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ALL WE IS ONE: Privatisation exposed

Tennyson Joseph, [email protected]

ALL WE IS ONE: Privatisation exposed

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THE PRIVATE OPERTORS . . . were publicly pressing for a change to yet another ill-considered and poorly thought-out revenue generating initiative – masquerading as a tax – when it appears simply to be a cash grab from the taxpaying Peter to pay down a promise to a very lucky Paul. – Albert Brandford, Sunday Sun, May 24.

The above remark, though pertaining specifically to an ongoing conflict between the Barbados Government and private waste haulers, indicates a growing consciousness of the built-in “injustice” in privatisation and suggests caution against its overhyped claims as the panacea to Caribbean’s development challenges.

While this is always denied by apologists for private capital accumulation, every move towards privatisation represents an “asset grab” by a few lucky Pauls of wealth generated by taxpaying Peters over time.

This is also true in cases where social services such as health and education are reserved only for those “who can afford to pay”. To forget that it is the taxes of past generations of Peters which built up institutions like the University of the West Indies and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and to transform them to private paying institutions, represents not only a social and political error, but a moral outrage as well.

Further, when it is considered that there are certain “public goods” such as health, education, sanitation and incarceration which always necessitate Government involvement, any divestment to private providers means removing tremendous political, cultural and juridical power from democratic control.

Imagine, for example, private racists having control over curriculum content or prison management. This exposes the dilemma of both the municipal solid waste tax and the tipping fee since the immorality of taxing the public to pay a “lucky” private monopoly providing a necessary public good cannot be easily laundered. 

This is why a useful opportunity was missed during the 2013 election campaign in Barbados for an honest debate over privatisation. 

However, the current moment represents a public awakening from the myths which facilitated the current political situation. The demonstrations against the tipping fee, the resistance by Customs officers against their absorption into the Barbados Revenue Authority and the re-awakened trade union militancy all represent part of this process of “lifting of veils”. 

Whilst it is not being suggested that a rational understanding of the roles and functions of the state in relation to private capital should not be undertaken, it is intellectually lazy to assume that a wholesale shift to private sector power is the answer to the challenges of the present. 

As the folly of the ruling Government’s surprising and disappointing capitulation to globally-induced adjustments to private capital continues to unfold in Barbados, it is hoped that the opportunity which was missed for a debate about our social democratic futures during the 2013 election campaign will be seized and, this time, conducted with balance, intelligence and, above all, genuine honesty.

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