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**

Friday, June 05, 2009

You Don't Say

My blogging friend, Ingrid, who is also my friend in a wider sense, has liberated herself from her bind known as writer's block and, so she writes, can once again marry fingers to keyboard happily in rhythmic fashion and craft words and ideas that please her and, I hope, others. But, I too have been suffering in a similar way. My mind has wrestled with a lot, but getting that fight up from the mat of my mind into an arena more visible has been nigh impossible for a few weeks now. You cannot take pills for this. True, I was very excited about my first born finishing university and graduating this past week, and I have played over in my mind a lot of life issue: a child of a divorced couple should always be watch for vulnerability, and the matters that tip the balance need to be noticed carefully. Poor girl, though, with her great degree, now has to try to swim in the economic swamp of a world recession. She wont be alone if she decides that dog walking is the career for the next year: true, no real academic qualifications are needed, but a lot of care and compassion is, and they are worth developing.

Part of my blockage has been built on not knowing whether to caw about some deep issues or leave them for others to mow through. Part has been due to a sort of bleary eyed amazement at the drivel that people do dole out in the form of ideas and opinions. I know that I am not alone in that view and was heartened to hear one of the moderators lay into a few callers for just that sort of thing.

But let's take a look at the drivel factory. I listen to a particular radio call-in program more than I really want to so that I can help the producer by making pithy comments that usually have a beginning, middle, and end. I decided some time ago, that while I can spout out views about almost anything, I would try to build a reputation of having some sense and worthy views on financial topics. I can stand on a soap box to rattle on about other things. But, as I have listened over the past few weeks, I have noticed that few of the commentators seem to have any sense that they can limit themselves. In addition, few can string together some sentences that have any coherence. Few can sense that they are contradicting themselves, as the arguments develop. Few even listen to the moderator asking them to slow down as they press on to make points that make no breeze of sense. I wonder if part of this is because they are trying to listen to themselves on the radio and get confused by what they say and what they hear themselves saying. Few have any facts to support what they say, as they flip subjects when a question is posed. Most use anecdotes as if they are hard evidence but do not see that talking about "Miss Parris" and her sweet breads is not enough to make conclusion about the wider world. Clearly, some love their own voices so much that the more they hear it the more excited they become. Bunch of charlatans or just like most people? Admittedly, people can talk about things that move their emotions and with the Budget and a new government policy on the matter of immigration from other Caricom countries, there has been no loss of topics on which to vent. I have decided to stand aside from that waft of hot air, and tried to think about what I would say if I were to say anything.

I've written a piece on the Budget and now I look to see if what I thought is turning out to be close to what is happening. The one area on which my beady eyes are focusing is that thorny bush of public sector activity. I have not hidden my view that part of the Barbados economic success story is built on some myths, and one of them is about labour productivity. Part of this myth is unraveling, in the form of statements about what the civil service is not doing: the reports of the Auditor General paint a picture of lack of accountability and departments having very little to show for the money that is spent, either in terms of a mission accomplished; some ministerial statements point to the difficulty of getting a day's work for a day's pay out of some public servants. For example, how can the Immigration Department not know basic information on immigrants when every person has to complete an entry form and when the government is shaping new policy on immigration? Some would call this pure slackness. I will watch the wind swirl around this area and see if the dust makes anyone blink.

The deep issues include the matter of what to do about foreigners in your midst. I wont deal with that so much now, but have that gnawing feeling that comes from living most of my life as a foreigner in the midst. But, it's interesting that as economic conditions worsen so does talk of needing to weed out foreigners increase, and one does not need to listen to white skinhead racists in Europe talk about "wogs" and yell "send them back home" to anyone they see who has a dark face. Here in Barbados, we can see that black views on black people can be as villainous as the oft-detested white views on black people. Yet, this is an island whose economy has been built on presenting a welcome mat to foreigners. Now it is struggling with those who come here because economic conditions offer better options than in their homelands, and want to work, or buy land, or own companies, or marry locals, and more.

Now, we know that in the minds of many not all foreigners are the same. When people here think of foreigners they don't like they tend to be those who are 'in competition' for jobs and houses and social services, and that means those coming from other poorer Caricom countries; it could even be made more specific by pointing at Guyanese, Vincentians, Antiguans, Lucians, Jamaicans and some more, including any Chinese or Nigerians who happen to be contracted to work here. It does not really spread to Canadians or Brits or Americans or Mexicans--they tend to be in a world that seems a bit more luxurious and from which many locals are excluded (voluntarily or not). But, I'm trying to figure out how people are drawing the lines. It's not a simple matter of black and white. It may be about perceptions of rich and poor. But what I am also seeing is that the loose lips-shoot from the him thinking of the call-ins is also evident in what some prominent people write. I have to think about why a prominent businessman, like Ralph "Bizzy" Williams, would think it's a good idea to limit voting to people born in Barbados as a means of preserving national 'culture' (see letter), and if he realises that this does not limit rights to those who could claim to be 'truly Bajan'. Reflect on Mr. Williams' views expressed in a letter to the press in late May (my highlighting):

As I see it, the biggest danger to Barbados in allowing foreigners into this island to work and possibly settle is the possibility of a foreign culture being able to determine how we are governed.

There has been non-stop debate about the new Barbados immigration policy announced by our Government in the press and on the call-in programmes, but I have not heard anyone articulate this possibility.

Barbados has traditionally been governed by the BLP or the DLP. The support for these two parties is pretty even and in most cases, seats in an election are won or lost by a small percentage of votes cast. If therefore we allow in and grant residency to foreigners whose culture is unlike our own, we could easily end up with a small percentage of our population that embraces a culture unlike ours determining the outcome of our national elections.

This to my mind is an extremely dangerous possibility because knowing this, our political parties would tend to be very accommodating to the interests of these new residents at the expense of the interests of the wider Barbadian-born population.

The solution to this potential problem is simple. We should only allow people who were born in Barbados to vote in our elections. This would ensure that the shift to the control of the island by a foreign culture would be much slower and everyone who is allowed to vote would at least have grown up in Barbados and had the opportunity to embrace our culture.

I hope this suggestion will be implemented and that its implementation will put to rest the fears of born and bred Bajans who are concerned over losing our homeland to foreigners.

I wonder on whom his eyes are really set. Does he mean the snow bird crowd that has descended from England or Canada, and flaunt such 'foreign culture' as enjoying the Holders season or ice hockey or cheering for Man U? Does he have in mind those who have come from the land of wood and water, who like such 'forrin culcha' as eating patties and drinking a cold Red Stripe? Does he mean those coming from a south American neighbouring country, who love such 'foreign culture' as cook-up rice and say "Jawgetung"? Does he mean those coming from a neighbouring oil baron state who are 'buying up di ilan', party all the time and want such 'foreign culture' as Calypso and steel pan and doubles and roti? So, let's take the votes away from the foreign born people. But let's think about what is happening to so-called local culture if you say to foreigner come and invest in the country; come and spend your vacations here and spend and behave as you would in your home country; sell goods into the country; provide foreign services to the country; come and regularly put on shows on the island, etc. Is local culture somehow safe because these people do not vote. Give me a break!

Those Bajans born here but now residing in England or Canada or the US would be eligible to vote, even if they have lived abroad for decades. The children of legal Caricom non-nationals immigrants born in Barbados would be able to vote. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, was born in Barbados, so would be eligible, but the present Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, who was born in England, would not. Go figure.

So, I have removed some of the cobwebs from my fingers and the much of the dust that was gathering on the keyboard has been swept away.

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