Mia meets with Brooklyn folk
The ambience of a town hall meeting can enhance the value of the exchange of ideas but it can’t be the final arbiter of success.
In the end it’s the substance of the presentations and the questions and answers that matter. That certainly was the case in Brooklyn a week ago when the BLP, “A Better Life for our People,” the Barbados Labour Party’s New York arm held a town hall meeting in Brooklyn with Opposition Leader Mia Mottley as the guest speaker.
The session was held at St Leonard’s Church, an independent Anglican house of worship in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant, where Bajans have been living for almost a century. The stately religious institution has been in the hands of Barbadians for decades and it is likely to remain that way, even in the face of rapid gentrification which is changing the ethnic character of Putnam Avenue and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Once an almost exclusively black enclave, young white middle class families are returning to the area in droves, walking their poodles and other pets and paying high prices for brownstones their grandparents once owned.
“St Leonard’s Church is a source of pride for Barbadians,” said Jessica Odle-Baril, the BLP’s leader in New York and a former Consul-General.
The Opposition Leader met with Bajans in much the same way that Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell spent several days in Brooklyn exchanging ideas with Grenadians, discussing the tough economic times his country was facing.
Mottley spent much of her initial presentation focusing attention on the Caribbean’s economic and social challenges: high debt; stagnant economies; rising unemployment; and widening fiscal deficits.
With West Indians in the United States observing Caribbean Heritage Month, a national celebration that is held every June to highlight the role of West Indians in America’s prosperity, Mottley spoke about the importance of closer collaboration among Caribbean Community member states; the work of the Caribbean Court of Justice; the need for a regional human rights convention to protect people’s rights and for an effective telecommunications system, not to mention an expansive regional news network and cheaper intra-regional air transportation.
Mottley, who was accompanied by three Opposition backbenchers, Trevor Prescod, Dwight Sutherland and Cynthia Forde as well as Pat Parris, an aide to the Opposition Leader, put the case for a regional financial commission that would help the countries put their fiscal houses in order and for some consideration to be given to a health insurance plan.
When the discussion zeroed in on Barbados and its domestic problems, Mottley said in response to a question raised by the audience that unfortunately Barbados, mired in an economic recession, was getting a bad reputation for not paying its debts, such as the CCJ ordered compensation to Shanique Myrie of Jamaica and the money owed to Government contractor Al Barrack.
At the same time, the Freundel Stuart administration was laying off about 3 000 public workers, a move that pushed the jobless rate to at least 13 per cent, compared with the 6.7 per cent the Democratic Labour Party had inherited when it won the Government in 2008.
As if that wasn’t enough, escalating energy costs was taking a heavy financial toll on families; the tourism industry was hurting from the fall-off of 60 000 visitors to the country; and the negative impact of heavy borrowing in recent years which is costing the country 30 cents of every dollar the Government collects in revenue.
“Barbados must stop the [financial] bleeding as the economy has become smaller than it was a few years ago,” Mottley insisted.
Later, she added, the island “was borrowing too much money,” thus throwing its finances way off track.
“The situation is unsustainable,” she declared. “We must restore hope in the country.”
Mottley thinks there is time for trade union reform as some of the major unions were getting ready to change their leadership and she urged the Government to be more open with the public about the private sector deals it was making, including the Sandals project.
“We still don’t know the details of the Sandals agreement,” she said.
Sutherland contended there was economic and “social decay” in Barbados caused by Government’s mismanagement. Forde, a former Cabinet minister, insisted that women must be given a much larger role in public affairs management; and Prescod put a case for labour, not only investment capital, being a vehicle that drove further development.
Within hours of the town hall meeting, scores of Bajans attended BBQ at the residence of Levi Walkes in the East New York section of Brooklyn.