Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley delivered an inspiring speech that was aimed at encouraging the peoples of the Caribbean to see that this place we call home has the potential for great things.
Mottley’s presentation was being shared across the region with an urging that it was a speech that everyone in the Caribbean must see.
The speech was a call to action, a recognition that in this time of COVID-19, which has decimated regional economies and demonstrated the frailty of our existence, sound leadership and vision can help take this place forward.
Since her election as Prime Minister of Barbados, Mottley has stood head and shoulders above her regional counterparts and while these are early days she has the potential to be one of the greatest regional prime ministers.
Her ability to take challenging concepts and explain them in a way that the average person can understand is a feat that few can muster. For sure she is a woman of substance and capacity and a breath of fresh air for a Caribbean often badly served by prime ministers whose mandates appear to be only that of winning elections at all cost.
Mottley does not have a plural society to deal with and in leading Barbados avoids the debilitating issue of race that acts as an albatross around the necks of T&T, Guyana and Suriname.
She does not have the extent of economic inequality of Jamaica nor the slow development that is the hallmark of most of the Eastern Caribbean countries. But she has inherited a situation where Bajan pride was battered, where they were forced to seek the intervention of the International Monetary Fund to provide balance of payment support and from all reports while the bitter medicine has been given to Bajans, including the sending home of 3000 public servants, her stature has not been diminished at home and abroad she has confidently stepped onto the global stage, showing once again that in this land conquered by Columbus and built on the backs of brutal slavery and indentureship we still produce exceptional individuals who are world class.
For Mottley, the future of the Caribbean is based on technology and innovation and she called for a summoning of the collective will and capacity of the region to point a way forward and be leaders in the world.
She used the example of the ability of Caribbean countries to recover after devastating hurricanes as an example of how we may show the world what climate resilience is about.
Barbados Prime Minister expressed confidence that we too can be innovators in a world increasingly dominated by technology and move away from the mono crop economies of oil, sugar, tourism, agriculture and the likes.
This column has consistently advocated an economic approach that maximises returns from the oil and gas sector by fixing the challenges throughout the value chain, including ensuring a competitive fiscal regime.
We must determine the sector(s) that will bridge the gap in earnings over the next five to ten years while we build out the future. Therefore we must be laser focused on enabling manufacturing, not just in food and beverage, but heavy industrial manufacturing that uses the oil and gas sector as the building blocks towards deeper, high value manufacturing. This must be backed by innovation, efficiency and strengthened regulatory framework.
While this is happening a retooling of the education system must occur, preparing students for future jobs and importantly for them owning and operating their own business.
There is a saying in the US, if you cannot find a job then create one, and that too must be our mindset. A sense of entrepreneurship must be the hallmark of the society. I am not advocating creating a business for the sake of it, but creating businesses that can then scale up into regional and international businesses. These are all within the realm of possibilities. What it needs is a change in the mindset of the population. Creating a business means you are less likely to make transfers to places like CEPEP. Retooling the education system means that fewer people are being prepared to be workers, government workers, and more people are seeing themselves as entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, data scientists etc.
Reform of the public sector into a more regulatory role, one that enables business will allow for a smaller civil service focused on providing services to the population and free up money for infrastructure and other projects.
T&T is lucky, in that its infrastructure remains well ahead of the region and many other middle-income countries. It still has some levers but the window of opportunity is quickly closing and it is this which makes Mia Mottley stand head and shoulders above many of her peers.
You see Mottley was able to communicate in clear ways the challenges facing Bajans and work with the private sector, including creditors in finding solutions. Pivot from that approach to what we have seen in the last week.
It started at the end of the budget debate when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sought to use his time attacking the opposition United National Congress on issues that were already settled in the last general elections.
Dr Rowley in case you did not realise the elections are over and your party has been returned to power. You prosecuted your case and the voters supported your point of view, the time has come to govern the country and whether you like it or not the country gave you and your party a narrow victory and that means you need to work with the Opposition on getting very important things done.
You need the UNC to get the statistical institute established, so the country can have current data and both government and businesses will be in a position to make decisions based on real information and not what happened two years ago.
You need the UNC to get the revenue authority passed and as mush as the Opposition has for a long time adopted an untenable position and allowed for billions of leakage, without support it will not be passed.
It is true that this is a difficult country to govern, with decades of deep seated mistrust and racial divide, but you are the Prime Minister and has to lead, even if in embracing the opposition you open yourself to the risk of betrayal.
On the other hand, we have Mrs Persad Bissessar, fighting for her political life and trying to act as if there was no election and she was not again defeated. She spends her time questioning the mental health of the Prime Minister.
Compare the leadership we have in T&T with that displayed by Ms Mottley and its a simple case of chalk and cheese.
The country will go no where when we are bent on destroying each other.
We have made big errors which we are paying dearly for right now. Our refusal to have an aluminium industry has left us a poorer country. Our failure to have bid rounds on time cost us dearly.
There will be time to fight for your cause, time to organise and rally. This is a time to rally yes, to rally for T&T, to rally for a better, more efficient country.
Dr Rowley, Mrs Persad Bissessar as you are in the winter of your years and leadership the country should expect and demand greater wisdom.
Ms Mottley is of a different generation and maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign that what we have experienced as a region recently was an anomaly and better will emerge. We can only hope.