ALL AH WE IS ONE: All privatisers now
THE STEALTHY HANDOVER by the Barbadian state of significant sections of the waste disposal business to private service providers, has surprised only the politically blind and naive.
Much of the reaction to the news suggests shocked indignation at the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) for disavowing privatisation during the 2013 election campaign and embracing it once re-elected.
These shocked reactions belie a population duped into believing that one party was anti, while the other was pro-privatisation. Many genuinely believed the DLP’s claim that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) would “sell off the family jewels”, and the DLP would protect the patrimony of the people.
It is because of the simplistic falsity of these categorisations that I insisted on describing the 2013 electoral campaign as a “false debate”. I based this on the fact that the ideology of neo-liberalism, at the centre of which is a doctrine of privatisation and the attendant hostility towards the state involvement in the economy and society, was being accepted by both major political parties in Barbados.
Indeed, the politics of the DLP since 2008 has suggested that while it is social democratic in name, it has become neo-liberal to its very core. With the second term won, the DLP’s neo-liberalism has driven its downsizing of the public sector, withdrawal of state support for tertiary education, its exploration of similar steps in health care and now its partial privatisation of sanitation.
Today, with the near total hegemony of neo-liberalism, the discussion is no longer one about privatisation versus non-privatisation. It is now privatisation – so what? This phase is now led, for example, by the Minister of Commerce, Donville Inniss, who has always been unapologetically, if unconsciously, neo-liberal of the Cabinet ministers. Where others have vacillated, he has always believed deep in his bones that it is the only correct option. He is supported, of course, by the private sector money changers who stand to benefit financially from involvement in a lucrative essential service.
What is wrong with privatisation is its inevitable abandonment of the poor. When the rationale for the provision of a service is the ability of a client to pay, the eventual outcome is a society in which those who cannot pay are simply ignored.
The problem with an area like sanitation is that the whole country can suffer when the cash nexus becomes the basis for the receipt of a service. The same principle applies to areas like education, health care, water provision, and prisons and corrections. Put simply, there are certain areas of public life that simply cannot be privatised.
Now that the masks are fully off, and the trade unions rightfully raise their voices to confront the now-triumphant privatisation dragon, it will be interesting to see how the political parties position themselves on the question, especially as the next election draws nigh.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]