Barbados Chamber of Commerce Address from Hon. Mia A. Mottley deemed Landmark Presentation: “Notes From a Native Son” – 1st Oct, 2010 By Hal Austin

Within the space of a 36-hour period, two developments have taken place in Barbadian political space – an ailing prime minister David Thompson has emerged from his sick bed to reshuffle his top team of ministers; and, almost unmentioned by the print media – a sad reflection of what journalism used to be in the days of Carl Moore, Robert Best, Carlton Proute and others – Opposition leader Mia Mottley made a speech to the Chamber of Commerce which, I predict, will be seen over time as one of the more important post-independence speeches to be made by any political leader. {EDITOR’S NOTE: Full Text of Speech can also be downloaded HERE}

Austin observes apart from the Opposition Leader, "At a time when the nation is crying out for firm and visionary leadership, not a single member of the Cabinet has been able to even make a coherent speech in the absence of the Prime Minister."

Austin observes apart from the Opposition Leader, "At a time when the nation is crying out for firm and visionary leadership, not a single member of the Cabinet has been able to even make a coherent speech in the absence of the Prime Minister."

First, the decision to reshuffle his ministerial team speaks volumes for the prime minister’s dignity in the face of physical adversity, his stoicism and commitment to public service.

But, it also went to the heart of the problem with this grossly inept and incompetent government which, missing its leader, has been fluffing about like headless chickens.

At a time when the nation is crying out for firm and visionary leadership, not a single member of the Cabinet has been able to even make a coherent speech in the absence of the prime minister.

They have not shown any ability to manage nor indeed have they come to terms with the mechanics of policy-making – just look at the mess that is the Civil Service, the inability to come to terms with financial regulation and supervision, the crisis in the police, the anarchy on the streets with 30000 uninsured motorists, the meltdown at the hospital and the lack of an overall health policy, the failure of the educational system, the collapse of the criminal justice system.

So, fundamentally, the Prime Minister’s reshuffle is aimed more at putting right these small management and policy-making details than at refreshening his top team.

The Needham's Ballroom was packed to capacity for Ms Mottley's landmark presentation

The Needham's Ballroom was packed to capacity for Ms Mottley's landmark presentation

However, it is Mottley’s speech to the BCCI which has caught my eye since it has embedded in it answers to the implicit promises made that wet November night when we obtained our formal constitutional independence from Britain.

Her call for the fire sale of a large number of the government-owned and controlled business and property portfolio comes at a time when the nation’s balance sheet is seriously over-loaded with debt.

But, the important part of her speech, which should grab most taxpayers, is her call for ownership of these assets by Barbadians.

Such a policy, if driven down, could transform wealth distribution in Barbados in such a radical way that it would neutralise the over-dependence on tourism as the key driver of the local economy.

By developing a substantial local middle class – and here I am not talking about those who have qualification which they mistakingly believe entitles them to be middle class. I am talking about substance.

Mottley also raised the issue of governments owning air and sea ports, the Transport Board, hospitals, highways, and everything in between as historically outdated. Many of these could be run by social enterprises, including the National Housing Corporation.

More importantly she also called for the overhaul of the anarchic and lawless public transport system, and asked, quite rightly: why can’t the Transport Board be owned by the workers and trade unions? And why not.

With BCCI's Sr VP looking on, Ms Mottley takes a moment to fine tune the speech before stepping up to the lectern

With BCCI's Sr VP looking on, Ms Mottley takes a moment to fine tune the speech before stepping up to the lectern

Also, with 350 ZR owners causing chaos on our streets, the time has come for the re-nationalisation of the entire public transport system, then privatising it, with owners and other ordinary Barbadians getting the majority share, leaving the rest to professional and institutional investors.

Mottley has raised an issue for public debate that should now dominate political discourse for sometime. It is a real answer to the economic mess we are in.

Hal Austin, London

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