THINGS THAT MATTER: Barbados: Paradise lost? Will we regain it?

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..” .
“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” ...
“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.” (all quotes from Paradise Lost, by John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Last week’s column, letter from Brexit Britain, was written after weeks of bitter cold, snow, frost, hail and daily rain. Returning home to a warm and friendly welcome at Grantley Adams Airport, the drive down our gorgeous palm tree-lined Adams Highway and welcome by our bold and beautiful dogs, was share joy. And so I added an introduction to my column on the woes of Britain, celebrating our return home as return to Paradise. But as I’ve reviewed the newspapers of the last few weeks and seen new calamities every day, such as the closure of the new Supreme Court because of mould and staff protest, I’m overwhelmed with sadness. Is Paradise lost?

Clearly the country and many people are feeling overwhelmed – not just by un-remitting South Coast sewage, and the dreadful publicity in Britain, Canada and Russia, but many other worrying things, not least the 90 days stalemate, while we wait for the Prime Minister to return from Lima and London. One wag told me he’s taking bets on the promised date, but with 67 days to go until the latest legally permitted date, for the PM to make history, the odds are long. The same wag says he’s giving the shortest odds on the election date being announced on April 27th, the PM’s birthday or April 28th, National Heroes Day, to capitalise on the popularity of Sir Garfield Sobers, National Hero.

But what are the problems and why are they so worrying? Most can be summarised with the words lack of maintenance and lack of action.

First the sewage. Lack of maintenance over decades, and lack of heeding professional advice several years ago has created the crisis predicted, and even now, professional consultation is a no-no. When doctors have patients with challenging medical problems they seek consultation. The injection wells, said to take a few weeks to then allow pump repairs, are now taking three months, and the risks of water pollution have been well publicised. Meanwhile, as in Macbeth, “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble.” Perhaps election date is contingent on the wells working well ...

Then there’s the sad state of the economy, which should have been dealt with several years ago, the lack of funds and rapidly shrinking foreign reserves. The increasingly rapid decline in foreign reserves (by 15 per cent between November and December last to $410 million) suggests the real possibility of there being none left by June 6th, and there can be little doubt that some businessmen, fearful of devaluation, are hoarding foreign exchange abroad. But Dr. Worrell is being called Cassandra for now being realistic, and the next government is being set up!

Then there’s the perception of corruption. The survey of Dr. Devonish on 1500 respondents (more than many a poll on voting) found that perceived levels of corruption were 51 per cent for police, 50 per cent for lawyers and 48 per cent for the political directorate. These figures are essentially the same, so we can say, sadly, that half of those canvassed consider lawmakers and law enforcers corrupt. A Transparency International report showed that the global average for corruption perception for both police and elected representatives is 36 per cent . So we can proudly boast of being above average! Our problem, so succinctly put by Adrian Green (Sunday Sun, March 25) is that “If a practice is openly accepted as a natural and normal part of our culture, will it be perceived as corruption? Some abused people don’t realise they are being abused, because they think that’s just the way it is.” Integrity commission, way to go, before we’re embarrassed before the world, like the Cayman Islands.

Then, of course, we have the problem of the 90-day hiatus, limbo, interval, respite or historic wasteland of inaction, while elected parliamentarians are paid, presumably to work with their constituents door to door, although some commentators have challenged the process of government by Cabinet, and the informal election campaign waged on CBC TV news, where DLP contenders are featured nightly.

Which leads to the vexed question of the corrupt practice of vote buying. It’s alleged that this has reached the stage in one constituency of gifts of electronic equipment; but while we had the assurance that vote buying of last election would be investigated and outlawed, sadly, after five years of inaction, there’s the shocking advice that it’s OK! Even more sad is that in the 2013 survey of 1500 people by Drs. Karch-Brathwaite and Devonish 19 per cent said they had personally been approached, and 26 per cent said they would accept a gift or payment in exchange for their vote. And “sadder still” is the fact that 45 per cent of younger people (18 to 34) would accept. May the Lord help us!

Corruption across the world does not justify “follow pattern”. Where is our pride? Sir Ronald Sanders (Advocate, March 25) called attention to the corrupt intervention of the SCL Group and its subsidiary Cambridge Analytica in Caribbean elections – in Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts / Nevis, where the Opposition leader was trapped in a sting operation. Can it happen here? What’s new this time around is the many little parties which will, as political commentators have said, merely serve as spoilers, with odd candidates (no pun on “odd”) possibly making a difference in close constituencies. The need for a new party could only be met by a man of enormous ability and charisma – an Adams or a Barrow.

Other areas of gross inaction and serious concern are the failure of almost 20 government entities to have the legally required audits, many for more than ten years. This is a national disgrace, and nothing is done about it. How is our money being spent? If these were private companies heads would roll.

The March papers are filled with union frustration, teachers’ frustration, sugar workers’ frustration, and health workers’ frustration. There is a negativity and “acting out” at all levels of society. Failure to pay the farmers is simply disgraceful, and for discussions to be still taking place in April, drastically reducing this year’s production AND next year’s, is extraordinary. Other puzzles include the bizarre sale price of the Hilton of BDS $ 80 million, when the alleged cost of building it, on valuable, prime ocean-front land more than 10 years ago was more than double that … but no doubt this catalogue of distressing facts will result in my being labelled by Leninists as an enemy of the people.

There is more distressing news in the March papers, but on the bright side is the refurbishment of the South Point lighthouse. This magnificent, iconic, pre-fabricated iron lighthouse designed by William Gordon and exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London could be the most famous and profitable building in Barbados. It’s a pity it’s taken ten years of lobbying, while the full potential of the site as a visitor attraction is still ignored, with proposals in File 13. Similarly, some eight years on, Sam Lord’s Castle remains a shell., while sick buildings proliferate - the Immigration building, parts of the Treasury building, and now the new Supreme Court building. We end where we began – maintenance, maintenance, maintenance – action, action, action. Where is the promised disabilities legislation, building standards legislation, etc., and why has the integrity bill of 2010 sat in file 13 for nearly ten years, to be proclaimed only after the election?

Also on the bright side, crime is down 7 per cent, although fraud is on the rise and juvenile crime is a big concern. And our athletes and swimmers are doing us proud. (Let’s speak not of cricket, except to praise and congratulate Shai Hope on his recognition by Wisden.) Also, we’ve been rated Best Destination Global Category, Best in Americas and Best Accommodation at ITB Berlin 2018. Our tourism is doing well, yet we get deeper in debt. It’s puzzling … But I know we CAN turn things around … we have the talent, we have the pride and industry. Wake up Barbados. Let us – all Barbadians – work together to regain Paradise.

(Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Website:

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