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EDITORIAL: Mediocrity is the new norm


EDITORIAL: Mediocrity is the new norm

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Lousy: Very poor or bad; disgusting.

Strong a term as lousy is, we believe it falls way short of adequately describing our maintenance of public facilities and services in Barbados. It really is a sad reflection of what we have become when a pleasant experience becomes so unusual that we feel obligated to highlight it. What used to be the norm has now become the exception – and apparently, the accepted.

Motorists are complaining that none of the machines operated by the Barbados Licensing Authority for the production of driving licences is working and as a result they are being reported by police for not having valid documentation. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Barbados Revenue Authority is collecting their licence fees.

The irony is that these machines have been “up and down” for so long now it should not surprise anyone that they have all now failed at the same time. This is how we do things in Barbados in our 50th year of Independence.

We have hundreds of street lights not working and scores of poles knocked over on the ABC Highway for years, with no action from the Ministry of Transport and Works that is responsible. After being switched on just a year ago, more than a dozen lights on the short stretch of the Ronald Mapp Highway between Redman’s Village and Warrens Hill are not working – and there is no sign even one has been addressed.

We have failed traffic signals at constantly congested intersections and it takes weeks to get them corrected. Street markings on road surfaces, from the yellow line separating traffic to the pedestrian crossings, disappear after long periods of neglect and motorists and pedestrians are left to guess about what’s expected to them.

Thanks to the Adopt-A-Kilometre programme there has been a drastic improvement in aesthetics along the ABC and Ronald Mapp Highways, but elsewhere across the island roads are narrowed to a single lane by encroaching vegetation. When it gets really unacceptable someone in authority decides a Bobcat or bulldozer is now appropriate for roadside weeding. The end result then becomes torn up and narrowed road surfaces that only serve to compound the potholes that frustrate motorists daily.

If the neglect began and ended on our roads, though, perhaps it would be tolerable – but that’s far from our reality. One of the best-maintained and most eye-pleasing public buildings in this country is Government Headquarters, where the Office of the Prime Minister is located.

More than 60 years after it was opened it is in better condition than many much newer public properties, and this is so because attention has been paid to its maintenance. Yet some would have us believe that the Queen’s Elizabeth Hospital is now “too old” for its purpose; that the old National Insurance Building on Fairchild Street had to be abandoned because it was “too old” to remain in service.

We project the historic Holetown as an important stop on the tourist map, yet the relatively young public complex housing the police station, magistrates’ court and public library look derelict. Historic buildings around the Garrison Savannah give the appearance of an expanding slum.

Yes, Government is cash-strapped, but is the state of affairs the result of a shortage of funds or an absence of commitment and creativity to carry on traditions of public service delivery that have made us the envy of many in the region and beyond for many years?

Substandard delivery has now become so routine – a part of who we are – that unless we can make a determined national effort to change our approach, when the economy turns around we will continue to be saddled by mediocrity.