Barbadians were an exceptionally enterprising people. During slavery, our fore-parents were forced to work without payment. After slavery, they were paid for their labour. But the evidence of their labour, both during and after slavery, showed that they produced work to an exceptionally high standard.
By the time of our Independence, most Barbadians had marketable skills by the age of 18 years. Those skills included: masonry, carpentry, joinery, seam-stressing, weaving, tailoring, barbering, baking, nursing, teaching, book-keeping, farming, fishing, boat-building, machining, and the various trades required on the plantations and businesses where many of them worked. Barbadians were justifiably proud of their industriousness.
The Barbados public service was one of the most professional and well managed of all nations. It employed the most qualified Barbadians. By the time of our Independence, it appeared to exceed the international management standard, ISO 9001.
Rural Barbados was mostly a collection of communities, that were connected to plantations. Those who worked on the plantations had access to small lots, where they could plant canes and vegetables. Those in the community supported each other. They reaped each-others’ canes, built each-others’ houses, and shared each-others’ vegetables.
There were disagreements within families and neighbours. But no disagreement affected the unspoken, but understood duty to those in the community. Then something happened after our Independence to divide every community in Barbados, and the duty to share stopped. Something also infected our public service at this time, and our professional public service came to an end. What happened?
In 1950, everyone 21 years and over became entitled to vote. In 1964, this was reduced to 18 years. So, politicians visited the communities in search for votes. Our politicians could not promise employment in the public sector, because it was protected. So, they encouraged Barbadians to hate who they considered to be our common enemy – the white merchants and planters.
Barbados became Independent in 1966. To prevent Barbados from self-destructing, our Constitution protected our professional public service from political abuse. It did this by giving the Governor General the sole duty to hire, discipline and fire public workers.
Our politicians cleverly removed this protection by legislating intermediate politically appointed bodies to manage the public service. They then recommended old-age pensioners to the post of Governor General. Once the Governor Generals were sufficiently distracted with tiresome ceremonial duties, our professional public service became exposed to political abuse.
As each political administration sent thousands of their unqualified supporters to Government departments, they went from being highly professional to highly politicised. Engineering is a classic example.
There were about 10 chartered engineers in three government departments in the 1970s. One decade later, there was not a single chartered engineer to be found in the entire public service of Barbados. Further, when it was brought to their attention that unqualified persons were occupying Engineering posts, the posts were simply renamed to Technical Officer, which automatically qualified their previously unqualified supporters. The tragic effect on quality was foreseen.
Whenever the government changed, the winning political party sent home many of the losing party’s supporters, and filled the public service with their own. Getting work generally did not depend on competence, but on party loyalty.
The unqualified political supporters could be quickly promoted to management positions above more qualified persons. Since the least competent persons could be the most successful, there was little incentive for individuals to pursue excellence. Public services quickly became extremely poorly managed, and very low standards became the new normal.
In the communities, people no longer depended on each-other, but on their politicians. Households proudly declared their political party affiliation, and communities became firmly divided along political party lines.
Approximately 40 years ago, our politicians achieved what two hundred years of slavery never did. They destroyed our sharing communities, dismantled our professional public service, erased our desire for excellence, and got us to blame each other for their corrupting mismanagement.
To sustain their achievements, they have convinced the current generation of Barbadians that incompetence must be tolerated, because it is the best that descendants of slaves can achieve. They have also brainwashed their most extreme supporters, to deprive anyone who dares to question their performance.
After our politicians got the merchants to fund their political parties, our politicians had to find a new enemy for us to hate – ourselves.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com