ALBERT BRANDFORD: Govt’s rhetoric and policies don’t match
So you can see how many people want to nurse the Government and by the time all of this is finished our nipples are bound to be sore. – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on calls to help REDjet and Almond Beach Village, April 2012.
You better begin to get weaned off the government because the government shoulder cannot carry the weight anymore. – Prime Minister Keith Rowley, lamenting government being asked to build every facility in Trinidad and Tobago and two generations growing up on government.
IN EACH CASE, the message from the leaders is that they are prepared to preach the gospel of weaning the public off dependence on goods and services provided by government.
This raises a major issue of the changing philosophy of political parties founded on the principles of democratic socialism.
The pursuit of independence was not supposed to be only symbolic. It was preached as the basis for giving hope to the masses. This meant identifying and pursuing equal opportunity for all. Of course, such rhetoric is not difficult to deliver, but the reality is.
In this sense, the new independent governments had to become the deliverer of certain goods and services that would not be accessible by the masses.
Health and education emerged as the two most significant social provisions of the governments.
It is in this context that one has to question the changing philosophy of modern day political parties which appear to be embracing the rhetoric of democratic socialism but abandoning the delivery of the associated social goods and services.
In Barbados, there is no contemporary politician in the post Don Blackman era, who has spouted as much socialist rhetoric as Stuart, apart from possibly Trevor Prescod.
He preached that owners of capital and labour cannot sleep in the same bed; argued that the interests of the capitalists cannot be promoted to the detriment of the working class; and opposed the social partnership formed as part of the economic response to the 1990s difficulties.
In the 2013 campaign, Stuart pushed Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler under the proverbial bus on privatisation. Even though, as early as 2010, Government raised the prospect in the original version of the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS).
Yet, when a mature discussion was needed, Stuart persuaded Cabinet to avoid it.
Privatisation is a way of weaning the public off government’s nipples, if carried out to save excessive spending on inefficient delivery of goods and services.
But it is contrary to the principles undergirding democratic socialism.
Therein lies the contradiction in the rhetoric of Freundel Stuart, the MP, with the practice of Freundel Stuart, the Prime Minister.
On the one hand, privatisation is ruled out prior to the election; but, in recent weeks, the collection of garbage is secretly contracted with the private sector.
If garbage is collected by the private sector but paid for by Government, then that part is privatised. In this regard, the Government nipples are being squeezed even more. Perhaps, this is preferred because it keeps workers at the Sanitation Services Authority, while giving the work to the private sector. This increases pressure on the nipples without abandoning the socialist principle of creating jobs.
In the original MTFS document, it says “over the medium term, the GOB will use the option of divestment where feasible and in the best interests of the country. It will consider this in relation to – Hotel and Resorts Ltd (HRL); Needhams Point Inc.; idle Government-owned lands not required for housing; and other selective assets. The Government will also consider the concept of long-term leasing of such assets.”
Given the lack of clarity and secrecy surrounding some recent Government policies, questions have to be answered, both from an ideological and economic perspective.
For example, where does the Stuart-led administration truly stand on privatisation? Does Government believe it is a way of weaning the public off its financial nipples? Does it trust the private sector to deliver some social goods?
Attempts to answer these may help the public to determine where Government truly stands, not only in relation to privatisation, but the bigger issue of its founding philosophy of democratic socialism.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]