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**

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lots To Think About

I'm absolutely convinced that I cannot comment about everything on which I have a view. So, what to talk about? "Priorities, my boy," should be the phrase that goes through my head. I have to admit that lately I have done a lot more thinking than talking, and the producer of a daily call-in program wonders why I have been relatively mute. Some of it is because with a lot of 'noise' flowing my adding another voice does not necessarily lend clarity. But a few things have provoked me over recent days, not necessarily in a negative way, but just on the way that matters get into the public consciousness. While I do not have a definitive view on each of them, I can see them as things that may raise my and others' hackles in coming months.

First up, is a report in today's papers about an increase in what I can call 'fast and loose' money, "causing [some supermarkets] to write off substantial amounts monthly". People are increasingly kiting cheques and passing fraudulent credit cards--these are either stolen or fake, and it seems that they are part of a regional scheme (or scam, one may say). But, we are reassured, they are not related to the worsening economic environment. I wonder. So, to better protect themselves, the supermarkets will be asking for proper forms of identification (see Nation report). This may unwittingly cause people to bridle in a land where people are often proud to see that they know you and wont need to call for some form of identification. Now, I think that the average criminals are short of a few screws, but in this fraud matter they are at least rational: "We have seen this activity more so around Bank Holidays, especially within the last six months. The major difficulty is that persons using fraudulent credit cards don't shop light, so by the end of your financial year you are faced with a substantial amount to write off," one supermarket manager reports. So, the criminals are going for maximum returns from their activities. They are trying to become highly productive. A part of me admires that, in an oddly negative and positive way.

Barbados has had a terrible time dealing with a set of arcane defamation laws, which have rightly been described as "a weapon to silence and intimidate Barbadians" by the current Attorney General, who announced an overdue review of these laws. Interestingly, the AG's focus went to the fact that some people have made a business out of their reputation, and some in the legal profession have made good money out of certain person's tendency to litigation. The government has been slow in moving on its promises to introduce integrity legislation. Here is an area long overdue for action not least because the current laws allow too much latitude for persons to hide behind the threat of taking people to court.

PM Thompson has now thrown down the gauntlet for so-called 'undocumented Caribbean immigrants' (see Nation report). The PM mentioned that a subcommittee looking into the issue had agreed that the current levels of illegal immigrants were "unacceptably high, increasingly difficult to control and posed potentially negative socio-economic challenges for the country". New rules will come into effect from June 1 2009. Now, I am one of those people who find it very odd that there are so many 'undocumented' persons and yet much is known about them. Rather than 'undocumented' it would be better to say that many of these immigrants have false or fraudulent documents, and may have many of them, all bogus. I can hear already the concerned voices from certain non-nationals who live and work in Barbados and may be here legally but are assumed to be here illegally, and vilified for that. Let's see if the discussion on this is really honest or is a thinly veiled piece of political posturing.

But, today I did talk publicly on the radio about productivity. People are often at a loss what this means, in the context of services. The economics notion of how much output is produced by a certain input (whether labour or capital) is simple enough, in theory. We can think about things like efficiency, and cost effectiveness, and quality. But we will always have problems when measuring the work of public servants. Do we count people served per hour? Do we count numbers served irrespective of quality of service? Do we understand that physical limits mean productivity limitations. Does anyone measure what is being done and how? One of my points was about efficiency: how much of the work is repeating tasks already done and is information stored for reuse? I also talked about whether we use 'culture' as an excuse for downright bad service--being laid back and easy going should not mean lying down when we should be working and taking things so easily that customers are ignored. But do staff in organizations recognise any connection between the work they do and the pay they get? This is a big debate which should continue in a country that depends so heavily on service provision.

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