“Notes From a Native Son – Sept 22, 2010” by Hal Austin, London: APPENDIX TO FMR. BARBADOS P.M. OWEN ARTHUR’s BIBA LECTURE
Although former prime minister Owen Arthur may talk a good game, the reality is that he get lots wrong. His address to the Barbados International Business Association was, in certain parts, a damning indictment of his own time in power.
A poor cultural work ethic; lack of proper education; our lack of competitiveness; and, most of all, his condemnation of the national spend on higher education, about 7 per cent of GDP.
The truth is that if we really want to develop a knowledge-based economy, we must not only spend a higher percentage of GDP on higher education, but it must be strategically spent.
And the proposal for a so-called University College is not the answer. What is the University College going to provide that cannot be provided by UWI and the community college? If the current generation of school leavers are coming our of secondary education semi-educated, how is a University College going to remedy this?
He also cast doubt on proposed cuts to the funding of UWI. What is needed is a more strategic way of spending money on the institution that should be driving forward our progress.
UWI has got to decide if it is a teaching university or a research institution; whichever it decides, it must improve its standing based on an objective international ranking.
Further, we must find alternative ways of funding UWI, other than taxpayers dipping in to their hard earned cash every year to fund a superfluous restaurant, as sports ground that is better kept than the national stadium, and bursting the arrogance behind the nonsense of the idea of a Bridgetown Campus. Cave Hill is just more than two miles from the centre of town.
But Arthur, in his term as prime minister, also failed to deal effectively with the criminal justice system and the explosion in youth crime can be put firmly at his door.
Arthur also failed to design a progressive health policy, including allowing the hospital to run down, not making adequate provision for medical care in rural areas, especially for accidents and emergencies. A situation that has resulted in the doctors now trying to blackmail the nation.
He failed to reform the civil service, which operates like an old-fashioned administrative Mafia, looking after its own interest at the detriment of the nation.
His administration also failed to put in place a progressive business development strategy; or even the framework for the building of a sound knowledge-based economy.
When it comes to housing, Arthur demonstrated a complete ignorance of what a modern housing policy means, with officially 30,000 people either homeless or living in over-crowded and often dilapidated conditions.
His failure to put in place a proper financial regulatory system was responsible, directly or indirectly, for companies such as Clico, AIG and others abusing the system, through poor management, as in the case of Clico, or outright dishonesty.
Apart from the vulgarity of much of Crop Over, there is not, and never has been, a proper cultural policy programme in Barbados. Not even now. In fact, it seems as if the senior managers of the National Cultural Foundation do not even know what a cultural policy strategy is, judging from recent remarks at a public meeting in London. Arthur must share the blame for this awful blackspot.
Not since independence – in reality, since internal self-government – has there been a shared vision of the kind of society we would like to be, apart from an overwhelming sense of a bold and in many cases misplaced conspiracy of optimism, that Barbados is great, ‘just look at the UN Human Development Index.’
Finally, Margaret Thatcher ruled as prime minister from 1979 to 1990, 11 years, and at her resignation was the longest ruling British prime minister since Lord Salisbury.
During that period she transformed British society in such a way that it is now difficult to even imagine what Britain was like before 1979.
It is clear that Barbados is not Britain, but after 14 years, the longest consecutive reign of any Premier/Prime Minister in post-War Barbadian political history, there is not a single thing that stands out as Arthurism – not even on the economy, the policy area for which he is best known, or the moribund Caricom disaster, which he likes to be associated with.
It is true this government is caught like a rabbit in oncoming headlights trying to put right a lot of things it inherited, along with the fact that without David Thompson the rest of the government look like headless chickens, running round in circles while the country goes down the drain.
Even so, Arthur should do the decent thing and stand aside and give his full support to the new party leader, Mia Mottley, and get on with writing two important and much-needed works. One on Caricom and the other on the political administration of Barbados.