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, March 02, 2009

Happy In The Limelight

We know that many things are a mixture of form and substance, and actors/actresses, politicians and lawyers are often amongst the human species' best exponents of that. Some would say that all three are merely acting under different names. In Barbados, I am just beginning to see how that plays out. I have watched the performance of the main politicians over a couple of years, and while I would not be tempted to grade them, I do notice that they perform quite differently, and as such must be less or more convincing to those who see them. I am not going to delve too much into each person, but am going to touch on the PM a little, if I may, sir. Of course, Bajans will love to see all of this in cricketing terms, especially as Windies are putting themselves into position to pull of at least a draw against England in the Fourth Test at Bridgetown. So I will try to drop a few catchy metaphors.

Mr. Thompson does come over as a man at ease with his position--very significant when one recalls that his party spent nearly two decades as the country's opposition, and was not in the 'kitchen' to feel the real heat of political decisions. He is no President Obama when it comes to poise and style and rhetoric; that man is a rare charmer. But, the PM has a certain evident stature: he has height (often a winner), dapperness (look at that shirt and tie--Jermyn Street, I hope), and poise (head held high, eyes forward, engaging smile), which comes from a seeming command of his brief and the whole setting.

Part of the trick is to look better than those around you. When I watched him on CBC last night, facing off with political analyst, Peter Wickham, I saw a man who did not feel he was going to be tripped up. The analyst needs to do something about that seemingly ill-fitting jacket, with shoulders looking at least a size too large. Look at the pictures and see the way the PM appears to be in command. Mr. Wickham is poring over his notes on his laptop--I think, rather than checking his Facebook page. The PM is engaging those around him. Sure, he has notes too, but as he checked off answers with his finger, one could judge the mnemonics he was using to get the points out and get them right. That raised finger may well be his source of power. Just like an umpire sure that he will not have to deal with TV replay. The PM is a lawyer by training, but has been finance minister before and is now. So, he has learned to make the 'pointed' remark--the finger does the talking and walking. He knows how to put matters in a seemingly balanced way, like an economist: "On the one hand...On the other hand..." Mr. Wickham has not placed his finger in a way that will help turn the next ball.

Scenario-setting was the one thing that made me worried about the PM's command of the situation. At least, he did not use that particular word, 'situation', but he did get in a bucketful of 'scenarios'. Again, was that the actor taking control? Act one, scene four: PM commands attention by knocking for six criticisms of handling of CLICO Barbados affair and close personal friendship with Leroy Parris. Everyone knows they are friends and whatever goes on has to be seen in that optic. Is it something that clouds decisions? No matter what you say, try your best, a friend is a friend, and a good thing that may be, too. But, where did he learn to bowl that googly? I want to see how the opposition deals with the seemingly tricky ball of their taking campaign contributions from a CLICO subsidiary in 2003, including to individuals of the party. There are friends and then there are FRIENDS.

I did not manage to watch the whole 2 1/2 hours of discussion, and that was no reflection on content or form, just the result of an early start, some mid-afternoon tennis, and some delicious early evening barbecued ribs and peas and grits. I had already been at my wits end with CBC because, not having had the luxury of spending three days to line up for tickets, I had hoped to watch some on TV. Wrong! But, I gine ketch you. A friend in the UK has sent me the link to watch live streaming of the cricket--for free. Send that for referral, if you t'ink you bad. But, I digress.

I will do a bit of my own digging, but the PM seemed to have all the strokes to deal with all of the balls coming towards him.
  • Starcom questioner? Easy ball, man. Four again.
  • Lady calling on the phone? Dancing down the wicket and taking the ball a little late due to some interference on the line, he strikes the ball over the longest boundary. Six.
  • Questioner by e-mail. Please. Thick outside edge. Four more.
  • Tame delivery from one of the studio audience. Haymaker. Clear the party stand and into the pool with the English fans. Six.
I wondered why the PM had not made earlier some of the very clear statements regarding CLICO Life [a memorandum of understanding with a 'reputable Barbadian entity' should soon be agreed to sell this entity and take it out of the group], Greenland waste management project, Graeme Hall nature park [which the owners are planning to close], and others that he made on TV. The TV appearance was reportedly a last minute affair. I could be excused for thinking that all is and will remain rosy, and that whatever financing arrangements are now being rolled out for the Four Seasons project the 700 workers laid off 'temporarily' will soon be back on the job.

I heard that the government will deal with pending debt obligations by going to the market to borrow, and will try to tap 'local' markets in the process.

I did feel that the PM had his best batting shoes on when dealing with Barbados National Bank and the repurchase of shares. It sounded like a little 'economical with the truth' moment, but the moderator was too polite to take him on. Where is David Ellis when you need him? Oh, yea. He works for Starcom, not CBC. Therein lie a blemish on an otherwise creditable innings. It was on a friendly home track. Not, that Barbados has a TV or radio equivalent of Australia's Gabba. They have Gabby, but that's not the same. But, the story now seems to be: Bajans, dig out your savings; credit unions get ready to move ahead in banking; Trindad, we are going to take back 'our' bank. Charge!

The feeling I have is that the opposition now has to raise its run rate to get near to the PM. Bringing out a vote of no confidence regarding the CLICO affair was not a surprise delivery, but the line and length is still a bit inconsistent. According to the PM, CLICO was in trouble with a deficit on its statutory fund since the mid-2000s, from B$21 million in 2005, to B$30 in 2006 to B$93 million in 2007: "This is a scenario of what one would call continued negligence, from 2004 right up to 2007 ... Nothing was done, and yet all of a sudden we are being told that I am the one who is responsible for the deficit..." So, who was really at the crease when all this was going on? Eyes move wildly to look at the BLP. Other answers from the PM--"Fortunately, there have not been any calls on CLICO [the life operation] that it has not been able to meet, either here or in the Eastern Caribbean"--suggested that, despite the statutory fund deficits, the fate that had befallen CLICO in The Bahamas and Guyana over the past week are not near to happening here ... yet. Hold that finger in the wind, though.

Overall, the general strategy of the BLP suggests that the new captain does not yet command the whole team, and with the old captain art(hur)fully sending in a few deliveries, and looking like he ow(e)n the whole ground, I can hear the divisions in the crowd. Parties in opposition often look like a motley crew and that may be a deserved and accurate description. The new captain moves gracefully but has yet to bowl a maiden over. The revelation that the current 'fine mess' was there for all of the old team to see will require some skillful spinning. I look forward to the rebuttals.

On a final point, I got the impression that the presentation would be a wider media event, but in the end it appeared as a CBC-only event. There is an issue in my mind about how the state-owned media are playing face-time-management. The program was carried live on CBC and Starcom, but the latter's journalists were a side show. I feel that this will lead to some kinds of reprisal, because it's part of a discernible trend. That said, the PM looked at home and I guess that is natural on a government-owned station.

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