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THE HOYOS FILE: Mottley’s business town hall session


THE HOYOS FILE: Mottley’s business town hall session

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FIRST, HERE’S MY NEWS SUMMARY: Opposition Leader Mia Mottley said last Wednesday that the rescue mission that will be required for Barbados was going to be “monumental”. Speaking at the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s final luncheon for the year, Mottley noted that most of the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Barbados said the Central Bank of Barbados had printed $1 billion to the end of September.

She noted that the Central Bank report for the third quarter had shown that the country’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen by almost $100 million at the same time that energy prices had fallen, meaning less foreign currency was being used to buy fuel, and tourism arrivals had increased, suggesting more foreign exchange had been coming in. She added that the National Insurance Scheme was now owed over $3 billion by the Government, double the amount it owed at the end of 2007.

She charged that, at a time when the country was moving into the last two years of the current term of the current administration, it had signed a loan agreement with China for the Sam Lord’s Castle hotel project, under which 60 per cent of the workforce will come from that country. Barbados, she noted, was among the most indebted countries in the hemisphere, and the debt continued to rise. She told the businessmen present that they would have to decide if they wanted to “mobilise for the future of this country”.

Mottley was asked what her first 100 days in office would be like if the Barbados Labour Party were to win the next election. In giving what she said was a “frank” response, Mottley said “we don’t have accurate data” and she noted that even the IMF has to estimate some of its figures for Barbados. She added, “What we have said is that within 90 days we will come to the country with a clear plan for the future.”

Okay, that’s the end of my little news report for you, dear readers. And I can tell you, it wasn’t easy to write. If the above points made by Mottley, while factual, appear to be somewhat disjointed, it was because they were. They came in spurts amid a long and fairly mellow question and answer session which the Opposition Leader decided to use to fill in the time alloted to her for a speech she had not written. With her party at loggerheads, and with a move said to be afoot to try to replace her as leader of the Opposition in Parliament, it was no wonder Mottley seemed weary.

So while business people were trying to get a sense from her as to what priorities she would have were she to win the next general election, Mottley may have been thinking about how she would survive as leader of her own party in the next few weeks. What I found remarkable is that nowhere in that room at the Hilton, packed to almost capacity, was there any sense of foreboding that she might be on her last legs. It was more like knowing your neighbours are having a loud argument, and not minding if you hear something gossip- worthy over the fence. But you know they will work it out and settle back down, even if a few of the old uncles leave the house and find somewhere else to live.

In fact, despite her rambling and lack of interest in being specific, Mottley was able to turn the session into one of the more personable editions of the chamber luncheon I have ever witnessed. The force of her personality overcame the lack of political rhetoric, and her recommitment to a lot of intangible yet worthy values provided a solid baseline for her to rest upon. Her choice of subject matter and her demeanour suggested that, yes, she was going through the fire, but there were some things it could never destroy, no matter how hot it might get.

So while, from the point of view of headlines and newsy soundbites, her “presentation” was a journalist’s nightmare, it was a great success for her in the eyes of the business people. She showed up, and she outlined what she saw as the radical shift in thinking that we in Barbados need to make in order to save our country. And this she did while facing possibly the toughest test of her political career to date, as her party’s fault lines showed themselves to be getting more pronounced and perhaps even heading for a rupture.

Noteworthy: Somewhat in awe as the realisation hit home, my grandson Nick told me last week, “You are older than Barbados Independence!” To all of you who, like me, remember that first Independence Day very well, let us not forget that we were going to become a dictatorship under Errol Barrow. At least that’s what many people said. Let us remember that it was Barrow himself who, by his actions and leadership, made sure we didn’t.

He took his role as Opposition Leader with grace when it came to him, and to his eternal credit he chose to be among the lead mourners at his rival’s funeral, walking a good mile behind Tom Adams’ carriage in the sun. Some things just stick with me. I don’t know why.

Let us note how well our Flag and Anthem have stood up over the years, despite their own controversies. And let us remember how a little country like Barbados, despite its severe current economic problems, punches so much higher above its weight in the world in every single measurement of freedom and democracy. And how our young people today are so vibrant and such believers in a great future ahead of them.

These are things you can’t buy. They are things that come from a country having a good soul and a resourceful spirit and a confidence that we will endure the night and make it to a morning. Happy 49th, Barbados.