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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Are we self-destructing?


DR FRANCES CHANDLER

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Are we self-destructing?

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A COMMENT BY A RADIO CALLER recently that “if we don’t slow down we will self-destruct”, prompted me to refer to and reflect on one of our many glossy documents, The National Strategic Plan Of Barbados 2005 To 2025: Global Excellence, Barbadian Traditions.

This was to be the blueprint for the realisation of Barbados’ vision of becoming a fully developed society that is prosperous, productive, peaceful, socially just and globally competitive by 2025. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs was to create a special unit to oversee its implementation, but I don’t recall hearing any progress reports from this unit, if it indeed exists.

In the same document, the then Prime Minister Owen Arthur noted that “we, a people accustomed to a process of gradual, orderly change, are now confronted with the need to cross, in one determined leap, a global chasm of progress”. I fear though, that in the rush to cross this chasm and become a “fully developed society”, we seem to have hung our hat much higher than we can reach it, and are now feeling the consequences. We seem to have landed at the bottom of the chasm and now face the daunting task of reaching where we were before the leap. In many ways we indeed seem to be “self-destructing”.

We were supposed to “take initiatives and where possible rid the society of crime, lawlessness and corruption, so as to make Barbadians feel safe in their homes, on the streets, in their place of work and entertainment and in the conduct of their general affairs”. Instead, we’re seeing increasingly sophisticated crimes, almost daily shootings, gang activities, vote buying and all manner of lawlessness typical of so-called developed countries.

We’re seeing other signs which mimic developed countries  and which aren’t desirable, but rather indicate that we’re becoming an uncaring society. Did you ever think that in Barbados an old lady could have been dead in her home for two years and no one be aware of it? And are we known for ignoring someone who has collapsed before our eyes in a public place? Doesn’t this sound as if it happened not in Barbados, but in some large North American city?

In the area of education, why would we aim to have a graduate in every household and at no cost whatsoever to the student? Not even large developed countries undertake this. We let the situation get out of hand where students could allegedly achieve multiple degrees in areas which bear little or no relation to the needs of the country, take their time to do it too, all at the expense of the taxpayers.

I’m not for one moment saying that students shouldn’t be assisted, and those who are in need and are diligent and those with proven ability shouldn’t be given full scholarships, but wouldn’t it have been better to undertake what the country could afford, than to pretend that we could do what we couldn’t, give students a false sense of security, then leave them in the lurch? Isn’t it better to progress more slowly and sustainably than to rush full steam ahead and fall flat on our faces?

Furthermore, we need not only academics but also technical and vocational studies if we want to make real progress.

Then there is the matter of the ambitious Housing Every Last Person programme where taxpayers’ money continues to be used to build more and more houses, while most of those completed have remained unoccupied for years. Wouldn’t it be better to solve the problems preventing occupancy before building more? The minister of housing once said that selling a house wasn’t like selling fishcakes, yet Government seems to be stocking houses as  if they were fishcakes, hoping that someone will buy. Can we afford that?

Furthermore, instead of doing it the Barbadian way which is to take care of what you have until you can afford better, we  allow our public buildings to fall into disrepair, abandon them and build massive edifices, seemingly to demonstrate that we’re prosperous and “developed”.

Ironically, in areas where we need to move swiftly, like improving productivity, achieving world-class customer service, protecting the environment, removing the barriers to Barbados becoming a leading and preferred investment centre in the world, we continue to drag our feet.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email [email protected]

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