ONLY HUMAN: What would I really change?
A question from a precocious youngster forced me to re-examine what I do, why I do it, and seriously ask myself whether the ideals I strive to uphold really make a difference to anyone.
The teenager asked: what is the one thing you would like to see happen to make this country better?
I was stumped. I suppose I looked as bemused as Bill Cosby when he hosted Kids Say The Darndest Things TV show back in the 1990s.
I could not answer this youngster immediately because there are so many things I would like to see done to improve this country and the lives of everyone living here that it was impossible to single out, there and then, which one was most significant.
Having had time to reflect, my answer would be for an improvement in governance. If this one thing could be achieved, by however small a degree, it would vastly enhance the quality of life in Barbados.
What is governance? Simply put, it is the process of decision making and the means by which decisions are implemented or not implemented.
According to the United Nations, good governance has eight major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account, and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
What is the quality of governance in Barbados?
Barbados’ reputation for political stability is an offshoot of our relatively good governance. This has been a major contributing factor in the development of local institutions, and has encouraged confidence in the economy which fuelled foreign investment. All of this contributed to the quality of life we have enjoyed here since Independence.
Despite this, we have too many inefficient administrative systems that work to undermine these gains. We speak, for example, of the judicial system, where complaints about delays due to cases being repeatedly adjourned or the inability to access case files because they have either been misplaced or can’t be found.
So rife are these delays that even the Caribbean Court of Justice was moved to comment on the aspect of the speed in which High Court appeals are heard.
One of the reasons why Britain is such a major financial centre where international law suits are brought for adjudication is the swiftness with which these disputes, especially commercial ones, are processed, and this brings enormous economic benefits.
As an efficient system of justice contributes to attracting international business, likewise a seemingly ineffective one can repulse it. We speak now of the rule of law, and in Barbados the best example of the lack of it being to the detriment of the image of the country is the Al Barrack case. This sends the wrong signal to potential investors as it says there is no guarantee that even when a court decision has been made the judgment would be enforced.
Another major aspect is accountability in both the public and private sector to minimize wastage, overspending and misappropriation of funds. But again, as we have seen in the Auditor General’s annual reports, not enough is done to plug holes in Government even when identified.
In fact, Auditor General Leigh Trotman was moved this week to state that Government was not doing enough to recover monies that were misappropriated or where people did not complete contracts but walked away with all the money. And he suggested that this inaction may be due to lack of willpower to pursue perpetrators.
Unfortunately, unless the searchlight of governance illuminates these processes, especially within Government, which plays a vital road in facilitating most aspects of commerce here, then we are just ambling along. And this is not good enough in a world where competition is tight for the few investment dollars that are available.
It must be noted that though very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance in its totality, most progressive nations recognize the huge sustainable economic and human development advantages to be gained by pursuing this ideal.
Barbados should therefore work towards achieving governance in more aspects of our life. The benefits that would come to all who live here make the effort worth it.
• Sanka Price is the SATURDAY SUN Editor.