Barbadians have transformed our society and economy in my lifetime. I was not born poor, but I was delivered at home, by a midwife, no doctor in attendance. Our wooden home was sizeable by the standard of the time, two houses and a shed, but we had a pit toilet, no electricity, and a standpipe in the yard. But we were not poor: my father had a steady full-time job, we always had 3 square meals, good serviceable clothing, and we always wore shoes. So we were not poor. Poor people had jobs during crop season, but for the rest of the year they lived from hand to mouth.
That was the Barbados of the 1950s. In my lifetime we Barbadians have transformed our country from the wretchedness of the Third World to the prosperity of the First World. In doing so we have overcome enormous odds. The difficulties we face today, challenging as they are, are nothing to compare with what we have overcome in the past 2 generations. My first point is that we should be resolute in the face of the current economic circumstances. We have faced far, far worse, and have prevailed. Imagine in those early years of our development, parents going to town and children having to wait until their mothers returned to get a meal. We have closed that gap significantly. Today, there are very few of our children who share such experiences - food is at their fingertips.
My second point is that our success owes everything to the grit, determination, inventiveness and staying power of the Barbadian. Our parents and grandparents skimped and saved, opened parlours and rum shops, held services of song and Sunday Schools, got on boats to Panama and Demerara and Brazil and Curacao and England and Canada and Cuba and America and Trinidad and wherever jobs were to be found. And whatever they did and wherever they went, they seized every opportunity with both hands. Similar opportunities are provided for us today and we can follow in the brave and confident footsteps of our foreparents.
Barbadians of my generation understood that no-one owed us a living. When I went to school only primary education was free - and compulsory - and the school leaving age was 14 years. From that age onward, many, perhaps a majority, had to make their own way in the world. When I went to Harrison College there were fees to be paid, which my father could not have afforded. I knew that, so I knew what I had to do to attend Harrison College. After high school I was determined to go to university, but it was understood that at age 19 I was expected to contribute to the household income, if I proposed to remain at home. So again I knew what I had to do. Now that we are called upon to contribute to the cost of a university education, the well-motivated know what they need to do and are quite prepared for the sacrifices they have to make in order to achieve it.
My third point is that it is the can-do attitude that got Barbados and Barbadians to where we are, with an economy whose relative prosperity has exceeded our own expectations. The reason I am so confident in the future of our nation is that I find that spirit of enterprise alive and well and bubbling out all around us, at all levels of society. I invite you all to think of examples. If you put your mind to it, you will be surprised how long the list is. I invite all of you to get on that bandwagon. You may have 5 talents, or only 1. All that is needed for success, even in difficult times, is that you perfect whatever it is you know to do well, and to seize every opportunity that comes your way.
Just a few words about our economy, and the challenges we face. The Barbados economy is fuelled by foreign exchange. In order to get the economy growing we have to jump-start tourism, which is beginning to happen with the investment by Sandals, and the increase in airline seats from North America. More hotel and related construction is expected next year. Tourism and construction, and the spinoff from those activities, are the main reasons we expect growth of 2 percent next year.
In the meanwhile, we have to keep on trimming Government expenditure. It is evident to all that we have a Government structure that is too large for our needs, and that responds too slowly to the policy changes needed in this swift-moving century. The process of reducing the size of Government and the burden of subventions to state owned companies will continue, so that we can reduce the fiscal deficit, and ultimately also reduce the tax burden.
What this means is expanding opportunities for enterprising Barbadians in tourism and related services, construction, business and financial services, cultural industries, information services, technology, and personal services. There is also great potential in the use of green energy technology. At the same time, there will be fewer jobs in Government services and in state-owned enterprises.
Let me conclude with thanks to you for affording me this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you. Let me also commend your congregation for your involvement in the lives of your community. By way of these and other activities and initiatives you open up perspectives and opportunities that members of the community can take advantage of. In the end, each of us is responsible for our own lives, and we must each follow the path that sits comfortably with our consciences. The best I can do is to offer anecdotes from my life, but in the end, each journey is unique. As they say, walk good.
November 5, 2014