Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chaos for lack of information

One thing that is a great irritant in Barbados is figuring out what to do in any given circumstances. This could be in part of a problem of being relatively new in a place, but there is more to it here. I have travelled extensively and have figured out many things quickly in countries where I do not know the language, because there are clear signs, or public information is "user friendly" and easy to find. Or there is enforcement of rules, which means that one learns them at least by experience. You must have a ticket for public transport and there inspectors to check. Or, it is an offence to disobey traffic signals and there are often officials present to apply sanctions.

In Barbados, a perverse pleasure seems to come from things being without explanation, or one is left feeling vague; or it is taken for granted that one has a lot of local knowledge. I will give one recent example of this. I received a notice from the postman that a package had arrived for me from overseas, and that I needed to collect it in person, from "Parcel Post GPO", as stamped on the form. The form gives no address or means of contact such as an official's title, or institution's telephone number or e-mail address. So, I have to search in the phone directory to find out where this place is located. The directions that I was given presumed over the phone presumed that I knew Bridgetown well and could find the GPO from a certain place. I found it, with the help of my wife's driver. I should have had concerns when I looked at the form, which indicated that duty may be payable in dollars and cents, or pounds and pence. From what I recall, Barbados moved away from pounds, shillings and pence in the late 1960s! My advice to the Barbados Postal Service, which is I guess what used to be the General Post Office or GPO: you need to move into the 21st century in terms of public communications.

This lack of knowing what to do is what spurs a lot of the frustration on hears on the radio. I hear a lot of complaints about how unehelpful public instutions are: people often cite horror stories of how they had to walk a mine field of rudeness, inaccuracy, and other poor service when they deal with government departments. I heard on a radio call-in program yesterday a plea for the town planning department to have a public relations office, which would give one consistent set of answers to people's question about land use and proper procedure. The caller indicated that depending on which official was contacted, the information given was different. That could reflect great inefficiency, or it could be a state of utter confusion, or it's a don't care attitude. Maybe there is a sense of superiority in the public service, which has within it a sense that it is NOT about public service. Message to those in government offices, performing PUBLIC SERVICE: remember that your task is to SERVE THE PUBLIC.

My third example deals with road traffic. I have seen recently several major junctions where the lights have been set to either flashing red for both directions, or flashing yellow for one direction and flashing red for another; this I have seen outside rush hours but I don't know if they are also set that way for rush-hours. Clearly, drivers here do not know what to do in such circumstances. In the UK and US, the red light means stop, even when flashing. So, flashing reds at a cross roads mean everyone stops before proceededing. In the US, for flashing red in both directions, the rule is first-come-first served, so there is a clear sequence of which vehicles should proceed and when. Of course, when the lights are set up like that drivers are normally reminded on the radio or local TV, and sometime, police are at the major junctions just in case. Flashing yellow means proceed with caution, you have priority, but look out; those with flashing red need to give way to those who face flashing yellow. What I have seen here is whoever is coming fastest continues, and no particular rule seems to apply. I have heard nothing on the radio giving advice or reminders, and I see no one monitoring the junctions. I have seen many near crashes, and lots of irate drivers cursing each other. So, message to those responsible for traffic control: explain to the people what they are supposed to do, before there is no terrible accidents at one of these junctions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The problems you have in simply finding your way around aren't just because you're new to Barbados. I was born in Barbados and lived there for 18 years (I'm in university overseas now) and I'm usually equally confused when trying to find my way around the little 14 x 21 island.

Imagine my dismay when the Minister of Public Works & Transport held a press conference a year or so ago to announce the erection of a road sign on Highway 7 (which was done with the assistance of the BTI). It's a sad day when a road sign on one of the island's busiest roads is seen as a major accomplishment.