“Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” – 2 Corinthians 9:6
This weekend, we in Barbados celebrate the birthday of the late Rt. Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, national hero, acclaimed as the father of Barbados’ Independence. It is on occasions like this that we have the opportunity to reflect as a nation, as a unified force, and assemble our resources to build on the foundation of 40 years of Independence and take the nation onwards and upwards for the enhancement of socio-economic well being of the populace.
Indeed, on January 04 1966, Errol Walton Barrow, speaking of the colonial experience, reminded us “â€¦We have learnt one lesson and one lesson alone, that is how not to live together in unity. We have evolved a formula for living together, but not having any strength. This is one of the paradoxes of our colonial situation in Barbadosâ€¦ The soul of the community has to be laid bare, and there is no better time to do that than when we are preparing for Independence, so that we know what we are, who we are and where we are going.”
The father of Independence was called to higher office about 20 years after. Five years after that, there was a local economic crisis and the Barbados social partnership emerged as a panacea intended to reverse the trend of declining economic fortunes. It was an institutional arrangement among representatives of the major stakeholders in the country, each claiming it as its own, thus bringing the government, private sector and trade unions together to foster socio-economic development in Barbados. It is an excellent concept and the envy of many a small island state and emerging nation. Since then, independent economic growth and human development indicators have reflected the type of positive trends that were desired.
Its longevity depends on getting the corporate governance right and this has been a major challenge. In my opinion, the roles of the primary social partners are as follows: the role of the private sector is to effectively manage business and grow the economy, the role of government is to provide regulatory and service functions and create a user-friendly enabling environment for the private sector, the role of the trade unions is to induce harmony between employer and employee to achieve greater productivity for fair compensation.
Incidentally, I would like to presumptuously add that the social partnership should be extended to include representatives of the mass media and NGOs. The media has a very important communication role to play. It should act as a catalyst in the achievement of the objective of sustainable development. The role of NGOs is to support the other social partners by mobilizing volunteers and garnering grant support from benevolent sources.
There are disturbing symptoms. The traditional private sector, which has accumulated many assets over the years through the business of trading to a guaranteed market, seems to be lulled into the sense of false security of doing traditional business. Because of the timidity to explore uncharted waters, it is not responding fast enough with the vision that is needed in a world now driven by the information and telecommunications revolutions, renewable energy options and services opportunities. This stymies the growth rate of the country.
The Government is apparently impatient and is seen to be delving into doing business in voids created by the private sector. Whereas this is admirable it is not optimal because the systems of government are not conducive to doing business in an efficient manner. They should better spend their time encouraging an emerging private sector to exploit the low hanging fruit in the new world of opportunity, addressing the challenges in the enabling environment and later facilitating a tree climbing exercise to benefit from the bonanza of the full harvest.
Whereas the trade unions have exhibited some frustration in the operational efficiency of public and private sectors and have been tempted to interfere, they have not recognized that the full power of their engines could be most effectively unleashed by focusing on their constituents to enhance productivity while ensuring fair compensation and conditions of service.
The social partners together have postured at the ideals of service excellence but the reality is more in the word than in the action.
What if Errol Barrow were to be alive today, would he be proud of the way his Independence legacy has been managed? What would he have to say of the twenty years of post Independence experience since his death? Perhaps he may have said “We have learnt one lesson and one lesson alone, that is how not to live together in a social partnership. We have evolved a social formula for living together but not having any strength. This is one of the paradoxes of our Independence situation in Barbadosâ€¦ The soul of the community has to be laid bare, and there is no better time to do that than when we are preparing to leverage what we have learnt from our forty years of independence, so that we know what we are, who we are and where we are going.”
If the social partnership sows sparingly it will also reap sparingly, if it sows generously it will also reap generously. They can help us to manage our happiness.