and socio-economic ailments under the umbrella of national transformation. It has identified “Mission Critical” tasks aimed at tackling what it described as “the multiple crises” in the society, and, within it, an urgent six-month agenda.
Promises to tackle the critical foreign exchange shortage, to deal with the burgeoning debt, to stop the reckless printing of money which undermines the value of the Barbados dollar, to fix the shameful sewerage situation, to put more public buses on the road, to pay UWI student fees and to give tax relief were all well received.
In addition there were the sweeteners to a burdened population – cost of living allowances to public servants, raising non-contributory pensions, a 28 per cent increase in minimum wages. Who would not embrace these among an embattled population? And to boot there are the promises to cut out waste and corruption, to introduce integrity legislation, and to provide a new governance framework.
These are all laudable aims, but the issue is how to deliver. Parties like the two major ones in Barbados and those in the rest of the Caribbean have among their ranks and leadership, many whose motives have more to do with selfishness and personal agendas than any notion of self-sacrifice for the greater good. The governance system and the various constitutional and political systems inherited from colonialism themselves present major hurdles to the social transformation promised.
Can the BLP succeed where so many others before it, in Barbados and beyond, have failed? We congratulate them and wish them all the best.