My wish list for 2011
THERE WAS MUCH to be depressed about in the past year, but as I try with some difficulty to be optimistic, I look forward to better things for the people of Barbados in 2011. Among my New Year’s wishes are:
•Better disaster preparedness. The general population continues to believe that “ it can’t happen here”, and that “God is a Bajan”. But it’s not only the hurricane season we have to worry about in about six months’ time, but our local and regional disaster authorities should start preparing from this month for an earthquake. The analysis of seismologist Dr Joan Latchman last week has probably been forgotten by now, but the fact that the Caribbean region has not had a severe earthquake for the last century and is therefore likely to be struck by one with a magnitude of 8.0 should not be taken lightly.
While all the average citizen can do is follow certain building codes, the disaster preparedness entities should emphasise continued public awareness, evacuation planning and medical infrastructure, and make these the priority in discussions with governments and non-governmental organisations now and not in June-July.Even if one wanted to dismiss Latchman, who is acting director of the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies, as predicting doom and gloom, recent quakes should alert us to the fact that all is not totally well in this zone of the planet.
Trinidad and Tobago had a 5.1 magnitude quake recently while a 5.0 one rocked Dominica last Friday, and the fact that there has been no damage or injury is a foolhardy consolation. Latchman, noting that the recent one in Trinidad was part of a series of earthquakes that began in September 2006 – Barbados also had a tremor in November 2007 – stressed that “the region is poised to experience one of its great earthquakes, and as a region and as a country we need to be prepared.
We need to take the earthquake hazard very seriously”.•In terms of political rumblings, another of my New Year’s wishes is for the Opposition Barbados Labour Party to mend its internal rift.
An Opposition in disarray can be disastrous for democracy. I heard an unsuccessful candidate call, at a political meeting some time ago, for a one-party state in Barbados, and I still marvel at the fact that she is an intelligent woman!
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is the one whom the BLP has elected as its leader, and it is anticipated that he can renew the party’s image, which has long been perceived as catering to the more wealthy, conservative segment of the society.
It is an unfortunate image that won’t change overnight, but even the beginnings of such change will be preceded by upheaval and political blood-letting – as we have seen.
In the meantime, I still see former party leader Mia Mottley as having a future in public life. Even without the party which has spawned her, she has ability to make an impact in the political arena as a strong debater and someone who has inspired a number of young people.
With politics in mind, another New Year’s wish is for a smooth by-election in St John, bringing the final chapter of closure in the death of former Prime Minister David Thompson. A vacuum remains in St John, and the by-election result – a foregone conclusion – would represent closure particularly for its loyal people, who want the legacy of Thompson to continue in his wife Mara, and who see the entire Thompson family as an integral part of the parish.
By-elections in recent history were not triggered by such trying circumstances, and this one needs a conclusion to soften the bitter memory. The 1984 by-election in St Peter came about after former Speaker of the House, Burton Hinds, was incapacitated and the seat was made vacant; while the 2001 by-election in St Thomas was the result of the resignation of (Sir) David Simmons.
Both were BLP strongholds, but the St Peter contest had the closest by-election result since the introduction of single-member constituency voting in Barbados, with Sybil Leacock beating Arthur by one point and sitting for one day in the House of Assembly. A subsequent court decision annulled the election, and Arthur went on to win handsomely by 238 votes.Forde, meanwhile, had no such drama in beating George Pilgrim by about 2 000 votes.
With a convincing win for the Democratic Labour Party on January 20, followed by celebration on Errol Barrow Day, the Freundel Stuart administration can then focus fully on creating growth and restructuring the economy in this opportune time of recession. But if they cannot, by the time the general election is due in 2013 the Opposition should have healed and be back to full strength as a “government-in-waiting”.• Another wish for 2011 is that many observers looking mainly at the Value Added Tax to bring in revenue should also monitor the revenue that is likely to come from the public transport sector over the next six months. The amount should be significant, and the sector should be marked by greater safety and professionalism with enforcement of the Transport Act.
A lot of ink is spilled – deservedly – on the vagaries of privately owned minibus and ZR operations but, except for its assistance to the elderly and disabled, the Transport Board failed us miserably for several years. I can recall Barbadians standing for hours awaiting buses in rural Barbados and in the terminals, and by the time buses finally arrived, people pushed so badly to get a seat that the very act of catching some buses used to be a threat to life and limb.
People had to wait because there were not enough buses, apparently, to accommodate the travelling public for about three decades –the 1970s to 1990s – and people got to work late, complaints were rife about school children crowding the terminals, buses languished in “the yard” by the dozens waiting to be repaired, and a lot of hard-earned taxpayers’ money was wasted.
This created the huge vacuum that was eventually filled by private transport from the mid-1980s until today. It is therefore good to see both entities under a common system of rules, which will lead to greater efficiency for the travelling public and increased revenue for the Government.My foremost wish is for peace in 2011.