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Policy or politics?

Tennyson Joseph

Policy or politics?

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AT THE RISK of being accused of being a perennial critic of the ruling administration of Barbados, a charge against which I have grown immune but which I deny, it cannot escape notice that the recent announcement of a ten-point rescue plan for the Barbados tourism industry has exposed a central weakness of the administration. That weakness is the tendency to confuse propaganda with policy.  
There is no doubt that from a perspective of survival, the Government would argue that its strategy has worked.  However, when the lens is shifted away from Machiavellian tactics to actual policy and programmatic implementation, the results are vastly different. In this sense therefore, the Government’s own political success (in the narrow sense of political survival) has been its greatest barrier to success on the policy front.  
With political success feeding upon itself, there is scant urgency to replace political considerations with developmental efforts. The concrete symptom of this malaise is the fact that from its earliest days of Government, the administration’s main challenge has been one of public “confidence” in its actions and pronouncements. This suggests that while there appears to be public goodwill for the Government, it is not doing enough on the policy and programmatic front to close the gap between friendly expectation and actual delivery.  
All of these tendencies came to the fore with the recently announced tourism ten-point plan. After several years of failure and reversal in Barbadian tourism, the plan appears to have been announced in response to a rising crescendo of complaint from tourism investors, rather than as conscious technocratic fore-planning.
In addition, coming a few short months after a long election campaign, and mere weeks before an expected budget, the announcement of a tourism plan appears to bear little organic relation to past policy thrusts and raises questions about its expected connection to the coming budget. In short, it confirms the suspicion of the Government’s policy pronouncements as having more to do with pronouncement than actual policy. Once again, as in other cases, only time will reveal the effectiveness, sincerity of the policy, and its practical relation to the broader programmatic needs of the moment.
There is no doubt, however, that something simply had to be said and done about the current lacklustre performance of the Barbadian tourism industry. And herein lies the problem. By acting at a moment when action was unavoidable and the evidence of failure incontrovertible, the Government once again has demonstrated a lack of policy forethought. It appears reactive to negative events and resembles political fire-fighting rather than as clearly thought out development policy calmly arrived in anticipation of projected ambition or future challenge.  
Optimistically, it is possible that current necessity now presents a moment where policy overtakes politics. The budget will determine whether it is enduring or passing.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the Univeristy of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]