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OFF CENTRE: I (not you) blame the Government!


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: I (not you) blame the Government!

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One of the gravest offences of the Government of Barbados against its people is the scofflawry of operatives in the PSV sector (the privately operated mass transport system).

Yet it seems that I can’t get anybody to join me in lambasting and generally putting pressure on our leaders for the troubling PSV lawlessness, which is a very consequential contributor to social disorder in the country.

Not even the Opposition which, like most oppositions, is usually party to knee-jerk repudiation, is aiming at the big bullseye on the Government’s back. I can’t understand it. This is one area in which the buck definitely, indisputably stops at Government. I suppose it starts with a lack of focus.

People who never look in an economics book but clearly think that the International Monetary Fund is a global crime syndicate want to talk economics. Others want to mainly talk tourism – on closer inspection, they may be talking economics also.

Another set want to talk about education (well, they want to talk about tuition fees for Barbadians at the University of the West Indies – economics again, ent it?).

But social disorder?

Only if a few young people shoot some other young people or shoot into houses, only if there is what amounts to a headline-grabbing spate of crimes do people seem to be concerned about that.

And when they do, it is scarcely ever the Government that is held ultimately responsible.

So now in response to a story (was it headlined Road Hogs Disgruntled?) about drivers and conductors of PSVs complaining about the “excessiveness” of fines imposed on them for breaking the laws, Sam Coochie and t’ing jumping only on those workers.

You got a Government that is in charge of the lawful and orderly transportation of the country’s treasures by the PSV operatives, and many people, in the face of pervasive indiscipline in the sector, are blaming only those operatives – with some in this case focusing on their illogic, believe it or not.

I wouldn’t appeal to the logic of people who constantly behave the way many in that sector do. I would not even bother to respond to the kinds of “argumentation” they have put forward. In this case, if it was a battle of wits, I would have observed that I was up against unarmed opponents.

But I do believe that with fervent oversight, unflinching resolve and the sternest punitive action, the authorities should bring these folks to the “human understanding” that the penalties are informed by the fact that in a sector such as theirs, when you break the law – and repeatedly, recklessly, dismissively too – you do more than infringe traffic regulations. You critically undermine the nation enterprise.

You see, the mass transporting of the citizens of a country is a lofty undertaking. It is about preciousness of many lives in a dicey situation (lots of other potentially dangerous “missiles” (vehicles) in close proximity); it is about productivity of the passengers; it is about their relationships, their family commitments, it is about their business; it is about their jobs. Safety, comfort, timeliness, reliability, lawfulness and all those things that conduce to their effectively attending to those ends are very important.

But not only that: being in the public space, behaviour in this sector is, critically, about the values of the community either being reinforced or being compromised. Where else do you have constantly changing groups representing the variety of your citizenry spending time bound together in one place as a bloc and moving around the country as such?

Each busload is, to a significant extent, a microcosm of the society. A lot of potential for the transfer of good values – or bad ones. So that context must be properly controlled.

You don’t hear much about it now, but we used to say we have First World aspirations.

Well, First World countries generally treat the mass transporting of people as a kind of sacred undertaking. And the authorities apply fastidious attention to and the sternest strictures against infringements against safety, timeliness, courteousness, discipline, respect for passengers, traffic rules, respect for other road users, good grooming, etc.

Here, not so much.

There is in Barbados, too, a particularly far-reaching danger in the operations of PSVs. They virtually teach lawlessness to the many young people who travel on them.

It would be hard to find anything in Barbados that brings so many people so frequently and so close up to the blatant disregard for the best standards of the society.

And when our young, impressionable as they would be, experience lesson after lesson in illegality – to the point where some of them actually come to admire the offenders, who never disappear but can be found up to their foul deeds day in and day out – have we reflected on the terrible societal pay-off?

Drivers of these vehicles routinely ignore traffic lights; stop wherever they please, drive dangerously, go through No Entry signs, block vehicles behind them by not pulling into lay-bys, drive off route, stop for inordinately long periods as the operatives collect food or drink or whatever, threaten other road users who will not collude with them in lawlessness, assault passengers’ ears and sensibilities with loud and lewd music, bring traffic to a crawl on our narrow roads as they scour the surrounding areas for far-off potential passengers. And the list goes on.

And they largely get away with these things or are not sufficiently thwarted as not to be able to do them over and over and over and over and over again.

This one is dreadfully interesting: on any given day you can see ZRs “parked” – ever unhindered – in the (left) lane for entrance to the university, their conductors soliciting patronage at various places, including some distance along the main artery into the campus – nuhbody wun even grabble dem up and carry dum to a class on social discipline.

Lemme tell yuh, though: everybody in Barbados got stories of unruly behaviour of PSV operatives in the carrying out of this public service.

And I ask: Who else can bring them to heel but Government? But how is Government impactfully – impactfully! – leading the charge for a safe, respectful and orderly PSV sector?

Passengers and other road users are, sadly, largely unprotected victims of Government laxity in that sector.

Their plight is, without doubt, mainly the Government’s fault.

Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]

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