All hands on deck for Barbados development
April 21, 2019
It’s ‘all hands on deck’ as Barbados seeks to return to a sustainable growth trajectory.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley delivered that message to nationals at town hall meetings in Montreal and Toronto on April 7 and 8.
High levels of government debt and shrinking foreign currency reserves forced the new Barbados Labour Party government to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.
The IMF approved a US$290 million extended arrangement to help the country restore debt sustainability, strengthen its external positon and improve growth prospects.
“Barbados isn’t going to make it in this world again with just Barbadians living in Barbados,” said Mottley who was elected the country’s first female PM in May 2018. “What we need to do is build a movement. It wasn’t my responsibility simply to lead a political party because no one party can turn around the country in any five, 10 or 20 years based on where we had gone, and no resident population can do so. It’s time for all to appreciate that your country doesn’t simply want you. We need you.”
It’s estimated that nearly 40,000 Barbadians reside in Canada.
“I am asking you to be active citizens of Barbados,” pleaded Mottley. “We live in a world that’s highly interdependent and citizenship is essentially about locating yourself in that space working out what you can do to help build out our country and where you also benefit from being in that space with respect to your country. You can be Barbadian by birth, descent, marriage or choice. Very often, the most passionate are the ones by choice.”
“…The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to build back better that which was attacked. But in doing that, it cannot only be about the 300,000-odd people or 166 square miles. If we don’t create the platform for many hands to make light work, the growth that will give us that economic independence and security to make the choices we want to make will not be there. If we can do that, the critical numbers that we will need to manage in order to be able to expand the platform base and create the growth opportunities that we need are all of a sudden there. But it requires decisions by us and decisions and commitment by you as well.”
Mottley said that connecting with the Diaspora in a meaningful way requires the establishment of a database of nationals with skills, knowledge and expertise.
“Many of you have come here and built wonderful careers,” she said. “You have a level of knowledge and capacity that can add serious value to our country. Sometimes, it is not always in the way that you think it ought to be, but by talking to each other, we can find how best to be able to use the repository of skills you have to help us build our country in the most effective and productive way. For you, it may represent economic opportunities as well and for us, it may allow us to recognize we too can add value using our own people and using you as an example to many of our young people as to what is possible if people stay focused, build a career and can come back and add value to the land in which they were born.”
Over the years, Barbadian nationals in Canada and others interested in the development of the Caribbean country have made significant charitable contributions.
They include the Barbados Canada Foundation that is in the process of raising funds to purchase eight Doppler Ultrasound machines for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Barbados Ball Canada Aid that raises funds to provide access to post-secondary educational opportunities for Barbadian students as well as resources for HIV/AIDS programs for youths.
The brainchild of Kay McConney who is a government Senator and Minister of Innovation, Science & Smart Technology in Mottley’s administration, the charity ball has raised thousands of dollars that have gone to Barbadian international students and young people of Barbadian heritage pursuing higher education in Canada, the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) launched in 2012 to assist with the building of health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care and other health care initiatives in Barbados.
“Some of you have been wonderfully giving charitably to things back home,” noted Mottley. “But we need to do it in a more structured and purposeful way now to make sure that what you give is not the same as what someone else in giving from another place. There is a redundancy in one place and large gaps in another.”
Recognizing the enormous value that non-governmental organizations make in adding value to the social and economic development of a country, Colin Jordan holds the Social Partnership Relations portfolio in addition to Labour.
“I appointed a number of key persons that will be able to send the signals of the type of Barbados that I want to build,” Mottley said. “It is not only about labour, but the voluntary sector and the other people who come together to add value. While some view the third sector as only charitable and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), I view it as those people in families and elsewhere who lift up their hands to add value in whatever way every day, whether it is taking care of elderly people or children that nobody is paying them for. That adds serious economic value and helps us to stabilize the people that we have to take care of in the country.”
The announcement that Barbadians will be able to open foreign currency accounts as of July is welcomed by nationals in Canada.
“At the core of part of the problem we had as a nation when we took over 10 months ago was that we took over a country whose reserves were down to $400 million,” said Mottley who was in Washington last week for meetings with nationals and the IMF and World Bank. “We had to restructure our debt and go to the IMF not because we wanted to, but because we had to and because it was the only way we could stem 23 credit downgrades by international financial institutions. You can’t run a long journey without giving people a little breakfast and it is that approach that has allowed us to carry as many people with us and to minimize the level of suffering that could have otherwise obtained in a situation such as this.”
The government has increased non-contributory old age pensions from $145 every two weeks to $225, provided public servants with a five per cent increase, created trust loans and re-established the country’s tuition-free tertiary education policy.
There was a sharp decline in enrolment in the last five years at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus after the former Democratic Labour Party government instituted austerity measures that included students paying tuition fees.
Enrolment at the campus dropped from 8,000 to about 3,000.
“For the first time, government is taking $10 million out of the budget and saying we are going to take care of our people,” added Mottley. “We take a chance every year on people that we don’t even know by giving tax concessions. If I can take a chance on people I don’t know, I must be able to do that on people whose navel strings are buried in Barbados.”
The PM encouraged nationals to return home next year for ‘We Gatherin’ Barbados 2020’ to reconnect with family and friends and invest in the rebuilding and development of the country.