By Lincoln DePradine
Barbadians living in Canada and other parts of the diaspora have been urged to became “active citizens’’ of the “Caribbean nation.”
Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, describes it as a “simple request’’, which involves further developing the country through “seeking active engagement of citizenship across the global community’’.
“I need you to be active citizens of your country,’’ Mottley said Monday, while addressing a town hall meeting in Scarborough.
The packed room, at St Peter and St Paul Banquet Hall, included not only Barbadians but also other Caribbean nationals, such as regional diplomats based in Toronto. The attendees also included Canadian politicians from all three levels of government.
Mottley, Barbados’s first female prime minister, is now in Washington attending meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
She’s accompanied on her trip by a delegation that includes the Barbadian Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey; director of Finance and Economic Affairs, Ian Carrington; and governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Cleviston Haynes.
Her visit to Canada which included a town hall meeting in Montreal and discussions on a range of issues such as environmental and financial matters, was her first since leading her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in defeating the Democratic Labour Party in a clean sweep in general elections last May, winning all 30 seats.
On assuming office last year, the BLP administration inherited an economy where Barbados was the “third most indebted country in the entire world, with only Greece and Japan with a higher debt-to-GDP ratio than we had,’’ Mottley, who also is Minister of Finance, told Monday’s meeting.
“Ten months later,’’ she said, “we’re by no means out of everything, but we have done a number of things that have carried us far from that space.’’
The prime minister, a 53-year-old attorney, said the work of her government has been “intense’’, requiring “active citizenship’’ in a world where “technology has made size and geography irrelevant’’.
“I may be able to lead you but I can’t carry the country. It’s Barbadians and friends of Barbados who will carry the country with me,’’ Mottley said.
“You really can play a part from wherever you are. The only the thing that technology does not allow us to do is to hug each other.’’
According to the Barbadian government leader, active citizenship isn’t only about nationals abroad making charitable donations to their birthplace or returning to serve their homeland.
The government, she said, is taking measures to encourage deeper citizenship involvement by Barbadians living in the diaspora. One measure, which takes effect from July 1, would allow overseas-based Barbadians to hold foreign currency accounts in Barbados.
“We don’t have a problem with dual citizenship. So, you can live here but you can be active Bajan citizens and active Canadian citizens,’’ Mottley said.
“We need Barbadians to be active citizens. You can’t be active citizens without feeling that you can have a bank account and still be able to conduct business where you are and where you live.’’
The government has also launched what it calls “Vision 20/20’’, a year-long series of parish activities in which Barbadians abroad are being invited to return and participate.
Mottley explained that “2020 must be that year when we seek to perfect the vision for building the best Barbados that we can build together. We don’t need to be on the rock (Barbados) 24/7, 12 months a year, in order to be part and parcel of that vision’’.
Mottley said it’s not just Barbados but also the entire Caribbean that has never achieved its “full potential’’, because the region has been unable to leverage the number of its citizens living both at home and in the Diaspora.
She noted that other nations – such as the Netherlands, Singapore and Israel – with similar or slightly bigger land spaces, have much larger populations of millions of people.
“We do need to start to ask ourselves whether we have sufficient people driving growth, economic development and the balance society that we need to have. And, against that background, we continue to have the discussion with the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, which is intended to bridge some of the gaps with respect to the lack of population size and the lack of economic drivers within our community,’’ she said.
The prime minister said as Barbados attempts to “restore’’ its economy, “save’’ the local current and “anchor the society’’, it also must join efforts to combat the effects of climate change and other regional and global issues, including the situation in Venezuela.
What’s happening is trying to deal “with a global community that, all of a sudden, does not recognize that its first responsibility is to preserve the world in which we live,’’ said Mottley.
“I’m asking those of you who are here to work with us,’’ she appealed. “If we can do this together, I promise you that you will not only see us succeed but you will see us play our rightful role in reminding this global community that the Caribbean Community cannot be invisible and cannot be dispensable; that the Caribbean Community stands for something and that we have the ability to agree and disagree without wanting to destroy friendships, as we are doing with Venezuela.’’
Members of the Caribbean Community, she added, “believe in principle and that respect for principle and the rule of law is what the global community needs now more than ever; because, we have seen the worst examples of brute force and might threatening to destroy what we thought was settled in the last century.’’