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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Sights set low

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Sights set low

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IT MIGHT NOT YET be visible to all, but one of the deliberate and conscious strategies by the Government of Barbados as part of its response to externally imposed adjustment measures is to lower the expectations of the population in the delivery capacity of the state, in the traditional relationship between state and society, and in what constitutes “development” as a whole. 

In many ways, this deliberate lowering of public expectations has been pursued both as an electoral tactic, and as a reflection of the Government’s own sense of its inability to perform. Thus, in the absence of clear indicators of success, the tactic has been to make the continued public demands for expected levels of performance appear unreasonable, unrealistic or “out of touch with reality”.

This has been seen in many ways. When the evidence points to reduced levels of visitor arrivals in Barbados, the response by ministry officials is to point arrogantly to neighbouring islands and to mock their stronger performances as an indication of how far behind Barbados they were in the first place. When objective growth figures are released by multilateral agencies placing Barbados’ performance at the bottom of the regional table, the response by finance officials is to argue that because of Barbados’ higher level of development, too much emphasis should not be placed on growth figures.

More than two years ago, for example, in an address to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, no less a personage than the governor of the Central Bank was to participate in the lowering of expectations, when he declared that “the quality of life in our country is more important than the growth rate . . . . Our Caribbean and Latin American neighbours who are growing have a long way to go before achieving our standard of living . . . . For Barbados, the proper comparison is not with the growth of countries like Guyana and the Dominican Republic . . .”.

Similar sentiments were heard from the Prime Minister in response to recent International Monetary Fund regional growth figures which placed Barbados at the bottom. 

Sadly, this lowering of expectations has reached almost farcical levels as seen, for example, in a recent speech by the Prime Minister to a diaspora audience, in which he declared that contrary to the negative reports being heard about Barbados, the buses were still running, children were still attending school, the supermarkets were open and people were buying and selling.

Are these the goals by which governments are asked to be judged in their manifestos?

Already, however, this lowering of sights appears to be taking root. Today, vocational education is the legitimate aspiration. A degree is an unreasonable luxury.

However, while the majority’s expectations for tangible benefits are being pooh baahed as unreasonable, those of a contented minority continue to be concretely fulfilled via tax breaks, concessions and direct government assistance. How clever.

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]