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Top election issues

Peter Simmons

Top election issues

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FOLLOWING widespread calls for early elections after Government completed its full five years in office, the Prime Minister, through the Government Information Service, issued a statement after the House ended its business on Tuesday, announcing that Polling Day would be February 21.
There have been many comments criticizing the medium through which the announcement was made. I was not surprised, having come to recognize that Mr Freundel Stuart, like Frank Sinatra, does things in his own way. That apart, there is widespread relief and happy anticipation that Barbadians will soon be able to vote for their candidates of choice.
One sage commentator reminded me Tuesday evening of Ben Franklin’s mantra: “Experience is a dear school and fools will learn in no other.”
The country can reflect wisely on the last five years and match the platform and manifesto promises of 2008 with performances up to February, 2013.
Much can be written on what is in the pot, but I will restrict myself to three issues which I believe will influence the electorate. One singularly vote-catching theme of the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) 2008 campaign was the much repeated promise to reduce the cost of living.
It was warmly welcomed and catalytic in pitch-forking the party into office. Five years on, the electorate’s hope has been defrauded by the failure of the Government’s performance to match a major promise. Far from reducing the cost of living, the Statistical Service’s all-items index of retail prices has jumped from 123.7 in January, 2008, to 165.1 in October, 2012 – a 41.4 point or 33.5 per cent increase.
The largest increase was 58.7 per cent in food and drink, prerequisites for survival. The other six categories in the index: 1) household operations, 2) housing, 3) clothing, 4) medical and personal care, 5) education, recreation and miscellaneous and 6) transportation all show increases.
In addition, there was an increase in the Value Added Tax from 15 to 17.5 per cent. Every citizen in Barbados has been feeling the effects of this increase, imposed with the promise of a future unrealized review.
Adding to the myriad problems confronting the DLP’s re-election will be the charge of “drift” and “inertia” brought in a December 2011 note to the party leader and Prime Minister by colleagues dubbed the “Eager 11”. The Prime Minister’s response was that “heads will roll” for those found complicit.
I am not aware that the heads of any of those behind the note formally seeking discussion with their leader have rolled. Having committed their concerns to paper and been threatened with beheading, the “Eager 11” are now vigorously campaigning for their own re-election and that of the accused. Politics makes strange bedfellows, confirming Disraeli’s dictum: “Damn your principles. Stick to your party.”
Is it that in our political milieu the biggest leopard has changed his spots, casting off the “drift” and “inertia” stripes perceived as party and electoral liabilities? Or since politics is about power and to get it one more time all has been forgiven and the 11 have fallen in line and will follow their leader? Is there any wonder that there is such a great lack of confidence in the political class?
The third affair which captured my attention relates to the CLICO/British American Insurance Company affair. There are 35 000 policyholders left deeply disturbed by failure to get a satisfactory resolution to this matter. Late Prime Minister David Thompson was CLICO’s lawyer and current Prime Minister Stuart described former CLICO chief executive officer Leroy Parris as his “pal”.
I am told by two policyholders that their group considers the DLP unhelpful and will retaliate at the polls. If 30 per cent of the 35 000 do not vote as threatened, that still leaves 24 500 anti-DLP votes. Each will have at least one relative who will vote similarly. Those mind-boggling statistics, once mobilized, will be critical in the final count.
The policyholders, through their spokeswoman, are on record as saying that “many Government promises had gone unfulfilled”. They are now taking legal action to recover their funds. The policyholders and all Barbadians are aware that there has been a recovery of funds in Trinidad and Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean and wonder if and when the local situation will be regularized.
Meanwhile, the Barbados Labour Party has created waves of scepticism with comments relating to privatization of some state enterprises, and will need to clarify fully its intentions and methodology to calm fears that it will generate job losses.
This column has isolated four issues which, in my humble opinion, will impact the outcome of the election. There are many other issues and promises made which I am sure other scribes will identify and write about. I trust that the campaign will not be fought in the gutter and candidates concentrate on issues inhibiting Barbados’ progress and hurting its people and offer plausible solutions.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]