Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, February 23, 2009

All Together Now

One of my readers living in the UK wrote to me over the weekend lamenting the 'treatment' he was getting from an arm of the Barbadian bureaucracy. He got my attention not because of the honey that he poured all over me by saying how he loved my 'articulate blogs' (meaning that they meander or that they are wordily wise?), and that he woke every morning "looking forward to reading my] latest pearls of wisdom...from half a world away". Come on, now. Is this the stuff or what? Booyaka!

He had a fresh memory from my blogs about how difficult it was to get people in Barbados officialdom to give 'service'. He wants to do the decent thing: he has a job; he's got the girl; he's got the ring; he's got good intentions; he has the desire to make it a romantic occasion and 'seal the deal' in the lovely Caribbean--Barbados, to boot. He knows that there may be a few administrative hurdles to clear. But does he have what it takes to jump through the hoops of fire presented by 'Bimbu' (my term of endearment now for Bajan bureaucracy)? Does he have great balls of fire?

He has tried to inform himself of what needs to be done and knows that two people, hoping to get married, should present themselves at the Ministry of Home Affairs. With the power of the Internet at his finger tips, he asked them a simple question : "Do you need to make an appointment or do you just turn up and wait?" The poor boy: he got everything back, except the answer! So, in good polite fashion, wrote again: "Is it possible that someone could answer the questions I posed please?" He should have added 'pretty', but let's hope that that omission wont get him kneecapped. He could be forgiven for thinking that this experience was the written equivalent of encountering one of those interminable voice mail loops where you get taken for a long ride, accompanied by terrible music, when all you want to do is speak to a representative: "For English, press 1. Para espanol, dos. To hear your balance, press 3. For enquiries about payment, press 4. For all other enquiries, press 5. ... I do not understand your reply. For English...."

Well, he has that strong British phlegm and hopes to get married next time he visits Bim, probably in a month's time, when he hopes to continue his role as 'a great supporter' of the Holders Season. His hopes, however, now rest in the arms of the authorities, not those of his betrothed! If I could give him a wedding present, it would be to present the couple with the head of the official who sent him that useless reply.

People talk about the life blood of an economy and how in Barbados there is a need for that to flow better, in the sense that the country needs a greater appreciation of what it takes to satisfy the tourists or foreign visitors. Encourage them to have a great time here, and to spend freely and fully. But, like we taste on a near daily basis, those who visit often fall foul of the fact that the team is not all kicking the ball in the same direction. Part of the problem is that normal management headache, whereby parts of the organization do not see their objectives as the same as other units. We see it in the international financial crisis: banks need government bail outs, but their personnel departments are still spending money on junketing. Hello! I imagine that in Home Affairs the staff do not have a vision of themselves as 'tourist ambassadors'. But they are, and here is an example of how unwittingly the door to better tourism can be firmly slammed. Our man is an exception in that he WILL be coming, whatever.

Another way to look at what is going on, and needs to be appreciated, is to consider the rest of my reader's thoughts. He shared with me his concern about the economic downturn in the UK: "...people who should know keep telling me that the UK is about to go 'belly-up' ... I keep wondering why I didn't emigrate to Australia when I had the chance, although I might by now have got more than my fingers burned (if you'll forgive the cruel joke)...Well I'm still in the UK and I suspect that my next visit to Bim will be my last for some time, because of the way the financial winds are blowing..." A trip from England to Barbados is a luxury, and it is the sort of thing that people are thinking of chopping out of their lives, at least for a while. People love being in the Caribbean's warm water, but they are not going to put themselves into hot water to get that.

Further, I cannot speculate that this man ever wanted to come to live in Barbados, but as a regular visitor, there is a strong likelihood that in the right circumstances he would consider it. His frequent visits mean something. But, general financial considerations in his home country mean that he may become a permanent loss to these shores. He reflects what some of us have been warning: that the UK's economic woes will have significant effect on Barbados' tourism. But he also represents a possible permanent loss as someone who could have been a bigger economic player by coming to live and work here. Both things represent big losses. Thinking of 'Bajans first' when it comes to jobs misses the very simple point that an economy will grow with jobs of all types provided and taken by people of all types. This man is an entrepreneur and if he were captured then things could look better for a range of Bajans. You have to have a very odd view of economics to think that only 'national' things are of value.

The lessons of this episode are clear to me. There will be a happy ending. The man will get the bride and they will sail off into the sunset. I will make an effort to persuade the couple to visit Barbados again after their wedding, and I will put to them the idea of relocating here. I will paint as positive a picture of daily life as I can, and try to coax them that with several daily flights to Blighty they could be 'back home' quickly for a weekend's football watching or tennis at Wimbledon. It may be a hard sell to tell them that their money will go further here than in the UK. But, I will try to show that here is a better option than Oz. I wont suggest that the government offer the man some land to build a house or anything like that, but if is money is good and plentiful, someone might want to sweet up the boy a little. As Jamaicans say, "Dis a no likkle man we a talk bout. Is a big money man."

Government and public officials need to see better the big economic picture. Doing a job is fine but you have to figure out how bread gets into your mouth. Sitting behind a desk and tapping computer keys and shuffling paper is not what is really making this economy turn around. It's foreign visitors and foreign financial companies that drive much of the money flows. Sugar is sweet for the economy but it does not provide a lot of real juice. A broader set of people in the country need to realise that 'those foreigners' are their friends and providers. It may not be an easy message to put across, but keep discouraging the foreigners and see what will happen. If you want to believe that all the Bajans in all the world have enough money to keep this country afloat then dream on.

1 comment:

iriebrown said...

This is the address and tel no, for the BTA office in the UK. Who will know all the info. that your reader requires.

Barbados Tourism Authority
263, Tottenham Court Road

* T: 020 7636 9448
* F: 020 7637 1496
* E: btauk@visitbarbados.org
* W: www.visitbarbados.co.uk

Call them and I am sure they can help you.

We don't want to miss out on any possible visitors to B'dos esp for such a momentous event!