Today, on our 53rd anniversary of Independence, I wish you Barbados a blessed birthday. And I trust that as you enjoy the blessings of the day you spare a moment to reflect on the significance of the occasion. This year, as we celebrate our Nation’s 53rd anniversary of Independence, we have much to be thankful for, because, through the eyes of many, Barbados is punching above its weight division, once again.
Our financial indicators have all shown significant improvements, the approach we have taken to the management of our economic affairs has been commended at home and abroad and is already bearing fruit. Simply put, the economy of Barbados, at the end of November 2019 is on the right track; moving, in the right direction.
Our preparations for a significant number of investment and development projects are now well underway, and we are confident that when the new year opens we will see the beginning of a transformation that will touch just about every aspect of our daily lives.
And nowhere will this be more evident than in and around this very Bridgetown in which we now celebrate. From the Hastings/Garrison area, along Bay Street, the Pierhead and Cavans Lane, Hincks Street and beyond into Black Rock, you will see massive change.
In the heart of the City we have already begun the transformation of Fairchild Street, with a new vendors’ market that will cater to ordinary salt-of-the-earth Barbadians.
Before the end of the year, we will see the demolition of the old NIS building to allow for a hitherto ignored place of national significance, Golden Square, to be transformed and opened up.
We will see the Rastafarian community at Temple Yard finally being treated as a valued class of entrepreneurs for the first time, with a make-over of that community. And that is just a snapshot of what we intend to do with bricks and mortar.
“Guaranteeing that we can leave for our children a Barbados that is better, and not just economically richer, requires every last one of us to stand up and be counted. It requires every last one of us to make an investment in our country…”
But if concrete, steel and other building materials, if architectural plans and town planning approvals; if the nod of investors and international financial institutions were all it took to make a nation great, then I would continue to recite plans and achievements — but creating the Barbados we desire and deserve requires much more.
Guaranteeing that we can leave for our children a Barbados that is better, and not just economically richer, requires every last one of us to stand up and be counted. It requires every last one of us to make an investment in our country that, when totalled, will outstrip any injection from the IMF, the IDB, the CDB or any private investor.
Last Sunday, when we held our national independence service at the Wildey Gymnasium, those we attended lit and held high their candles as a symbol of our duty to light the way for each other and our nation. That is the investment of which I speak. That is the commitment I solicit. That is the promise we owe each other.
No amount of foreign capital investment or government spending will substitute for our duty to be our brother’s keeper, to do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us. That light of love, that light of caring, that light of compassion, that light of commitment to honesty, that light that was so characteristic of Barbados when we started this Independence journey 53 years ago needs to shine in and through us all.
We have one month left in the year and already we have recorded 44 murders. That’s a figure that should be absolutely intolerable to every last one of us. Let’s commit to shining on each other that light of tolerance and forgiveness that once was synonymous with being Bajan.
Let us, as we ponder on what Independence ought to mean to us; on where our founding Fathers in 1966 envisioned we would be as a nation more than half a century later; commit to shining that light so brightly among our young men that never again will we have to mourn another Temario Holder.
This year my government has determined that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital will not be starved for funds and we have kept that promise. We have initiated plans to re-equip the hospital, to build a new accident and emergency department, to open polyclinics 24 hours a day; to hire enough nurses to ease a shortage that has been chronic for too long.
And those represent only the beginning of our plans to revolutionise the delivery of health care in Barbados.
But if the lights of kindness, caring and compassion do not shine in us as citizens, too many will continue to receive less than acceptable care. We cannot drop off our sick relatives at the hospital and never look back; we cannot dump our elderly at the Geriatric Hospitals and never look back; we cannot continue to schedule 60-odd persons for medical appoints, all at 8 a.m. and expect them to endure misery and discomfort until late evening.
How long can we continue with this approach of late, where we expect poor service, regardless of where we conduct business and exclaim in amazement on the odd occasion when our experience is exceptional?
We need to light our candles so that every Barbadian, whether he is a car washer, restaurant server, wayside mechanic or customer service manager can see clearly that path to exceptional service that for decades drew tourists to our shores and made us the envy of every Caribbean neighbour.
This government’s initiative to cultivate a culture of excellence across the board will bear little fruit if we are not all prepared to light those candles of service excellence and raise them high for all to see. Too much of our survival is dependent on “services” for us not to understand, appreciate and act as necessary.
It is no secret that we have been short of garbage trucks and other critical pieces of garbage handling machinery long before 2018. Thankfully, we are just weeks away from receiving the first in a package of equipment that will make that a thing of the past. Barbadians deserve relief — you deserve relief.
But no amount of compactor trucks, garbage skips or landfill compactors will eliminate the litter we throw from the windows of our cars or public transport vehicles. They will not eliminate the bags of refuse we throw at the sides of the road, the old fridges and stoves we leave in cart roads or the mattresses we dump in gullies.
Unless we illuminate in our consciences and that light of concern for our environment, for our surroundings, for the safety of our water supply and the health of our population all the millions we spend will be in vain.
“Children, this is your country, this is your Barbados, so let no one dim or extinguish your candle, your love for Bim. When you see adults failing to be their brother’s keeper, tell them it’s not right.”
I trust that by now you have gotten my message — that our destiny is in our hands, that our success is dependent on each of us doing our part, that the things we need to do to guarantee our success are not foreign to us since we once did them with ease.
But perhaps I need to speak to the children of our nation, because they get it, they seem to have a much better appreciation for these things than many of us adults.
Children, this is your country, this is your Barbados, so let no one dim or extinguish your candle, your love for Bim. When you see adults failing to be their brother’s keeper, tell them it’s not right.
When you see them not treating others the way you know they would wish to be treated, tell them it’s wrong. When the person beside you in the car or the ZR or the bus is about to toss that empty cup through the window, tell them “not ‘bout here”.
You be that light of love, that light of caring, that light of kindness, that light of compassion. You be that light that illuminates Barbados and makes it shine as a true beacon of greatness.
Remember, it is our intention to show off our country to the world next year. We Gatherin’ Barbados 2020 must be an occasion when we display to the world the best of what we have to offer, and it must not be a show — it must be a genuine reflection of who and what we are, what we stand for. The light we shine forth must be true.
When the curtain opens up on St Lucy in January, St Peter in February, St Thomas in March and St Joseph in April — when our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our grandparents return to our shores and set foot in Barbados for the first time, the light that we shine on ourselves should truly reflect the pride and industry of our motto.
The allegiance that we so boldly pledge today to our country and our flag should be seen on the highways and byways, the fields and hills, the parks, schools and community facilities of St John in May, St George in June, St Philip in July, and St Andrew in August.
“We loyal sons and daughters all, do hereby make it known…” that St James in September, Christ Church in October and St Michael next November, as the heart of our tourist industry and the centre of our cultural activities will all shine from the lights of cleanliness, tolerance and warmth.
And our national finale in December will be the very epitome of Bajan excellence. That must be our pledge today — and every day going forward.
So let me end where I started, my government is committed to the physical and economic transformation of this country. We are committed to treating all segments fairly and equitably.
We have kept the promise to stabilise that most unhealthy fiscal environment we inherited. Our foreign reserves are strong. The relationship with our local and foreign creditors has been repaired.
We have [a bevvy of] development projects coming on stream that will bring jobs and other economic opportunities.
We have made tremendous strides in improving the way we do business, and as a result, our international profile has improved and continues to do so. There is confidence in Barbados again.
But as great as these things are, they mean nothing unless we can demonstrate our respect for each other, unless we can daily live those characteristics that have positively identified us as Bajans no matter where we have settled in the world.
It is that light I wish to see glow in all of us this Independence Day, as we move into the Christmas season and as we welcome the world in 2020.
Happy Independence, Barbados. May God bless you.