Sins of omission . . .
Tuned in to the Throne Speech last Wednesday. “My Government” will do this. “My Government” will do that.
I listened and listened, sometimes wondering if ceremony got the better of sense. And once again the Jamaican way of putting it seemed apt: “His so we do hit hall the wile.”
(Of course – and this is just good-natured fun – you heard the one about how our brethren to the north spell spoon: “a hess, a spee, two hos and a hen”. If you were in Jamaica, you might have heard, as my wife swears she did, the Jamaican talk show host ask the caller: “Har you hentirely hignorant?”)
If you see this, Mikey Hilton, George Belnavis, Steve Shelton, Stewie Stephenson, Franz Parks, Byron Thompson, Roy Fairclough (you of the effervescent skanking), and, of course, Natty, it is just a joke. Like the one that almost all other Caribbean folks told about Barbados: if you are in Barbados and you find yourself in St James and you drop a ten cents piece, don’t bend down to pick it up.
Law and order
Like the one the Vincentian told about a Barbadian near the scene of an accident in St Stephen’s, describing what had happened: “Fuhlaw, fuhlaw, fuhlaw, fuhlaw,” my friend was certain he heard, later to discover that the Bajan had been trying to report, “A fellow fell off a lorry”.
What is not a joke is that I listened almost in vain to the Throne Speech to hear something about law and order. Eventually I got a bit about giving high priority to “third-generation rights” and about moving to speedily detect motorists who use public roads without insurance or payment of road taxes and enacting legislation to manage noise levels coming from private vehicles.
But I en hear anything about the slew of advantage-tekking behaviours that run roughshod over the rights of fellow citizens.
One significant subset of a government’s original purpose was to ensure that citizens don’t take advantage of one another.
But the major political parties here (whatever their mantras) choose to interpret individuals in the society essentially as narrow economic and physical units, simply wanting more money in their pockets and more “services”, and not as community beings who also must be made to respect the rights of others.
In many cases, the bully wins and the “onfaired” look around hopelessly.
Killing, sexual assault and some forms of theft are keenly attended to. With the rest it is open season: sexual harassment, domestic abuse, PSV scofflawry, loud playing of music in neighbourhoods and in public spaces such as beaches and parks, contemptuous burning of refuse, public smoking of marijuana, vandalism, inconsiderate parking in residential areas, pedestrian blocking of sidewalks, unruly use of roads by groups (gangs?) of cyclists, devil-may-care abandonment of derelict vehicles, use of obscene language in public places, school bullying.
These things are not simply inconveniences – they strike at the heart of meaningful coexistence among the citizenry.
Yet, Government has made no categorically inhibitive interventions.
Not infrequently I hear the authorities appealing to people to do the right thing – in areas that surely are covered by law – or should be – and require sturdy, restraining enforcement.
Barbados, it seems, wants to simultaneously hold the records for the most laws per square mile and the least enforcement in the same space.
We don’t seem to realize that if you make a law and don’t enforce it you engender lawlessness, not only in that area but in others, as people get up the temerity to test your resolve in wider spheres. But not making laws is not an option.
The latest thing is the public service announcements “reminding” motorcyclists and bicyclists that they are not allowed to use the overpass across the highway in the area of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation. This has played out many times in Barbados: the wrong thing is practised; the authorities “remind” and plead. The problem burgeons. And burgeons.
It seems, too, that successive administrations in the last 40 years or so have opted to shape the society through another trickle-down approach.
Not the one that goes: give more money to the well off (especially those in business) and by their economic enterprise the economy will grow and the poor will benefit.
Not that discredited one. This one: provide, for instance, free education, free health care, free transportation for schoolchildren, free summer camps; pay maintenance for delinquent fathers (while not putting in place a serious plan to retrieve payment from defaulters) and so on and the people will become more respectful of the rights of others.
And we wait in vain for this upsurge in lawful behaviour as Government presides over the crassest social irresponsibility. The Throne Speech gave me little reason to hope for better.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]