PEOPLE & THINGS: Whose fault, whose responsibility?
As the local economic situation appears to worsen, it would appear as though the Government and its supporters are condemning the Opposition for being too negative and as a consequence, unpatriotic.
This strategy is not unfamiliar since seven short years ago former Prime Minister David Thompson was labelled a purveyor of “gloom and doom” because he warned of the consequences of “runaway spending” on various Government projects.
Ironically, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is now being accused of similar actions which are apparently having an impact on this Government’s ability to respond to our economic challenges.
This type of accusation warrants discussion since the suggestion that a political party is going too far in its criticism and damaging the very country it seeks to win carries treasonous implications.
This author has always been very clear in his mind (both then and now) that the role of the Opposition is different to that of a government, and as such it is obligated to raise these types of concerns if it is convinced that such issues need to be ventilated.
As such, Thompson was correct to warn of the consequences of heavy spending in the last years of the BLP administration, and similarly Oppostion Leader Mia Mottley is correct now to press the point that we are courting economic disaster by not addressing this deficit.
Although imperfect, our system is one in which the Cabinet of Barbados is the ONLY entity that can direct the executive and take the types of decisions that will address these problems.
There is no facility whereby members of the opposition can sit in Cabinet or make any major decisions.
Our system is designed to be adversarial and one in which the winner of the election gets ALL major powers.
Consequently that government has to understand that it should also carry ALL major responsibility.
Not to Government
The loyal opposition is perhaps loyal to Her Majesty, but certainly not loyal to the government in any way that is not sarcastic. Our constitution demands that the opposition be “consulted” regarding major appointments but at no time does this consultation imply that the opposition needs to agree in order for the appointment to be made.
Similarly, Parliament needs be consulted regarding major decisions; however the fact that the government is in place by virtue of a parliamentary majority implies that this too is a consultative process which is more form than substance.
It would therefore appear that our opposition is responsible to Parliament and the people for “keeping an eye” on government and drawing to our attention anything that might be of interest or concern.
As such one could argue that if an opposition neglected to raise an alarm regarding actions of government to which it was opposed, then that opposition should be condemned for not doing its job, or worse yet, for being “disloyal” to Her Majesty in respect of its assigned task.
There has also been some suggestion that the opposition ought to bring ideas forward that could assist and this suggestion is also worthy of comment.
Here, also, it is curious that this was a mantra of the BLP in the past and Thompson quite rightly held his ideas until the election was called.
In fairness to the BLP however, it was unconventional in that it put ideas on the table to “rescue” this economy months before the 2013 election in the shape of a privatization plan.
This approach was harshly criticized by the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP)?and apparently rejected by the people of Barbados in preference for a Medium Term Fiscal Strategy which promised to preserve jobs and also preserve Government’s interest in all state entities.
As such we voted for nothing to be sold and no one to be sent home and it would be highly inappropriate for the DLP to consider, far less implement, any BLP ideas that would presumably be similar to those rejected in 2013.
Loss of confidence
Finally, this issue of the extent to which the opposition’s attitude is responsible for the loss of confidence deserves specific comment.
Persons who are convinced that this is the root of the Government’s confidence problem are perhaps naive about the manner in which confidence in a government grows and shrinks.
Such persons should ask themselves how a government and a leader that was overwhelmingly popular in February could itself note a loss of confidence in the economy over which it presides within six weeks.
A number of complex scenarios present themselves and the least probable is that the opposition was able in six weeks to convince everyone who was confident before to stop being confident.
Alternatively, persons like myself could be misunderstanding the link between confidence in a government and confidence in an economy, or perhaps the presumption that confidence in a government is reflected in the outcome of an election.
• Peter W. Wickham is a Political Consultant and a Director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).