THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE: Smokescreens
BACK IN 1975 I asked an American ambassador to Barbados – the only black one since Independence in 1966 – what he thought of this country.
Theodore Britton Jr paused for a long moment, then his trademark sardonic smile appeared: “Cute,” he replied. “Barbados is cute.”
Having worked with him for a few years of his Barbados posting, I suspect he was saying, in classical diplomatic-speak, that Barbadians were intelligent
and industrious but a bit laid-back, tolerant, patient and long-suffering.
In the next three decades, I’ve lived in a small country that has done well in most spheres but one that has started to rest on its laurels. But this is a very bad time to rest on one’s laurels: the world has become a very competitive place.
But Barbados wasn’t always this laid-back.
The country I grew up in in the 1940s and 1950s, though a colony, was more productive, more innovative; yes, more entrepreneurial and more confident about the future. And this was so long before Errol Barrow came along and took Independence. Contrary to 21st century revisionism, we didn’t have to break down any doors at Whitehall – they were already open.
There was no Barbadian war of Independence.
We simply took it and came back down the road, unwisely selecting November 30 as the date for celebrations, just 24 days before Christmas.
These days we talk and talk; we look at this and we look at that. We believe that talking and looking are synonymous with doing. We lack the will to move from thought to action and have parlayed the reinvention of the wheel into art.
A witty blogger has us sharing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s acronym: No action, talk only!
Two examples: recently, the Commissioner of Police recalled the long since pigeonholed Report Of The National Commission On Law And Order, a document bursting with recommendations on how to start the process of social rehabilitation here.
I remember Attorney General Mia Mottley in 2004 assuring the chairman of that commission, Sir Roy Marshall, and his 13 colleagues that, unlike previous reports, that one would not be shelved to catch dust in some bureaucrat’s office.
I took a special interest in it because it had something to say about noise pollution. Clearly, the learned Barbadian citizens saw that our cavalier attitude to noise was a contributory factor to the general tone of our lack of kindness and consideration to each other living on this small island.
The report recommended urgent steps be taken to deal with this menace. A draft bill appeared two years later and fell off the table after a new administration took over.
Instead of addressing the issue head-on, we resort to one of the most unsociable creatures, a hog called Percy, to remind us to be considerate towards one another.
We compliment ourselves for banning smoking in public places, but what about the acrid black poison we willingly inhale, 24/7, as though it were oxygen from the exhausts of badly tuned vehicles on our roads? So when will we ban that?
A few weeks ago, the Geneva-based World Economic Forum gave Barbados high marks in its Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011. We came in 43rd on the list of 139 countries, ahead of our nearest Caribbean rival Trinidad and Tobago, by 41 points.
The report said that our higher ranking over three other CARICOM countries surveyed (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana) was due to our better health and education facilities and technological readiness, but we received poor marks for inefficient Government bureaucracy, access to financing and a poor work ethic among the labour force.
The new Minister of Finance last Monday evening delivered himself of a wake-up-and- smell-the-coffee Budget. No rational person expected anything different. But the question remains: how and when will this country begin to earn its way in the world?
I will return to this subject, DV, with an essay titled Ctrl+alt+delete.
• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator. Email [email protected]