ALL AH WE IS ONE: Lowering expectations
SINCE THE RULING Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has largely succumbed to ideological notions of the retreat of the state, it was only a matter of time when its strategy of reducing public expectations in the delivery capacity of the state would assume farcical proportions.
That stage was reached though the crude comments made by a senior member of Cabinet, Denis Kellman who, in the face of legitimate public concerns about the proliferation of potholes on Barbadian roads, promoted the idea of potholes as a possible road safety mechanism.
Those who were tempted to dismiss Kellman’s pothole view as “Kellman again”, would have been shocked when no less a personage than Prime Minister Freundel Stuart continued with Kellman’s theme.
Stuart was happy to uphold overseas visitors as people accustomed to potholes. Presumably if “global” people could live with potholes, then Barbadians should be less insistent on having the problem resolved.
As silly as it may all seem, these are symptoms of a deeper political malaise associated with the new redefined role for the state which the DLP has embraced. Today, the state is no longer championed as a “deliverer” of goods and services such as education, health and transportation to the general public. Facilitating private capital and repaying the external debt are now prioritised.
Whilst public infrastructure falls in a slightly different category since it facilitates private capital, the extremely constrained nature of the Barbadian state has meant that even such areas such as roads and public sewerage are now neglected.
It is in such a context that the DLP’s response has been to lower public expectations.
The failure to maintain free university education became a discussion on the pointlessness of university education. The failure to pass integrity legislation was explained on the basis that it had “failed” in Trinidad.
The failure to engage the public has redefined the responsibilities of public officials to disseminate information exemplified most clearly witnessed in the office of the prime minister and the office of the governor of the Central Bank. The failure to maintain social democracy is now defended by the argument that “there is too much entitlement”.
Indeed, in the 2013 general election, the comments by economic commentators were dismissed offhandedly with the comment: “If they were so good, why haven’t they won the Nobel Prize?” This was a way of telling the Barbadian public that the problems could not be solved, that there was no one who could do better than the Government.
Kellman and Stuart’s “pothole? – no problem” assertions have been only the last in the long line of a crude downplaying of public expectations in the face of legitimate public demands.
The difference now, however, may not only be the crude and unrepentant silliness of Kellman’s assertion, but perhaps unlike in 2013, the public’s expectations cannot be pushed any lower.
•Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]