A Guy's View: Change is sometimes a good thing
“Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that “Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,” as if that makes you somehow cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable.” – Bill Maher, When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism.
A change in Government may either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. For an outgoing administration, it is the worst thing that could happen. For the one coming in, it is heaven on earth: until the next elections.
Unfortunately, few people stop to ask or consider the view of those persons who only want to live as best they might in their country. These persons may be apolitical or ambivalent, considering all politicians to be cut from the same cloth and therefore not worthy of their trouble. This independent view may be the best indicator of where a country is going.
Barbados was stuck in an economic whirlpool which threw up challenge after challenge for those who managed the state’s resources. Policies and strategies were tried with varying degrees of success. It is accepted that by May 24, 2018, no bright sun was rising in the east. The people were given a choice of leadership and they chose to try a different direction, at least they hoped. That decision turned out to be a bitter pill to swallow for some and god coming to dwell with man on earth for others.
Established wisdom suggests that the promised policies of the incoming administration will not work in taking the country out of the economic doldrums. That may be true. But there is only one way to find out. If we never take a different road, how would we find out where it leads?
As fate would have it, the current administration has every seat in the House of Assembly and it seems that even Opposition Senators will be Government Senators. As frightening as that may seem in a country that boasts of democracy, that is exactly what the people said they wanted. If there is any good in that state of affairs, it is that there can be no excuses for the outcome of the policies which the Government will pursue.
In the face of all the country’s economic troubles, the last administration pointed to its herculean efforts to maintain the safety net for the poor and vulnerable among us. This has been a trademark of the Democratic Labour Party. A look at it legislative history in office paints this picture clearly. But that party’s history could not save it when it could not fill the eyes of the people in terms of its handling of the issues which confronted the people in 2018.
The new administration back-raised them in terms of what it offered to those who felt needy. The question now is what the new Government will do differently for the ordinary Barbadian. Benjamin Franklin made an observation that was probably not recognised by the last administration, or if it were, they could not give effect to his sage advice. What he observed requires the striking of a careful balance:
“I am for doing good to the poor, but... I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
It is no easy task to find a way to help the poor without encouraging them to give up effort because they know that they can rely on the state to rescue them. And yet many of them need support if they are to enjoy a decent standard of living. Further, there are still others who must depend on the state just to survive. So one cannot abandon them.
On the other hand, they must be encouraged to help themselves. Many are willing to do so with the correct assistance. However, this raises another challenge which seems a bridge to far for many policy makers. While targeted assistance makes sense, it is not often pursued. It is easy to introduce blanket programmes that do not discriminate and end up wasting more resources than one would wish to acknowledge.
One example is the provision of health care. Barbados has universal free health care at a time when most people in the country can and do pay for the health services they need. The result is that too much of the state’s resources are pumped into this sector, helping the poor, but also wasting money on those who do not need to be kept.
The new administration has undertaken to restore the full payment of tuition fees for students studying at the University of the West Indies. This is a return to our ideal state, but it takes no cognizance of the fact that some students can have their fees comfortably paid without Government assistance and others may need to be assisted only partially.
The previous administration could not find a way to identify the needy and help them while allowing those who did not need their assistance to find their own way. As a result, the partial solution they eventually introduced probably missed the spot. They could not strike the balance of the Franklin model.
For some reason that I have not yet been able to understand, means testing seems to be a bad term in this country. It is either too hard to do or there is some other rationale that prevents it from being used. It is a terrible mistake to abandon this approach to service delivery because it may not be perfectly done at the outset. If one waits for perfection nothing would ever be done.
There are many things that may be done differently and one hopes that the new administration has the courage to try new approaches. Whether or not different would equate to better can only be seen when different is tried. The new Government has all green lights. Go.