Welcome

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.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cabinet doors open doors, but who can come in?

Last night Barbados' new PM named the members of his Cabinet, and Barbados will see its new government sworn in this afternoon at a special ecumenical ceremony at Kensington Oval.

The list below of Cabinet members will mark the beginning of a set of debates about who is not among them. The most noticeable missing person is St. Lucy MP, Dennis Kellman, second only to Mr. Thompson in terms of parliamentary experience among the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) MPs and viewed by a number of people interviewed in opinion polls ahead of the election as best suited for the No. 2 position. Those who know the local political landscape better than me will perhaps see much manoeuvring in this, not least possible positioning of a successor to David Thompson to lead the DLP. Mr. Kellman has been very vocal on the local radio and also in writing in the newspapers during the year that I have been in Barbados, taking the outgoing BLP government to task, especially on economic issues. He terms his views Kellmanomics, which is a piece of self-aggrandisement, and he is temperamentally a gadfly buzzing around irritatingly. I do not share many of his views on economic issues but I will be very interested to hear and read his views, if he continues to express them publicly. His exclusion will cause controversy, I'm sure.

The PM's speech highlighted many things about his sense of inclusion that people will hold onto initially as markers of where he wants to go, for instance:
  • "to ensure that there is an injection of expertise" in the running of the country
  • "I do not in any way want to belittle the many gifts we have available among the elected representatives"
  • "to complement the talents already in place by introducing a number of ministers with skills in implementation and an understanding of some key technocratic issues to strengthen critical ministries", which he did with his nomination of Senators to ministerial posts
  • drawing on "the best brains available in Barbados to overcome the challenges that we shall face in the near future" (What does that say of his view of Mr. Kellman? Was he offered a post that he declined and got no other offers? What does this say for women? See below.)
Mr. Thompson drew heavily on the coincidence of Martin Luther King's Day in the USA and Errol Barrow Day being celebrated together tomorrow (January 21), and mentioned "I have a dream" several times. In doing so, he also reaffirmed his government's commitment to honour the pledges set out in the Pathways To Progress manifesto. However, he began preparing people for possible hard economic times and acknowledged that the prediction was that 2008 would be a time of serious international economic depression and that this could work negatively on a small economy like that of Barbados. I alluded to this difficult international economic background in my post a few days ago (see previous post).

Being a relatively new observer of developments in Barbados I can rightly be accused of knowing nothing or at best very little about what is going on here. Having little direct experience of how the country has developed I can misunderstand what is really behind many decisions, or what local Bajans believe is behind decisions. Nevertheless, along with local Bajans I will try to fathom his reasoning. What I know is that leaders do not make decisions for no reason. What I also know is that economic fortunes dictate the fate of governments in democratic societies more than other issues.

Mr. Thompson has many albatrosses on his shoulders. First, the never-ending expectations that come from having succeeded Errol Barrow as MP for St. John. Second, I imagine Mr. Thompson is haunted by the memories of what for Bajans was the bottom of the economic pit, when in the early 1990s, under a DLP government of which he was a prominent member, the country had to get financial support from the IMF. Bajans will remember that he was Minister of State with responsibility for finance in 1992-1993 and then Minister of Finance. (He became DLP leader in 1994 when PM Sir Lloyd Sandiford lost a no confidence motion.) Third, he and most Bajans will remember that he led the DLP to election defeats in 1994 and 1999. (He resigned as leader in 2001 and came back in 2005 to replace Clyde Mascoll after the latter switched party allegiance.)

The last DLP government was booted out for economic failure. This result followed a recession in 1990-92, which was associated with very high unemployment (20-25%), declining real wages, and a low level of international reserves. A slow economic recovery began in 1993. But that was too late to save the DLP government of that time. That bitter experience helped catapult the BLP into power and they were at the helm when Barbados saw real GDP growth average 3.5 percent a year during 1994-95, and over 4 percent in 1996. Barbados has enjoyed a stronger economic performance during most of the subsequent 10 years through 2007 (see IMF Public Information Notice). It has moved up to become the highest ranked developing country on the UN's human development index, and has many economic characteristics of a developed country including one of the highest per capita income levels in the region.

I have no doubt that perceptions of economic management will be key to how successful this new government will be. The clamour for more transparency and accountability is rightly loud, but will seem like a whisper compared to the groans if Barbados' economic fortunes begin to falter.

Turning to the issue of inclusion. The elections saw very few women candidates nominated by either party, and only a handful won office (one DLP woman candidate was even wasted by being pitted against another woman, Mia Mottley, who was a lock to win her seat). The PM could have done something to redress that balance by naming some more women in his Cabinet, assuming that the talented individuals are there and willing to serve. If many women are not in the Cabinet, then he may need to do something very visible to show that women have an important decision making role in his government. No modern government should exclude women for reasons other than competence and my belief is that most modern governments will quickly fall if they ignore women in their decision making processes and in the focus of their policies. When Bajans complain about the cost of living I believe that women's voices are the loudest, because like it or not they still manage most households. Remember, the pre-election opinion polls showed consistently that for over 50% of those questioned the cost of living was the most important concern, far ahead of any other issue.

Ironically, in the English-speaking Caribbean we have a long history that highlights the importance of women in holding our societies together; we are essentially matriarchal. Women have grown in prominence and leadership in business, yet we have been slow to promote women, or perhaps women have been slow to promote themselves, in politics. This must change. We have had some great women lead countries in the region and been instrumental in the forming of political parties. Among the modern leaders we can name Janet Jagan (PM and President of Guyana, 1997-1999); Dame Eugenia Charles (PM of Dominica from 1980 to 1995); and Jamaica's recent PM, Portia Simpson-Miller. (In the wider region we can also name Maria Liberia-Peters, PM of the Netherlands Antilles from 1984-1986 and 1988-1994.). Going further back I will name "Queen" Nanny of the Maroons, who led Jamaica's Maroons in the early 18th century.

So, I hope the tone of inclusion that was in PM Thompson's speech stretches further to action to get women more overtly involved in governing this country and the region.
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The Cabinet


* Hon. David Thompson
– Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and Development, Labour, Civil Service and Energy

* Hon. Freundel Stuart – Attorney-General and Minister
of Home Affairs

* Hon. Christopher Sinckler – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business

* Hon. Donville Inniss – Minister of State in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and International Business

* Hon. Dr. David Estwick – Minister of Health, National Insurance and Social Security

* Hon. Ronald Jones – Minister of Education and Human
Resource Development

* Hon. Dr. Denis Lowe – Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development

* Hon. Patrick Todd – Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development

* Hon. Richard Sealy – Minister of Tourism

* Mr. Haynesley Benn will be appointed a Senator – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

* Hon. George Hutson – Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce

* Hon. Michael Lashley – Minister of Housing and Lands

* Hon. Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo – Minister of Family, Youth Affairs, Sports and the Environment

* Hon. Steve Blackett – Minister of Community Development
and Culture

* Hon. John Boyce – Minister of Transport, Works and
International Business

* Ms. Maxine McClean to the Senate as Leader of Government Business and as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

* Mr. Darcy Boyce will be appointed to the Senate and will serve as Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office with special responsibility for Finance and Energy.

* Mr. Arni Walters will be appointed to the Senate and will serve
as Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office with special responsibility for Employment, Labour Relations and the
Social Partnership.

1 comment:

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID said...

Excellent point regarding the role of women in Caribbean politics !!