A Minimum Living Income in Barbados. Sustainable ?

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Unfortunately, a promise to provide every household in Barbados with a minimum living income, though a lovely sentiment is not sound policy. My philosophical moorings struggle with being against such a policy which would be popular and welcomed by the Masses but my moral moorings win me to disagree. Parliament can legislate most things in and out of being but that does not mean that repercussions will be unfelt.
 
For some time Barbados could sustain a living income, just like it currently sustains tertiary education (though that gave way), free bus rides for school children and free education but as we know the legislation for such endeavours is supported by real money. In Barbados’ current state of low productivity we are already shifting limited capital from debt to social welfare, from social welfare to infrastructure, from infrastructure to necessary and unnecessary government expenditure. What we need is more capital in order to provide things such as a minimum living income. 
 
If Barbados produces more capital then it can afford to take from itself and give more as it sees fit. Producing more does not necessarily mean working more. It could be as simple as re-structuring the way we we do everything so we reduce wastage of capital, time and resources in order to see the true yield which we probably do not even come close to realising. Not so simple after all.
 
It would be morally bankrupt to promise another welfare initiative, this time one on a very grand scale, without addressing the inadequacies which already plague many of the welfare initiatives currently in application. Of course, those with the power to see such such things done would have surely considered this. There will then be, if this universal minimum living allowance is implemented, a need for a fundamental framework which addresses the the production and accumulation of capital to fund it.
 
I hope that, in tending to the needs of their people, government seek to empower them away from welfare that ties them to depend on government. A Collective People comprising economically independent individuals is better than one comprising economic dependents. I also hope that if government enable their people to truly fish that they also reduce the extent to which they take what people eat.
 
 
 

Policy is Key to Development

Wealth

While the Executive of Barbados exercises poor fiscal and public policy, to total blame that organ for the situation in which we find ourselves would be intellectually dishonest. The failure of the Barbadian private sector (businesses / markets / for-profit and non-profits / charities) to build upon the stability we had and expand during those times within the country and beyond is a major component of our current woes. The high level of aversion to risk is a hinderance to the Barbadian political economy.

Another issue is that Barbados is a post-colonial country. Most, if not all, of us came from the plantation in one way or the other. Our money is predominantly new money and our classes are new classes. As a result, there is little wealth and even less capital with which to do pioneering work.

The funds people have are not wealth. Those are for survival and general living. The middle class is usually the class to drive a society but a post-Colonial society is different. That class is struggling to establish itself. It is in that regard that I sympathise with University graduates who look to the job market instead of entrepreneurship.

There is a family immediately dependent on them. They have little breathing room to explore possibilities. We also put much of our money in foreign owned banks which have internal policies which are not aligned with the needs of Barbados. We need to move to Credit Unions even more than we already have.

However, even the move towards Credit Unions has constraints. Assets need to back loans. Wealth needs to back loans for access to capital. There is little wealth to back loans.

Therefore, Government must do something in this regard. There was once a time when public servants could not access loans to build houses. In the end, policy rules the day.

Colonial and Independent Barbados

Britain's Prince Harry is greeted by the guard of honour after arriving to Bridgetown Port to commemorate the 50th independence anniversary of Barbados November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Barbados, in many ways, is more trapped within the colonial epoch than many are ready or willing to admit but sometimes the gravity of the situation is all just too much. Nothing sickened me more in all my life than seeing Prince Harry of Wales being saluted by a Barbadian Honour Guard until I saw him, in all his military regalia, superseding the Governor-General, Sir Elliott Belgrave at Barbados’ 50th. Independence Anniversary Parade. I. Was. Literally. Sick.

Mind you I love a piece o’ parade. I was a member of The Barbados Cadet Corps. However, something inside of me said, “William. This is fundamentally wrong”.

I actually was eager to watch the arrival; just to see the marching and everything. I went online and tuned in when I saw the advertisement flash across my screen. I then saw the sight and, to my surprise, my insides churned. Funny, I was churning as I saw in the United Kingdom. At least it was Northern Ireland (another oppressed land) and not the mainland.

That is what really made my insides hurt. It was the guard-of-honour’s salute to Prince Harry. It was the use of the National Anthem during that salute. It was the full of play of the Barbados National Anthem for the oppressor (a rarity and something done for those at the highest level) .

No apology from me. The physical and economic rape we endured in so many different ways. The contemporary economic oppression by a world system these people dominate. These things rile me up but they do not sicken me. The bowing of our people to them; that sickens me.

I realised at that moment when Prince Harry stood on the ship taking the salute that it was the first time I really encountered colonialism. I read a lot about it. It is part of my research . We experience it in so many ways today; especially through the imperial economic regimes but to see it unfolding so blatantly before my eyes. I was now really experiencing it.

When I saw my Governor-General walking behind the Prince. I came, once again, face-to-face, with the oppressor. 50 Years as a period really do not constitute a long time but it it is long enough to truly become independent.

Barbados! Fifty Years of Independence

Barbados Flag

Barbados is the Gem of the Caribbean Sea! Well that is what various people and a few songs say. This year, Barbados and Barbadians from all around the world have the opportunity to celebrate fifty years of Independence from physical colonial rule. I say physical because many of must be aware by now that Barbados, like any other West Indian, Caribbean, non-North American, developing or post-colonial State, is controlled by external forces, powers and economic circumstances apparently far beyond its reach. Put aside the futility that is seemingly our reality alright? It is time to celebrate!

We have sun, we have sea, we have, oh yes we have sand: lots of sand. Fifty years of Independence and all that comes with such a time. Fifty years of gloriously filthy politics where in an island number fewer than three hundred thousand people we pit one section against another in political parties. For what? Apparently instead of making our futures brighter together our time is better spent squabbling over a land much larger than few other island territories and smaller than many many many other territories (not just countries) in the world. One other thing! We have sex but hush hush we are too hypocritical to admit what tourism largely entails.

There is no need to worry and every reason to rejoice for Barbados is the land of Calyp … well no that is Trinidad and Tobago or at least they lay the strongest claim. Maybe we are the land of Reggae and Dub? Well no that is Jamaica. We cannot even claim Reggaeton. Leave that alone. It belongs to Latin America a la Jamaica of course. No, no, no. I am not trying to put Barbados down at all. Of course not. We are the land that invented rum but let us leave that alone. If I get into that now I may have no idea when I would stop. We have Spouge. A music, a beat, a language we all but abandoned as we did its pioneer and our fellow Barbadian Mr. Jackie Opel. Surely, we will hear a bit of Spouge now that we are celebrating the big Five Zero.

Five-Nought! Yes, for fifty years are but a speck in the eye of so many others humans have existed but let us celebrate being adults now. Let us also celebrate all of the people who put us in this position save those who do not or did not belong to your ideological camp, was or is not the skin colour you prefer or whose ideas were just oh so far out there that you consider that person a downright fool. Yes. Celebrate. 

Poverty abounds and surely women, hard-working and industrious as they are must be feeling the pressures more than ever now. In this matrifocal society women head most households (let us not fool ourselves by thinking otherwise) yet we have men beating women at so many turns. Of course we cannot blame women for this predicament. We must blame the absent fathers and everybody else not in the child’s life. Curse me, hate me even for saying this but who raises a child matters less than how that child is raised. Children need love more than homes with nuclear families. I have always found the term nuclear family quite amusing. Sounds to me like something will explode. You know what? Blame no one. Responsibility need not be taken at all. Let us burry our heads in our glorious independent sand and wish reality away, away, away. 

Listen, I am not bashing women. Not at all. Another term I find amusing is testicular fortitude. The testicles, balls, nuts, whatever you want to call them are so fragile that such a term should be an oxymoron. Vaginal fortitude is the strength worthy of such acclaim. It should be obvious why but apparently not since that foolish term about male genitalia is still in vogue. With all of the women ever born to claim Barbados as home and only one female national hero? Alright. Whatever you say.

Who are you by the way? Who are the people who decide what, where, why, with whom and how things happen? Fifty years of Independence and not only must we still have to struggle against external forces (that is is only natural since there greedy humans abound) we must also deal with home grown oppressors using the rule of law to bind us. We must also deal with their supports hiding in the bushes intellectually and otherwise masterbating to the thoughts and wishes of their appointed leaders. What a waste of a people and opportunity.

Let us end this on a good note. We, Barbadians, have accomplished much in these fifty years. We have accomplished so much we can forget everything that ever happened before Independence. We are a proud people. We will be the best. Pride and Industry are our watchwords.  Hollow words now. The words our “leaders” often feed us like rotten porridge. We are too accustomed to drinking hollow words. Hollow words are all we have and all we will ever have until we fill them with action.

Being Yourself

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Often, we are told to change who we are but we should not do that willy-nilly. We should be ourselves. We should only change ourselves if we want to change. Normally I speak about political issues but today is a different day. The world is a different world. Children are being brought up in societies where being different is more becoming the norm yet we still have a lot more of the same.

Be like us! The world says be like us. Do what we do. Join this or that profession. This or that other career path is not a ‘real’ profession. There are times, of course, in life when we must follow the rules and conform to certain standards but that does not mean you should lose who you are. 

The message I am leaving here is not one of be different or stand out from the crowd. I am saying do what you want to do. Be who you are. Even if you do not know yourself at all get on the road and be the best you can be in the moment until you find a better you. We are always finding our better selves. Our best selves are out there . Better said, our best selves are inside of us.

We are constantly honing our personalities by our choices. I think it would be better (this is just a thought so do what you want in the end) if we make choices in our best interest instead of adhering to choices made for us. Of course we do not always know what is best for us. That is why sometimes we must choose to listen to the advice and sometimes the commands of others. Thing is that choice is still your choice to make and no one else’s . 

This life is a curious life. It is a life like the game of cricket; full of glorious uncertainties. If life were straight-forward all of the time it would surely be too dull for many of us. There would be some of us who would love it that way. They have their slice of life on earth too where some things are as straight as they can be. For the rest of humanity, wherever you are, actually for all of humanity just enjoy whatever it is you are doing, be yourself and do you to the best of your ability.

Time For Change?

Close-up of a clock showing the words "Time For Change". Shallow depth of field.

From time-to-time we often hear there is a need for change in the country. Someone calls in on a radio programme. Another person in your neighbourhood, maybe a friend, makes a comment about how the politicians are ‘wicked’ or ‘corrupt’. You know how it goes. Election time comes and the politicians begin campaigning with promises of ‘change’. Yet, somehow, after all of these calls and decisions made in hope of change things, today, seem so much like the same. 

From election cycle to election cycle in countries around the world the calls of change are made. Outside of election time, committees and organization, local, regional and international, are created with the purpose of making some change in some place in this world. Where is the change? 

I will list some questions for you. You can take the time to think about them when you have a chance. I have some responses but I will keep them to myself at least for now. Here they are:

  1. If the world is supposed to be such a loving place why is there so much poverty?
  2. If certain doctrines, religious and legal, label us all as created equal then why are we making a world that is not?
  3. Why is it that that in many parts of the world people have the right to live in poverty but are barred by lay from ending their lives?
  4. Is there really a way to end poverty?
  5. Is political correctness the way to conduct public discourse? Maybe there is room for the not-so-nice-talk.
  6. Are safe spaces necessary?
  7. Why is it important to have Black people represented at awards shows?
  8. Is atheism the answer? One may ask the answer to what?
  9. Do we need governments?
  10. What would the world look like without money?

It seems as though we have a lot of the wrong change in this world. People doing little things with little effect. Pocket change maybe?

Energy and The Future of Barbados

As the 21st. Century speedily moves on, we, as a people, just like those in the rest of the world, must assess and evaluate challenges to our future. We must plan and implement our solutions with some proper speed in order to preempt any future unforeseen reality. Whether future events be positive, neutral or negative we must plan to our best ability for the the dynamics of life; especially living in this world with others. It is with this preamble in mind that I make a case for the need to seriously and comprehensively tackle the issue of energy-use in Barbados. Maybe even this argument can be applied with some modification to public utilities in general.

Barbados, in the global sphere, is a non-player in oil. Oil in the previous century ruled the day. In this day it rules in places it is still needed and in others where it is no longer a necessity has declined. The government of Barbados reviewed its energy policy and made way for the advancement of  the already growing alternative energy sector but its regulation needs to be brought into line with the policy outlined.

If it is that Barbados wishes to be less dependent on the importation of oil, if not independent of it, then it must allow the use of alternatives to flourish. Not only is alternative energy a more environment-friendly solution, it is a more cost-effective one. The importation of oil is still needed when it comes to powering certain things such as transportation (until we change our appetite). However, when it comes to powering our homes, hospitals, businesses and other utility plants we can do better and we must.

Currently, Barbados’ sole power company enjoys a monopoly on the supply of that form of energy to the market which is primarily utilized by households and business; the circumstance of which is to the detriment of us all. If monopolies are to be tolerated, it should be as a result of the country not being able to do better. Before the liberalization of the telecommunication market in Barbados, there was one monopoly enjoying the rewards of such a status because we could not do better. When we could do better. When that monopoly afforded us space to get to a better standard of development, we eventually encouraged other players to compete. With competition came relatively more growth and dynamism in service to the market. Imagine the implementation of the government’s increase on Value Added Tax on data-usage for cellular phones with only the monopoly of one telecommunications company.

Currently, the people of Barbados are beholden to the whim and fancy of one artificial monopoly for power which is a necessity. It is an artificial monopoly because we can do better. Better yet, is the circumstance that unlike the telecommunications industry, the alternative market players are home-grown. From within we have provided solutions to our woes. The forcing of producers of alternative forms of power to supply the monopoly with their produce to repurchase it is akin to theft.

If it is that without the government-assisted monopoly power a company will die this means it is no longer needed. At all times we must look to ourselves to be our own saviours. Our present monopoly is not owned by us but we are protecting it in a circumstance where its own country’s laws would not. We must do better (not as a symbolic gesture of independence) simply because we need to do better in order to move to a higher stage of development.

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When Will People Take Control of Their Lives?

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In democratic societies, especially the liberal kinds, the electorate is often faced with the challenge of weeding out, from among those who offer themselves for public service, those who ‘know’ and those who think they ‘know’ but in reality do not. It is a peculiar case for any people to have to carry out such an action because it means we have to think. Each eligible person and even those under the age of voting, to a lesser extent, must peruse their minds about what they want to see become of their country, whose message resonates with how he or she feels and who is the person most likely to make this happen. Unfortunately, thinking or maybe I should say critical thinking is quite lacking among the general populace. Even those who think they think critically do not.

Ever so often, about every four to five years, the Caribbean people in particular are faced with a melancholy. They must elect without knowing the candidates. Arguably, aside from politicians in very authoritarian democracies and dictatorships, Caribbean politicians enjoy a large cushion of protection from scrutiny. I should say here that when I say Caribbean I really mean primarily those in the West Indies. Yes, that place which like most other post-colonial regions adapted the British West Minster System into ‘models’ to ‘suit’ the New World Environment.

When one really thinks about the whole situation, there is little surprise coming to mind as to why the people do not really know the policies of those they elected and those who want to be elected. The ‘models’ we have, we, as a collective, did not make. We trusted our pioneers and founding fathers to make certain decisions such as the construction of our Constitutions which dictate almost every facet of our living instead of taking a stake in the pie. Yes, one may argue that West Indian Constitutions are Acts of the British Parliament and not even our leaders of the time really had a say. Yes, we may also argue that the ‘we’ about which I speak really means our foreparents so today’s people are not to blame for what we experience presently. Surely, we know all of that to be erroneous.

We are the ones living today and every day we let pass without engaging the very nucleic forces of our society is another strike taken off of the ‘we’ of the past to be marked against the ‘we’ of today. The politicians need not go beyond a manifesto to debate because we have hardly ever challenged them to do it. Think about it. If it is that those who sell goods and services usually provide a certain quantity and quality commensurate with market they serve then would not it be reasonable to assume that our leaders (trade union leaders, parliamentary members, clergy, teachers, government administrators) would respond to our demands since we are the market and the only market to which they can ply their trade? Normally markets are held captive but geography and nationality hold our suppliers captive; making us their masters and them our servant-leaders. 

With this small argument in mind, hopefully you recognize that it is within your rights to demand from those you employ the deliverance of what you want. It is also your right to do and say nothing to affect this occurrence. However, if you neglect your duty, even though you may benefit from the actions of those who demand what they want, in the long-run you, mostly likely, will also be neglected. 

The Caribbean Reality

European-Imperialism

Drawing from the colonial period, which only functionally ended with the British West Indies’ labour unrest in the 1930s, the West Indian reality is today one of systemic un-freedom due to the maintenance of the plantation society which perpetuates a plantation-like socio-economic structure. To believe that the end of colonialism-proper means the end of authoritarian governments and anti-democratic mechanisms such as criminal libel laws to control the media would be a mistake. One must understand that the Caribbean in general, and the West Indies in particular, are substantially defined by colonialism. Consequently, the Caribbean may be seen as a post-slavery civilization with a mirroring politico-economic structure.

The influence of Euro-American foreign policy, facilitated through international aid, dictates the Caribbean development agenda; limiting the extent to which the region exercises its right to self-determination. This situation dates back to independence of the then colonies; being preceded by the implosion of the West Indies Federation in 1962. Though popular sentiment may resist Euro-American policies which, inherently carry with them the refashioning of the Caribbean way of life, there is a tradition of compromise with international powers to facilitate local development. This explains why, for example, even though in many Caribbean countries while corporal punishment is a popular statutory mechanism for disciplining school children, the UNICEF’s call for its end was not vehemently rebuffed as imperialism; but instead compromise was made by establishing ‘child-friendly’ non-‘flogging’ schools.

The Caribbean understands its dependent disposition relative to more developed economies and uses diplomacy to safeguard its future. This inherently means compromise at the expense of sovereignty. The Caribbean way of life, like Latin America, has a fixation on peace and investment in our greatest, and in the case of countries like Barbados, our only abundant natural resource; its people. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) declaration of our region as “a zone of peace”, and the exclusion of this hemisphere’s military and economic great powers, the USA and Canada, from its ranks at its establishment in 2011 are testimony to this fact. This concept of peace, created through mutual respect for culture and individual history guides the Caribbean, of which various Latin American and South American countries are geographically a part, in its quest for prosperity; however limited it may be. This exploration of the Euro-American Nexus’ relation to the Caribbean creates greater appreciation of the ensuing topic of Caribbean domestic policy.

Barbados proves the greatest case study for understanding Caribbean development philosophy and its inextricable link to education as evidenced by 14.27% (2009) of government expenditure allocated to that sector. Unlike Jamaica with an abundance of bauxite and Trinidad and Tobago controlling vast oil reserves, Barbados is without natural resources; circumstancing a people-centred society. Historically, Barbadian politics and economic initiatives were primarily constructed by the people’s needs. Consequently, profits derived were used for their benefit. With a size of 166 square miles and a population under 300 000, Barbados has over 70 and 20 primary and secondary schools respectively, leading to being among the top 5 literate countries at 100% in UNESCO world rankings.

Human development policy emphasis and the creation of the welfare state directly derived from colonialism and cannot be ignored. Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor designate of the University of The West Indies (UWI) and Chairman of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Committee On Reparatory Justice, in addressing the British Parliament in 2014 explains that Caribbean poverty is systemic because the British Parliament, “in 1833 determined that the 800,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean were worth, as chattel property, £47M [£3.892B Conservatively (2013)]” and in compensating slave owners for the loss of ‘property’, “provided the sum of £20M [1.656B (2013)] in grants”, while refusing compensation to freed Blacks. Compensation was denied and poverty institutionalized by way of British Emancipation Acts which gave Caribbean countries independence while holding that, “ ‘property’ cannot receive property compensation”.

Less than a century ago, Barbadian children attended school barefooted while pit-toilets and outdoor kitchens fuelled by firewood were commonplace. In fact, these conditions are but some of the reasons for the labour unrest earlier mentioned. This reality is only but a half-generation (25/2 years) removed from the general populace but various aspects are a mainstay in contemporary Caribbean life. Circumstances like mass child labour prompted Caribbean countries, to compromise with the economic (white planters) and political (black descendants of the enslaved as well as indentured servants) majorities in order to secure the universal right to education but it was Barbados that made it free up to tertiary level.

Contextualized by these maladies, one is dismayed by the Barbadian government’s decision in 2013 to limit the access to universal education. Until then Barbadians enjoyed, through heavy direct income taxation (20% to 35%) and indirect value-added taxation (17.5%) tax-payer subsidized education up to university level. The ruling party’s argument during the Fiscal Estimates Debate (2013) highlighted education as exponentially increasing government spending to uncontrollable levels; resulting in debt of student fees to UWI exceeding $100M BBD ($50M USD). In accordance with the ruling party’s solution students now pay tuition fees while the economic cost is tax-payer funded.

While this seems fair, understanding the Caribbean reality illustrated above, the payment of tuition fees is a barrier to social mobility for the average Caribbean person because Barbadians still pay heavy taxation rates in addition to this new barrier. What placed Barbados ahead of many Caribbean countries including the more historically powerful Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and what makes Barbados’ achievement the Eastern Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis is the rapid transformation of the socio-economic status of individuals unilaterally facilitated by way of ‘free’ education. Though great strides have been made, the reality remains, that systemic generational poverty bars many from being able to pay the tuition fees. Notwithstanding the assurance of loans being available, the impact of high cost of living induced by heavy taxation makes the loan repayment simply impossible.

The generational revolution is under threat!