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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Politics vs governance


DR FRANCES CHANDLER

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Politics vs governance

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There are so many things bothering me this week, I can’t focus on any one issue. I seem to recall a moderator saying recently he was tired of politics and that 40 per cent of Barbadians were fed up with politicians. My feelings exactly.
They seem interested only in achieving positions of governance, that is,  control over the population, but then acting mostly in their individual or party interest rather than in the interest of the country.
Judging from daily media reports, one can only conclude that holding on to power for two terms to be eligible for hefty pensions is now paramount. Of course, at the rate we’re  going, there may soon be no funds left for their pension or anybody else’s.
Never before have I seen ministers and Government in general spoken of with such disdain except by their opponents on political platforms. Now this is coming from all quarters, from  people with no party connections. That’s worrying. You know what   they say about 60 million Frenchmen ­– it goes for Barbadians too.
In spite of 20 Government MPs being elected in 2008 and 16 in 2013,  Government seems to be run as a “one- man show” by the Minister of Finance, who apparently needs no advice, stating that if you have a recommendation, “put it in a brown envelope and send it to the Prime Minister”.
Dr David Estwick is complaining that in 2009, as Minister of Economic Affairs, he proposed a wage freeze, attrition and divestment in the public sector and it wasn’t considered, yet now this is exactly what’s being done.
But I don’t agree with Minister Estwick that the lay-offs shouldn’t be considered at this time. While they may not be sufficient to achieve the present objectives, cutting the Public Service to the size it should be is long overdue. Government mustn’t be the employer of first resort, “picking up the slack”. How can any operation survive when 50 per cent of its revenue goes to pay salaries of mostly unproductive workers?
On the other hand, the private sector needs to be more innovative and use our limited resources more productively, rather than just  buying and selling other countries’ products. Furthermore, Government could assist with business development by taxing output rather than inputs, an idea which was proposed years ago, along with encouraging more support of local goods.
While Minister Estwick’s document is thorough, clear and useful, why did he wait until now to go public with his comments? And if he didn’t agree with the path Government was taking since 2009, did he vote against their measures during the last four years, did he abstain or was he absent when the decisions were being made?
It’s also rather puzzling that the United Arab Emirates would make a proposal to Minister Estwick rather than to the Prime Minister. And would the conditions attached to this offer “put us in their pockets”?
While it’s never pleasant to see people lose their jobs, “what starts wrong, can’t end right”, and I’m sure that many of these people knew that jobs were being created
for them as election rewards. Of course, the general attitude to life and to public sector jobs was made clear by a caller to a radio programme who declared that the Public Service can’t stand any more (cuts) and she wanted someone to give her a ticket to go to Cuba and “cool out”.  In other words, handouts and the easy life are what’s expected these days. If she thinks she would “cool out” in Cuba, she’d better think again.
The Public Accounts Committee is in the news again. Apparently one of the difficulties is that when Government becomes opposition, it’s asked to  deal with issues which arose during the time it was in office, so no action is taken. This could be cured by having an entirely independent body.
As if we needed more problems, it seems we have a new brand of tourism – criminal tourism – where instead of the police protecting tourists, they have to protect us against them. Let’s hope action is taken urgently to curb this disturbing trend.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.

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