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Some solutions to our problems


John Goddard

Some solutions to our problems

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FOR SOME TIME now, readers have been bombarded with comments on the problems causing distress in Barbados. I propose to offer some suggestions on how we can tackle some of the ills identified.

Governance

1) Government should, without delay, host regular media conferences to inform Barbadians of the issues and programmes which are of interest to citizens and residents. People have a right to know what is being undertaken in their names.

The Prime Minister should lead the way by making himself available to the media every quarter and, where necessary, addressing the country via television and radio. The Opposition Leader should be afforded similar opportunities. Communication is the bedrock of democracy.

2) All parliamentarians should be required to report to their constituents quarterly (not constituency branches, but the electorate of each constituency) and be prepared to respond to queries.

3) The constituency councils should be strengthened to deliver services to constituents without regard to political affiliation. Greater care should be taken in the selection of councillors, and close monitoring be done to ensure accountability.

4) Question time for ministers should be institutionalised, with ministers having to answer questions posed by other members of Parliament in a timely fashion.

Economic matters

1) The burden of taxation needs to be more equitably shared.The present system which squeezes the middle class must be reformed. For a start, Government must enforce the announced plan to require professionals and other self-employed persons to obtain tax clearance before registration.

2) The tax reverse credit should be scrapped, and a minimum wage for all employees implemented as soon as possible. The time has come for us to decide that those who do not wish to pay a decent wage should keep out of business.

3) The non-tax allowance of pensioners should be moved from $40 000 to 60 000 annually to give pensioners, who after all have already paid their fair share of taxes, greater disposable income. Government cannot lose because pensioners shop, go to the doctor and spend money in entertainment.

4)) The marketing arm of the Ministry of Tourism should concentrate on marketing only fledgling tourism businesses and demand that more established properties and services follow the lead of Sandy Lane, The Crane and Sandals and spend more money on the marketing effort.

Furthermore, I do not support the countless number of concessions given to the tourism sector. It is time for us to put an end to mendicancy in the private sector. In my view, entrepreneurship includes making provision for the expenses associated with business, and minimal dependence on Government.

5) There is dire need for a vigorous agricultural policy, aimed at food security, and a well-run sugar cane industry which de-emphasises the production of raw sugar for export and concentrates on rum, special sugars and ethanol.

6) The manufacturing sector needs to be urgently resuscitated.

7) Most important of all, Government must embark on a programme of affirmative action to encourage black businesses. The touted Democratic Labour Party proposal to give small businesses at least 40 per cent of Government contracts must be rigorously enforced, and incentives provided for black Barbadians with extra cash to invest in indigenous businesses.

I think that is what my friend, Sir Hilary Beckles, calls black enfranchisement. Kudos to him for reminding us of the greatest agenda item of the 21st century.

 

Social services

1) Less emphasis on hand-outs and more on hand-ups.

2) An enlightened youth programme aimed at promoting youth employment and harnessing the energies, talents and ideas of young people. The present practice of just providing entertainment for youngsters is unsatisfactory. Rallying them at political meetings with calypsoes and dub is not the way to engage youth.

3) Replacement of the Common Entrance Examination with a sensible policy of transfer, based on where children live, to the 20 or so Government secondary schools. Anybody who cares to take the education of our young people seriously would recognise that the present system of allocation leads to the alienation and marginalization of a significant number of children.

In the 1960s and ’70s, screening could be justified on the ground that we needed a fair system to ensure that the “brightest” of our students were exposed to qualified teachers. That situation no longer exists. The major difference between Harrison College and Princess Margaret Secondary is intake.

4) Whenever finances allow, increase the emoluments of the key social agencies – the police, teachers and nurses. Law and order, education and health care are the props on which the society stands or falls, and we should ensure that the professionals in these vital services are adequately remunerated.

5) Speedily establish the mooted drug court and emphasise rehabilitation for drug users.

6) Vigorously pursue the clearing of the backlog of cases in the courts of Barbados and put systems in place to ensure speedy hearings of criminal and civil cases.

It is my view that if we are serious and willing, we have enough brains in Barbados to make this rock the paradise that we all long for.

John Goddard is a retired teacher.

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