While acknowledging that nationals in Canada and the rest of the Diaspora have been a significant source of sustenance for Barbados over the years, the island’s Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, is asking that they dig deeper in their pockets and assist the ailing economy.
“I know that Barbadians in the Diaspora are facing challenges as well and this is really a fraternity of the distressed, but nationals have accumulated large savings and we are inviting them to invest in our country,” he said at a press conference in Toronto last Saturday. “We don’t want you to just hold your money in bank accounts off shore.”
Stuart said that contributions nationals have made through remittances and other means have created employment and raised the island’s revenue substantially.
“We have exported a large number of nationals over the years to Canada and other parts of the world and we have been reliant on their remittances,” he said. “However, remittances have fallen off as many Barbadians are re-migrating.”
Stuart was in Toronto last weekend for the annual Errol Barrow Memorial dinner organized by the Canadian arm of the Democratic Labour Party.
The event honours the memory of Barrow, who co-founded the party, trained with the Royal Air Force in the Maritimes and was conferred with an honorary doctorate of Civil Law by McGill University in 1966, the same year he led his country to independence and became his country’s first prime minister. He died in 1987 at age 67.
Stuart has attended every event since succeeding late Prime Minister, David Thompson, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October 2010.
“I will not miss any opportunity to celebrate the memory of Errol Barrow because as a leader of Barbados, he made a very profound impact not only on my personal life, but on Barbados and the Caribbean in general,” said Stuart. “He will best be remembered for expanded educational opportunities which he made available to young people of Barbados. I clearly remember 1962 when free secondary education was introduced. I was admitted to secondary school the year before and the fee was $24 a term which was a very high mountain to climb for people in those days.
“I can still see the contours of relief that played across my mother’s face when the announcement was made that the requirement for school fees would be removed as of the first working day of 1962. That liberated large numbers of Barbadians because the truth is many Barbadians were deprived access to secondary education because of the inability of their parents to pay school fees. Young people of my generation are indebted to Barrow for the kind of foresight which led him to make that decision and democratize access to education.”
Under Barrow’s astute leadership, Barbados achieved several other noteworthy social reforms and national advances.
He passed progressive labour legislation to reflect the sociology of the country and protect workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
“Most families in Barbados at that time comprised common-law unions,” said Stuart, who is in New York this week at the United Nations General Assembly. “When the men died, the women who had lived with them for years couldn’t inherit the property owned by the deceased because they were not married. The children were also denied access to the property because they were born outside marriage. Barrow changed that by passing succession legislation which made provision for couples living together for at least five years to become the spouse. The children born in that relationship were treated as if they were born in wedlock. He was that kind of forward-looking political leader and we all remember him fondly for that. He made a difference in Barbados.”
Last week, officials at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados said student enrolment is declining because of the government’s stringent austerity measures.
In explaining his government’s position, Stuart said the time has come for students to accept some responsibility for the payment of tuition fees.
“Fees at the university are made up of two components – an economic component accounting for 80 per cent and tuition, which comprise 20 per cent,” he said. “The government has taken the position that, given the tough economic situation that has resulted in falling revenues, we can’t afford in these changed circumstances to bear the full cost.”
Stuart said students seeking financial assistance can access a revolving fund loan which has been in place since 1976.