Welcome

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.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Immigration Policy Still A Patchwork Quilt

I have not made a secret of the fact that the way that the current DLP government in Barbados has 'managed' its immigration policy has not impressed me. One of my concerns was the apparent unevenness of its application. Well, I do not know if things are getting more even handed but I was interested to see today's report that one major entity has come under scrutiny for hiring illegal immigrants (see Nation report). The Crane resort is reported to now being more vigilant: they will conduct daily checks on all sub-contracted workers to ensure that they are legally documented to work in this country. The new policy came into immediate effect yesterday after 20 workers were reportedly rounded up, interviewed and removed from the hotel by the Immigration Department last Friday. The Crane cries 'innocence' in not having control over the actions of subcontractors.

Employers in Barbados, both large and small, as well as private individuals should be under the radar as much as illegal immigrants themselves.

It is interesting to see the sword that falls on the head of a politician in the US or UK if they are found to be the employer of an illegal immigrant. The most recent casualty of this is Baroness Scotland, who was fined £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant. But she was spared too much ignominy: PM Gordon Brown has said he had decided to take no further action because Scotland had employed Loloahi Tapui, a housekeeper from Tonga, "in good faith" and had apologised "unreservedly". Opposition Tories demanded Scotland's immediate resignation, pointing out that she was being punished for breaking a law that she had helped steer through parliament. Baroness (Patricia) Scotland, who has Dominican-Antiguan roots, was the first black woman to be made a Queen's Council (in 1991), and is a top barrister. Ignorance of the law is no defence...

Now, we know how people operate. Are we to believe that no politician in our region or even in Barbados has not been similarly 'careless'? I hear a whistle coming on.

Military Rule Is Not Cool: REDUX--Death Toll Now 157

The total death toll in this week's military massacre of civilians in Guinea has now reach a stunning 157 people. Those Guineans friends of mine who can speak have nothing but anger and distress in their words. This is too much. The news media are NOW looking more closely at the junta leader and calling him 'erratic' (see BBC report). Well, guess what? Erratic does not mean that you can oversee the carnage of nearly 200 people. The stories of bodies riddled with bullets, or with stab wounds as from bayonets; of women being raped and abused are all to familiar. Nothing suggests an attempt to control, but to mow down, people.

Whatever good people might have felt that Capt. Camara was doing, ruling with compassion is now not going to be high on the list.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Military Rule Is Not Cool: Do Not Over Stay Your Welcome

My time in Africa laid bare what I took to be a self-evident truth: everyone has a breaking point. When I saw the abject poverty that people lived with in Guinea and the sometimes callous indifference of rulers to that, I said to myself, "How can a people stay passive to this kind of abuse?"

For most of my time in Guinea, they stayed relatively passive, saving their ire for a near-annual ritual set of protests about the availability and price of imported rice, or getting very angry that electricity was not available to ensure viewing of international soccer. But, eventually, small groups and then almost the whole population said "Enough!" They rioted violently. They were met with severe repression. Many were killed.

Politicians promised change. It was not much and not fast. Then, the key catalyst occurred: the president, who had been in charge and symbolised all the wrong, died. The military took over quickly--a scenario that had been predicted many years before. The new military ruler promised to clean house and that he would then leave after two years and call elections for president, and would not stand himself.

Fast forward. The people were generally happy with the change of regime and the prospects of new elections. Then, wind came that the military ruler would stand in the next presidential race. The people said again, "Enough!" They rioted yesterday, on September 28. Reports indicated about 60 people were killed as some 50,000 people gathered in the appropriately named September 28 stadium to protest against the junta. The military responded violently to this protest against Captain Moussa Dadis Camara (pictured). Later reports suggest 87 dead. The international community was again quick to condemn the military actions (see Human Rights Watch report).

We are not accustomed to military coups in the English speaking Caribbean. We are not really that accustomed to civil insurrection, either. I imagine that for most people in our region they can barely relate to what is going on in Guinea, perhaps citing images of Haiti or some central or south American country as a near parallel. I cannot say if those images are really the same. To me, none of them is. Guinea's historical place is similar to Haiti's in that they both poked the French in the eye to take independence. But Haiti never had Guinea's natural riches to make a great go of things. Guinea just never managed to get its motor running after the French went, and the result is a country that is so poor that it makes you cry to see no water, no electricity, sick people, etc.

Yet, I'm sure that in Guinea if you ask people today how are things going ("Ca va?" in French), they will reply "Like a Guinean...a little," ("Ca va...un peu"). That little is never very much but when it's all you have, it's a lot.

The junta leader has quickly admitted that soldiers lost control of the situation (see BBC report.As they would also say in Guinea, "Ah bon?" (Oh really?). But, maybe it's better now that an acknowledgement like that has been made.That's progress of a kind...of a very strange but real kind. But the dead are still dead.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mabey They Did, Maybe They Didn't: Money For What?

Jamaican politics is having one of those years. The country is already in the midst of the case of alleged corruption against Kern Spencer in the so-called 'Cuban light bulb case'. Now, we have the hurry-scurry over allegations made that former Minister Joseph Hibbert (pictured) was paid off to the tune of £100,000 to facilitate bridge contracts (see Guardian's September 25 report). John Hardy QC for the UK's Serious Fraud Squad (SFO), revealed the names of 12 individuals in six countries alleged to have received bribes from the Reading-based Mabey and Johnson; Hibbert's name was up in lights. As reported by the UK newspaper:

'This first conviction has been hailed as a landmark by the British government, which has been heavily criticised for failing to prosecute any UK firm for foreign bribery. Campaigners said the failure rendered the 1997 pledge to crack down on corrupt exporters worthless.

The firm will pay out more than £6.5m, including fines and reparations to foreign governments.'

The Jamaican media are no strangers to probing such events and are close on the trail of this story. Today's Observer has its report that PM Bruce Golding is acknowledging that he knew that Hibbert took money but it was not bribery and corruption but legitimate expenses (see Observer story):

'Prime Minister Bruce Golding told a Jamaica Labour Party conference yesterday that embattled former state minister Joseph Hibbert has admitted to taking money from disgraced British bridge-building firm Maybey [sic] and Johnson but that the payments were not for corrupt means nor were the amounts as high as being alleged.'

The PM is also quoted as saying:

"I had discussions with Joe about a year ago when this matter was first brought to my attention and Joe assured me of his innocence," Golding told Labourites at a conference in downtown Kingston....What Joe communicated to me was that whatever payments he received from Maybey and Johnson related to expenses that were incurred on a number of occasions when he would travel to England to go and inspect bridge material and bridge designs and the various things that were going to be supplied to Jamaica."

Well, we know people will be very skeptical of the claims in terms of "he would say that wouldn't he," or "there's no smoke without fire." But we live in a democratic system that guards jealously the notion of innocent until proven guilty. But, good to see some feet being held close to the fire.

Mabey and Johnson says that it has reformed itself. But its past deeds still leave a trail that may have some discomfort to come. One aspect relates to the activities of Sir Jonathon Danos. His name was prominent in the UK case and it had also surfaced in various regional reports (see The Panama News report, for example). Sir Jonathan Danos, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for promoting British exports and who worked for Mabey and Johnson Limited, the manufacturer of the prefabricated steel Bailey bridges, as its export sales chief until 2003. Danos then left Mabey to head a competitor company, Structural Steel Solutions (3S). Mabey and 3S are going after one another in the same Caribbean and Central American markets, with Danos apparently using his contacts made when he worked with Mabey to build 3S. This company was heavily involved in road improvements and proposed flyover constructions for the so-called ABC Highway in Barbados under the previous BLP administration. Relations with the company were severed by the current DLP administration (see Advocate July 28 report).

It will be interesting to see how the stories develop in Barbados, where the traditional media does not have a reputation for much probing. Some of the blogs have been on the case for a while and will no doubt get their teeth into it again.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aunt Rema's Burial

Jamaican funerals in rural areas are not unique, but they seem to happen less frequently in other countries in the region, and in the urban areas of Jamaica are being 'outlawed' in their traditional form. That tradition calls for the burial to be done on your own land. But government wants people to use designated burial grounds. I am not going to enter into that debate. But it has its parallels in attempts to stop people giving birth at home and insisting that this only occur in hospitals.

As I joined my maternal family in their piece of St. Elizabeth that we now call ours--it was not always so as we were moved by bauxite companies so that the national good could be served--I relished the fact that the tradition is still firmly rooted. It makes a burial very special and the love that people have of a departed person seems so much stronger and sincere when almost everything takes place around that person's previous home.

I was surprised how few people cried for my aunt, but then again the nature of the burial has so much to do with a real passage to better things that tears of regret are not so common. We are going on to where we are destined to go. We are upset to lose our family and friends and when my six year old asked me what happens after the body goes into the ground,it's hard to hold back the lump forming in my throat. But it stayed small. I don't have a problem crying and I sobbed a little as the last shovels of concrete were put onto the tomb. I walked away at that point of finality and knew that I would see my aunt no more. I had to go back to the grave later, to see it calmly,free from people and noise and then I could have my true moment of grief, and I shed not one tear.

video

But, now I have tears inside for the living persons whom I have to see go away. Those cousins, aunts, uncles, who have known me for years and those cousins whom I had never seen before, are now again going back to their lives--mainly in Jamaica--and we may not meet again till another funeral. We do not celebrate births in the same way. Some I will stay in touch with as we have done the modern thing and exchanged phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Facebook account details, BlackBerry messenger contacts. We are all know to each other already as our names have been passed around for years by our parents and other relatives. I saw so many people who knew me but who I did not know or recognize. I met a man who seemed related to me but we were both unsure how, except that his family and mine come from around a place named Nain.

I was also thrilled to see one of my uncles, who is hailed by the nickname "Teacher", because he is and now was, and he has taken his school from little no-count to little but talawah. One of his pupils was a 10 year-old niece and as she talked to me, she showed what kind of Principal he had been. As soon as I sensed a hint (it was really small) of disrespect for an adult, and called her over, she said "Yes, sir." My guard dropped and I said that we did not need to discuss the matter because she clearly knew what to do normally. I heard stories of how the school yard clears if he now visits again: No one wants to incur his 'wrath' or see his discipline in action. It was on display in organizing the burial and the food after the funeral: "Do not send out any more food. Just follow instructions! Everyone who comes MUST eat. Hear me?" There was a collectively unspoken "Yes, Teacher."

Personalities were less in evidence on the day of the funeral, but food was as big a part as ever. No loud music was needed to lift spirits and no spirits were needed to lift bodies.God was doing all the lifting needed. We wrapped our bodies around more cups of manish water. We folded our stomach around lovely boxes of curried goat and rice. We licked our fingers after eating more fried chicken and rice and peas.

One of my cousins, had had plans for after the funeral church service that involved his going to watch his old high school play football and then a 'lunch' instead of going to the burial. I could not understand how the football stayed on the agenda. That's between him and his aunt. But, it did make me ponder how we set priorities. The team won. Would have won without him watching too. I hope the football team are there in good numbers for him when the day comes--they probably will be. I know that they play several games each month. The 'lunch' never happened. Those of us who stayed for the internment ate heartily. We even went to see some sick relatives afterwards to share with them the pictures and videos that I had. There will only be one funeral for this aunt.

One of my tenets is to do in daylight what has to be done with light, other things can be done at night.

Bob Marley had the right take on many things:

Forget your troubles and dance,
Forget your sorrows and dance,
Forget your sickness and dance,
Forget your weakness and dance

Blogging: Can One Defame At Will?

Jeff Cumberbatch continues his discussion on blogging today (see Advocate "Musings" column, and my previous post, Bloggers Have A Duty Of Care). It seemed clear to me where he was headed when he started his musing, and he makes it absolutely clear today. He is concerned about the blogs and their ability to defame. However, he is teasing us along the route--confident, I'm sure that things will not move so fast as to create issues that he cannot develop at his leisure. However, he touches on the important argument about whether defamation needs to include malice:

'One clearly cannot provide in this limited space an entire treatise on defamation. But there are some misconceptions I am aware of which need some clarification, and the liability of the local blog owners has not yet been fully explored.

One such misconception relates to the need for the claimant to establish malice on the part of the publisher in order for a defamation suit to be successful. While malice is relevant in the law of defamation, its presence relates mainly to preventing reliance on the defences of comment and qualified privilege and, in the US, on the public figure defence whereby such a personage must prove both falsity and knowledge of or recklessness as to such on the part in order to bring a successful action. It is not at all essential to liability.
'

As I read the local blogs, I see a lot of erroneous arguments that carry weight only through their repetition. As far as the issues above go, the main determinant will be through the application of current laws. I say that without some legal tests the landscape is going to stay unclear and uncharted. The local press and radio media avoid getting into defamation issues as if it were the worst of viruses. Will the blogs unwittingly tread on those thorns and help clear the way? There is ample rope dangling on the blogs for many a good hanging, and I remain intrigued why major political personalities have not taken one of the ropes and made a good lasso. But, I'm no politician and have never really understood those who practise that particular brand of mystic arts.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Phenomenal

A phenomenon. That is a funeral and the things that go on around it. I saw a play last year in New York, entitled "August: Osage County". It was centred on a funeral and how the occasion led to the revelation of many family secrets. It was funny and yet so distressing to see people discover things for the first time that some knew for years but never shared, and so on. Well, I'm in Jamaica for a funeral and so far the first 24 hours are not disappointing. What have I discovered?

I know now that my grandmother's father came from the United States, as a 'coloured' man, who had been driving trains in the Boston area. Now, that is mighty strange. I will try to check how many 'coloured' men were likely to be train drivers in mid 19th century America. But now I can understand more about a lineage that I was already beginning to suspect. I may yet lay claim to American citizenship by some natural route.

I always knew that my maternal grandfather spent most of his working life cutting sugar cane in Cuba. Yet, he died so very young, in his early 50s. All of his children and his wife lived to an greater age. I was glad to have known him when I was a boy. Rest in peace, dear Parnell. But I did not know that Bennett was not his family name; that was the name of the people who took him in after his family (Clark(e)) abandoned him. He married my grandmother, whose family name was also Bennett. I'm less concerned about that than many people because we have such unknown genealogy that 'given' names really only confuse us about separateness.

I now know that an Aunt Myrtle was named Alfina, a name chosen from the Cuban ones my grandfather had chosen. But, hardly anyone in her family knew she had that name.

I know that several of my cousins have the same mother but different fathers; that's nothing strange in Jamaica or the Caribbean in general. But, now I am listening more to what those who know of their fathers know. Some feel that they carry Jewish names and are now closer to those people, and maybe to that faith by extension. Interesting for people often brought up as Christian Pentecostals.

I met for the first time a cousin born a couple of years after me. He went to The Bahamas about 20 years ago, to work in construction, and became one of their national cricketers. I found his details last Christmas and called and left a message. Last night, we hugged like brothers and talke up a 50 year storm. I will have to have a meal with him this Christmas.

I now know that a young cousin who had graduated from university and could not find work in Jamaica has now been living in Alberta, Canada, for a year and working in hotels there. He's also building a house in Jamaica. Way to get over the hurdles.

'Coincidences' abound: I had to drop off some doctors at a hotel and met a good friend and pilot who happened to get the flight duty to Kingston to cross over my visit, and was staying at their hotel. His flight duties had last month let him cross over my visit to New York. No way we knew each other's plans. OK!!!!!

I'm stopping there for today as the Holy Spirit is clearly having a ball. The white rum was the spirit that moved last night but it's time is done.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pure Slackness And Too Much Crying Over Spilt Milk

One of my constant criticisms of things Barbadian is of an underlying complacency. If the country had reach the pinnacle of richness we would be thinking that we are looking at the effects of degeneracy. That the country has not reached the pinnacle of richness still means that we are looking at the effects of degeneracy. Why am I harping on complacency again? The Nation reported this week the case of Dexter Smith (pictured, courtesy of the Nation), a route taxi (ZR) driver, 'whose reckless driving left 14 ZR passengers injured in an accident on Sunday admitted he knew he was driving illegally since his driver's licence had been suspended.' He has 30 traffic convictions and has had his licence suspended on four occasions.

Since that report one has heard so many "How can that be?" questions. The answer is simple "You like it so," or as I often get told "That's how it is." Now the crying over spilt milk, and the milk is mixed with the pain of the injured. Look at what milk Dexter Smith spilt:
  • he had no insurance;
  • he drove without due care and attention;
  • he drove dangerously;
  • he drove without reasonable consideration;
  • he passed beyond the stop line, all on Sunday.
Here is how the 'system' reacted. Magistrate Christopher Birch told him, "You represent the most dangerous fringe in the culture of the public service vehicle industry. It isn't the majority. You represent that one per cent that couldn't care. You drive sometimes intoxicated; you overload the vehicle; you drive in and out as if you own the road. This same magistrate had suspended Smith's licence on two of the four occasions. In the end, Magistrate Birch jailed Smith for a year for driving while his licence had been suspended and suspended that licence for a further two years.

We know that the 'system' has allowed all of this and is culpable; maybe no individual is really at fault, but this happens only because it is very easy to evade all the rules and regulations, that people believe Bajans love to follow. I've said before, that rules and regulations and laws are not very often followed in Barbados. People talk about Jamaica as 'lawless', and it is; but so too is Barbados. Plenty lawless.

Just my own experience in 15 minutes of driving yesterday afternoon: the bus that stopped in the middle of the highway, just after it passed the bus stop layby, so that a passenger could run to get on. Traffic came to a screeching halt. No problem, man. A driver tali gating me so closely it seemed that he was in my back seat. When I braked he flipped me the finger. No problem, man, we can die together. The same driver then switched from outside lane and swerved over two lanes to make the turn I presume that he had been told to over the cell phone he had to his ear. I don't panic easily on the road, but I grew up driving in Hyde Park Corner. Bajans cannot handle this kind of maniacal activity.

Just think about how a man with a suspended licence gets a job as a driver of a public service vehicle. Did he pay off someone? Did someone turn a blind eye or not check? The same questions apply when looking at his lack of insurance. Remember, this is the country where you can just go and get number plates knocked up where you buy your cou-cou: no official licensing authority need issue them. Duh!

Smith was not the owner of the taxi. But who is and why is he or she not also in front of the magistrate? Why are the offending owners not sanctioned and the vehicles seized and taken off the road? I'm no investigative journalist but things like this happen because some one's interests need to be protected. Politicians and government officials have to be involved somewhere, as the setters and keepers (or clearly not) of the rules. Private industry too is culpable. Obviously, those who are ZR operators. But what are insurance companies doing to ensure that drivers have valid licences or that anyone without a valid license will find it hard to drive a car.

If the 'system' has parts that work, then there will be civil and criminal cases to come from the injured.

What will happen next? Taking the cue from Crop Over, will it be "Some thing's happening" or will it be "We looking at it"? Oh, the poison we have to pick!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Barbados – The Way Forward: A Fresh Look By John Phillips

Yesterday, I posted an article written by John Phillips back in 1993, proposing a merging of Barbados and Guyana. How do things look a decade and a half later? John has taken another look at the subject, in part spurred by President Jagdeo making the offer earlier this year of a substantial parcel of land in Guyana for Barbadians to develop--1 million acres. Read below John Phillips' more recent views.

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Barbados – The way forward

In the 18th century Bridgetown was an industrialized city and Barbados was a rich colony – a veritable jewel in the British crown, but the people (except for a few) were not free. Today Barbados is one of the freest countries in this hemisphere but many countries have outstripped us in wealth and our future is in jeopardy. In the 18th century and before, size was not so important but today land size implies land resources, sustainability, room for population growth and economies of scale, leading to a competitive edge on the world stage. Many small island states are facing difficult challenges. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, we in the English speaking Caribbean, gaining independence from Britain were the envy of the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Then they had an active independence movement; today those movements are noticeably dormant. The Turks and Caicos Islands, whilst still under colonial rule, is clamouring for some sort of union with Canada rather than sue for independence from Britain. Prime Minister Owen Arthur wants to take us into the premier league of nations. Can he do it? The way ahead is fraught with difficulties. We are really a minuscule nation and our economy being so dependant on tourism and offshore (international) business relies very much on the good will of others, which in these times is no security for the future. Our dense population is putting tremendous strain on the environment in terms of refuge disposal problems, water shortages and transport. Housing too, is becoming more problematic and finding jobs for the young, skilled and educated, remains a major challenge. The move away from agriculture means that we are no longer food secure like we were during the years of World War II. If only we had more land. Climatologists think that we are entering a period of global warming, which will cause sea level rise and increased frequency and severity of hurricanes in this part of the world. What will happen to Bridgetown and other heavily populated and developed coastal regions? This is bad news especially for tourism.

Ten years ago I highlighted some of these problems (we had fewer then) in the article “Barguyados: New hope for the future” (Weekend Nation, Friday, November 27th 1992) suggesting that Barbados should try to acquire some 200 or so square miles of land in Guyana for development as a Barbadian outpost or colony. This ‘other’ part of Barbados would be used to develop agricultural and other industries and to build cities for Barbadians to live in. The two hundred or so square miles of land was to be in lieu of the 157 million dollars owed to Barbados at that time. The Guyanese who read the article were favourably disposed towards it; after all we were only speaking of 0.28 percent of a country that is 83,000 square miles. The Bajan responses were less than encouraging. The problem was that they could not see how the Guyanese would willingly give up (so much, to them) land to Bajan ‘foreigners’ even as debt repayment. This for them was the major stumbling block.

This major stumbling block was effectively removed a few weeks ago by President Jagdeo of Guyana at the opening of the Guyana Trade Expo. This event took place at the Grand Barbados Hotel, 27 – 29 February this year. The President told a gathering of about two hundred persons, which included our own Prime Minister, that he was willing “to give Barbados one million acres of land.” Perhaps equally surprising was how the media appeared to have ignored this statement, there being no discussion or reference to it anywhere by the media reporting of the event.

Gains for Guyana

It is good that the President has taken the initiative to remove the most serious obstacle to the development of the plan – the acquisition of land. One million acres is more that we could ever dream of. This amounts to 1,562.5 square miles of territory or an area more than nine times the size of Barbados! In return, the least that Barbados could do would be to cancel Guyana’s outstanding debt. During the Burnham years, Guyana lost most of its educated elite and suffered negative population growth, due to social and political problems. This resulted in a colossal brain drain with serious effects on present and future developments. To a lesser extent this whole region has been affected in this way. We produce more scientists, engineers, technologists and other professionals than we can adequately employ. And our human capital is continually being depleted by more attractive offers in developed countries. However, development cannot take place without adequate human resources and they cannot be stocked up for future use like money in a bank. Thus we have acted as feeder nations to the developed nations of the northern hemisphere and are doomed to continue in this vein unless we can form larger sustainable groupings capable of deploying our developed human capital. We in this region are descendants of people who for the most part were brought here against their will. We have developed an identity and have made these lands our homes but now more than ever before we must be aware of the difficulties that stand between us and a secure future. By vigorously pursuing this offer of one million acres we can demonstrate that we as a people have reached the stage of maturity to make new moves and form new associations to our advantage to ensure the survival of our descendants and our culture.

A project of this mature will capture the imagination of our nation and become a unifying force. This will be for us what circumnavigating the world or the conquest of Everest was to the British or what the moon landing was for the Americans. Joined by other vulnerable small island states and fuelled by the region’s human resource, Guyana could emerge in this century as a leader among nations in the Caribbean.

Action Plan


1.First the two governments get together and the gift of one million acres is ratified and accepted. The relationship between this ‘new’ Barbados territory and the ‘parent’ country Guyana is discussed at great length, agreements and treaties reached. One hopes that the new land would include mineral deposits, water sources, land suitable for agriculture to enable the development of agro-industries, for housing and large industrial complexes.

2.The Government sets up a department, joins with the private sector to explore, survey and formulate a land use policy for the new territory. So we are not talking about cutting up the new land into bits and distributing it. We are talking about bringing the best brains together to plan a development process that will take place over a decade and beyond. I am confident that we have capable personnel in this island or in the region that can formulate and execute such plans.

3.Through a series of town hall meetings the Government (et al.) sell the idea to the public and try to attract investment in the project as a long term investment in the future of Barbados.

John Phillips
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National Punctuation Day

If you write a lot, as I do, today is a day for circumspection and brevity. It is National Punctuation Day. The founder of this fete, Jeff Rubin (pictured doing a colon workout), has given a guide on how to celebrate the day (see National Punctuation Day site). The tasks are repeated below:
  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.
I started badly, by getting up early as usual, but I did go for swim, which I never usually do. I had salt bread and chorizo slices with Tomme de chevre for breakfast, while my six year old showed off her robot dancing to Malian music. A friend sounded like he needed some 'baby sitting' while his twins had to stay home and I offered; but he has declined.

So, my day is already well punctuated. I will try to find my copy of Strunk & White, and have a good leaf through it as I make comments today. Yesterday, I had a chapter of an MBA dissertation to deal with, and punctuation was not an issue.

At the end of my day, when I try to make a full stop, I will see if I need an exclamation mark. The modern style includes Emoticons and there are no rules that I have seen that deal with those. Maybe, I should invent some. So, like possessives before a gerund, we can all know when and where to place the smiling faces or whatever.

Have fun poking fun at others' mistakes today, but make sure you are not going to get poked back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Barguyados: Can The Sum Of Parts Produce A Better Whole?

Circumstances throw people together.

A week ago, I was at a cocktail party for the departing British High Commissioner, wondering where I could sit and rest my badly aching knees. Too many years of sport were taking their toll and I had legs that said "enough". I parked myself on a stone bench and looked at people trying to impress each other with stories. Then a man asked if he could sit next to me. No problem. We struck up a conversation and soon had covered almost all regional and international issues. He let out that he was a scientist and we lamented that Barbados had not done much to gear itself up well in that discipline and the region had also not seen a way to consolidate its scientific talents.

Then we got talking about immigration. The man mentioned that he had floated an idea about how to deal with the pressures that seem to drive people from the region's largest land mass, Guyana, towards one of its smallest and most densely populated, Barbados. He then mentioned that he had proposed a solution. He described it and then we got into a long debate about how politics and social issues would make it nigh impossible. We agreed to disagree, but his idea is intriguing. Its principle is not novel and is part of moves such as 'decentralization' that are done within an existing national space. But it is a major challenge to try it for two separate national spaces that are separated by a lot of water.

The man, John Phillips, is Barbadian. He is a biologist and trained in the UK as a teacher. He has a Master of Philosophy degree from UWI. He is a former science teacher at Harrison College, Barbados.

He wrote an intriguing paper some 15 years ago, looking at how the two divergent countries of Barbados and Guyana could produce a vibrant economic space. To me, there are lots of questions that such an idea begs, but it has some fascinating possibilities as one considers ways forward for a country that is densely populated, small, and scarce of resources, compared with another that is grossly under populated, but has a huge resource rich land mass. Of course, there is the not so little matter of vastly different cultural, political, and historical roots.

I understand that the original version of the article was published in the Nation before the Owen administration started its first term. I read the piece and was struck by how much of the assessment still seems relevant. Does that tell us that some problems are that intractable? Or is it that problems take so long to find their solutions? Or, is it that many other things are going on?

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A country going down the drain

Barguyados: New hope for the future


WHILE Barbadians are bracing themselves to face the harsh economic conditions ahead, they have overlooked the fact that a fundamental problem of this country is the problem of overpopulation. Ironically, this is a problem that no one is talking about. We simply have too many people in this island of ours. We in fact have one of the highest numbers of people per square mile in the world. We are tenth in the world population "league". In the Caribbean, we are second only to Bermuda, as the graph (at right) shows. Bermuda is just off scale with 2,834 per square mile. This problem that we face is not a new one but could have been far worse had we not been able to "lose" people through emigration and had not the Family Planning Association been successful in implementing their policies.

We live close to a very spacious country, Guyana, which could easily absorb our population without a "whimper." If Guyana had the same population density as Barbados, it would now be bristling with some 130 people, instead, Guyana has less than three quarters of a million people.

Caribbean unity


If our politicians get their act together; that is, if they are prepared to look beyond just the next set of election results, we can hope for some form of political as well as economic union for the Caribbean territories at some point in the not-too-distant future. However, we here in Barbados do not have much time; we have to act now or witness the deterioration and eventually disintegration of our society. We must do all we can to speed up the regional integration process. Herein lays the hope of our ending a dependence on quotas and subsidies.
The population trends for Barbados leading up to the year 2000 are a model for any country (many developing countries will double their population in 25 years). But this is not enough; the standard of living that people want to achieve is rapidly getting out of reach and their expectations of life are now more surreal than real. Our youths are beginning to despair. 'What have we to look forward to?' they ask, and 'what are the national goals?'

Limitations


Ours is a land of too few resources and too few opportunities. We do not have enough land space, we get too little rainfall, we have very few natural resources and we cannot or do not grow enough food for ourselves. Yes, it is true; this is nothing new. We have always had this problem, but until recently, we had other things going for us so we never had to face these problems 'head on.' We were a few steps ahead of our neighbours, we were better developed, we were better educated, we had better roads, better schools and better air and seaports. Our utilities such as water and electricity were excellent and communications were always good.

Thus, it was easy to attract foreign investors to set up industries here. Tourism has served us well. It had been a minor industry in the '50’s with a few hotels down the "gold coast" in St. James graduating to become the main foreign exchange earner in the '70s and '80s. Perhaps it is a mistake to expect tourism to last forever, especially when the psyches of our people still have difficulty distinguishing between service and servitude. People soon get tired of the sea and the sun (which is bad for the skin!) and we haven't got old castles, dungeons, 'lost' cities or forests for them to come and look at. It is anybody's guess how many and for how long tourists will be attracted to come and play golf.

What has happened over the past few years is that we are now in a much more competitive world. Our neighbours have: simply caught up with us and can successfully compete with us. Whatever we produce here can be produced cheaper elsewhere, with as good or better quality. This problem has a lot to do with the economies of scale. Our miniscule home market does not gear us to produce items with that competitive edge needed to penetrate extra-regional markets. What we needed to do was to keep our machinery running for longer, to work harder and longer than our competitors, to capture the markets like the Japanese have done. But, as another writer mentioned, our trade unions have been too good at extracting better and better conditions for the workers over the years, without the concomitant increases in productivity. Our complacency didn't help much; and we relied less on the land to produce our own food and more on purchasing it from elsewhere. We got away with it as long as there was an easy flow of tourist dollars into the country. Complacency mixed with too much pride and procrastination kept us ignorant of the problems we were facing and told us that these problems were not real or serious.

Among the problems we faced were: Considerable loss in shipping trade due to inefficiency and high port charges; loss in tourist trade due to the deterioration in "tourist product" and general decline in the tourist industry worldwide; loss in earnings of raw sugar on the world market due to high cost of production and the general movement away from cane sugar (a trend which started to show itself in the 1970s). All the while, we have been producing more and more people to overflow an ever-shrinking job market.

'Brain' drain in reverse


Traditionally we have looked to Europe and North America as a safety valve to ease unemployment problems. We have proudly "exported" our people when they were calls for labour overseas; in more practical terms, we were giving economic aid to these already developed countries. The peak for this emigration was in the '50s and early '60s. Today the exodus of people overseas has been reduced to a mere trickle. We have therefore to look to non-traditional means to alleviate today's problems.

This brings us back to where we started -Guyana. Guyana holds the key to our future; we can do much for Guyana too. We need space and Guyana needs people. Barbados, having a population of some 250 000 people and with 1 535 people per square mile, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The first settlers found a wooded, unpopulated island. Within 50 years of settling, the trees were cut down and the island put under intense cultivation, sustained by a large slave population. The intense cultivation, which Barbados underwent, was no doubt facilitated by the accessibility of the terrain, the equitable climate and the relative freedom from disruptive disturbances.

We are now having problems sustaining economic growth, and since we have been "shuttled" towards the IMF for help, we can expect decline, as was the case with the countries in the Caribbean, which came under the same harsh economic management. It was under such conditions that people used whatever contacts they had to help them flee the economic oppression, which ensued. In the countries like Grenada and Guyana, the exodus was so drastic that it has led to negative population growth trends for this decade (extremely unusual for developing countries). Belize is off the scale with a growth rate of 3.6 per cent; this leads to population doubling time of 20 years.

If the harsh economic conditions experienced by Grenada and Guyana come to Barbados, they will cause a "brain drain" here. If the trend continues, Barbados will find itself in a much worse position than Guyana and it will be catastrophic for the region if our best brains are lost forever to the extra-regional workforce. However, it is unlikely that a 'brain drain' will solve our population problem but will impact negatively on our development. When our best people have left, surely it would be more difficult to run the country efficiently, it would be more difficult for businesses to find skilled personnel; and therefore more difficult to grow economically. The effect of mass unemployment will increase the tension in our citizens, and this easily translates into civil disturbance, strife, xenophobia and the singling out of specific groups to carry the blame for the current problems. Where this can lead to in terms of the destructive effect on a country, no one knows. But the sheer numbers of people that we have to deal with in such a small space is a serious cause for concern.

If the following plans were put into effect immediately, I believe it would give us hope for the future, particularly our young people, and encourage our educated, skilled and professional people to stay in the region and even make sacrifices for the noble cause.

Guyana is one of the least populous and at present one of the poorest countries in the region, although it is rich in natural resources. Guyana lacks the human resources and financial investment needed to develop the country and raise its citizens out of the "poverty trap" in which they are caught. Can it climb out of this situation without "selling out" to foreign (outside the region) investors? Wouldn't this lead to a situation where Guyana's wealth will be owned and controlled by foreigners? Wouldn't it be more desirable for the people of the region to share in the development of Guyana while we all move towards political and economic union?

Guyana now owes Barbados some $150 million through the Caribbean Multilateral Clearing Facility. It is very unlikely that this money will ever be paid back in cash in the near future, given the state of the Guyana economy. Barbados would do well to accept payment in kind. $150 million could buy 150,000 acres of forest at $1000 per acre, or an area equivalent to 234 square miles. This area though larger than Barbados represents only 0.28 percent of Guyana.

Guyana has an area of 83 000 square miles as compared with Barbados which has an area of only 166 square miles. A transaction of this kind would be a positive benefit to both countries. This new territory could become a part of Barbados and could be used to establish a colony for Bajans who would clear the forest under strict ecological management and build a city or cities to house 50 000 to 100 000 Bajans over the next 25 to 50 years. It would be important to choose the site very carefully to ensure that there are sufficient natural resources that could be exploited. A site well away from major settlements, somewhere in the interior, would have minimum disruption of already established communities. Agreements could be reached, as the relationships between the new settlers and the Guyanese citizens and a time framework established so that the cities eventually revert to Guyanese control, rather like Hong Kong reverting from British rule to Chinese rule after 99 years. In other words, they lose their colony status and become again part of Guyana. Thus in the long term Guyana would gain a fully developed county (shall we say) with viable industries and people with high academic and professional training -the brain drain in reverse.

Wiping out debt with one 'stroke'


GUYANA has benefited before, from a major influx of people during the 19th century when a labor shortage arose there, after the abolition of slavery. From 1834 to 1865, more than 127 000 Indians, Chinese, Portuguese and West Indians among others, fleeing famine, poverty and oppression in their own countries, went to Guyana in search of freedom and fortune. But the flow of liberated slaves and free men continued right up to the end of the century. Records were difficult to obtain about this period, but it is estimated that "no less than 40 656" persons went into Guyana from Barbados.

The proposal is given in outline; the details could be thrashed out and alternatives considered. For instance, how long should there be before the "colony" becomes controlled by Guyana? What would be the new relationship between the "colonists" and the "Mother Country" once control has been relinquished? Could an alternat1ve arrangement be made where the land 1s leased to the "colonists" rather than sold?

It may well be that 50 years down the line, we may have some semblance of a federation or at least some kind of economic and political union; then such questions may indeed be irrelevant. However, just going to Guyana and selecting a "good" piece of territory would not be enough. Considerable investments and careful planning over a long period of time would be necessary. The goal of settling a new territory to improve conditions in this country and add to the overall development of the Caribbean could unite us and focus our attention for a generation. A company could be formed financed by shares from the Government and people of Barbados, including private companies, perhaps like the East India company which operated in the Far East during the 18th and 19th centuries.

What would the "colonists" do and how would Barbados benefit? Well that depends on what kind of territory is selected. Guyana is exceedingly rich in minerals so an early part of the programmed would be to gain wealth from the exploitation of these minerals. Forestry would also come in for early consideration. With the abundance of rain and fresh water, typical of tropical rain forests, agriculture would also be a major consideration. Vegetable and fish farming could be conducted with relative ease, without the restrictions of water and land space that we now face in Barbados. Even ecotourism could hardly be bettered in the genuine primeval forests.

The benefits for Guyana would be immediate. An enormous national debt would have been cleared in one stroke.

John Phillips. 1993.
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STOP PRESS! Bajan Bloggers Collaborate!

One of my fellow Bajan bloggers, Amit Uttamchandani, who writes the Pull! Push! blog, sent out an online survey recently about perceptions of tourism for which he needed more responses. He now has to deal with the replies and try to make sense of it for his MBA course work. His blogging has been put on ice while he grapples with the data, and of course tries to get on with his money-earning job activities.

He sent out a plea for help with the econometric or other analysis. I believe strongly in collaboration and I also have a knack for putting people together. A young English economist, DF or maybe, df, as he's a different kind of economist) who also happens to be a Muslim, had been in touch with me months ago about a planned move to Barbados with his Bajan wife and family. He is now living in Barbados, and we've met and discussed what he may do in the financial area that would not put his Islamic principles in jeopardy. He's got good mathematical and economic skills and is looking for work. So, I put Amit and him together. In no time, our young bucks were putting heads together to make sense of Amit's interesting results. I am no expert on the 'dark arts' of econometrics, but can deal better with words to explain things and also have a reasonable local knowledge that could be useful.

I suggested that this new found triumvirate get together to look over the work and decide how we could assist Amit to complete his analysis. Economists are taught that income/output (Y) is a function of many things, but often we focus on consumption (C) and investment (I). Well, we were going to see if Y = C + I. Cue, Novel Teas NT, as we are all symbols now).There, we could generate output (Y) and consume (C) and invest (I) our time well.

We all met for lunch yesterday. df had just finished celebrating Eid. I was hungry; he was not. Amit just needed a Coke (and his regular diet includes about three a day). Raj, the owner of NT, was his usual accommodating self and let us hook up our computers to his wireless Internet connection; he was himself watching cricket online. But the work needed some lubrication to flow better. Cue tea. df is working his way down the extensive range of options. I am doing likewise. Yesterday, he introduced me to popcorn tea. (Wikipedia gives a nice explanation of Genmaicha (玄米茶, "brown rice tea"), the Japanese name for green team mixed with roasted brown rice. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as "popcorn tea" because a few grains of the rice pop during the roasting process and resemble popcorn.) I had that wash down a superbly cooked dhosa and potato bhaji, with coconut chutney and some seeringly hot pepper sauce that Raj's ladies had prepared. Then into work.

Amit needed to fire up his account at Durham University and next thing I knew we were cooking data at 450 degrees F. df gave some superb explanations of how to understand 'statistical significance'. Social analysts have to convince themselves and others that he results they get from combing reams of data are significant, not just important. It's been over 30 years since I have had to listen to explanations of various forms of econometrics, and I had already explained that contrary to the tenets of my profession I had sworn that after graduating I would never run a regression. I had managed to stay with that and was not going to change now. Inevitably, Amit had to ask about t-statistics. His had had to accept that the two economists with him were not Coke men, and had accepted our advice to have a nice Chai. He was cheery and sipped patiently with a furrowed brow as he talked about 95% confidence intervals.

In the end, Amit was quite pleased with his understanding. df was satisfied that he had functioned well and done a good tutorial. I was satisfied. My time was coming because Amit now needs to write and convince his tutors that he has done well. My commitment was to read his drafts and be 'a piece of work', i.e., scrutinize it for logic and sense relative to some possible policy angles and aspects of local economic development.

As we left to go on with our other living tasks, I explained to Amit how df and I had met, and that we were now about 2 months into acquaintance. Amit was shocked. He thought that we were long time friends or at least associates. His eyes widened as he absorbed the notion that df and I had met through my blog. He should not have been, after all, Amit and I had met through our blogging activities. We had a good talk about some of the recent traffic seen on the local blogs and had some similar ideas about the structure and tone of the various blogs and their main commentators. He chuckled as he recalled some of the interchanges that had involved me. I advised him that my skin is quite thick but that I was also not one to just sit around and be insulted, more so as I am writing under my own name or am clearly identified. We speculated about the feelings of those who wrote under so-called complete anonymity.

Amit promised many chapters to read. As I write I know that my first instalment is sitting in my e-mail in box. I am happy to do this kind of thing on a pro bono basis but Amit insisted on paying for lunch yestrerday. I see that I will remain well fed for a while.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who's Eaten My Lunch? What Unemployment Can Feel Like.

I had my heart broken this morning and I will tell you why. I have an acquaintance who works in the tourism sector. She and I met about a year ago. She seemed so simple and kind and that attracted me immediately. She talked to me about the place where she worked and suggested that I take time to spend a vacation there. I did nothing immediately, but did visit the place. It was lovely and had such Caribbean charm. I then had no contact with the lady again.

Almost 18 months after we first met, our paths crossed again. Immediately, she was on my case again about spending a vacation. I was still not agreeable, but decided to go to her place of work and have lunch with a friend and her children. We all had a great time and the staff were so kind, in the way they treated us like family. I agreed to spend the weekend and booked up there and then. The weekend was spent with another pair of couples whom we had never met before, but my acquaintance thought would be a good fit. She was right.

The weekend was pure relaxation and mostly laughter and fun. The weekend extended into Monday, as we were having such a good time. I was now ready to convince all of my friends that this was THE place to go and spend a few days and get spa-ed, etc. I never had that but those I know who did said it was amongst the best.

I had to meet this acquaintance over the weekend as we had some things to discuss and I was in her neighbourhood. We made a plan for another vacation later this year and I was going to set up about 5-6 couples to make up the party. I even mentioned it to one lady during my daughter's birthday party this weekend--she was very excited at the prospect.

Then, in the wee hours of last night, I got an e-mail. It said in so many words, "Ive been fired!" I could not believe it. This person is the backbone of the place. What little that I know about the tourism industry tells me that the profit margins are thin and further cost cutting is now very difficult. But, this is the kind of thing where people have to bite back. I do not know how that will happen, but one way is that those who are friends of the newly unemployed will start to boycott the place where she worked and send a message to friends to do the same.

Maybe it takes the smoke of some one's life going up in flames to make you realise how fast fire can spread. I'm lucky. I do not work for anyone any more, and have been saying to people that unemployment brings wonderful opportunities. I now have to convince my friend--because she is that, not just an acquaintance--that this is real.

I know she has faith and will trust in God to see her through, but a little human help wont go amiss.

Why Has Barbados Left The World Behind? A Look At Doing Business 2010

As I comb through the reading material that the world's learned journals produce, I came across the latest World Bank report on Doing Business 2010 (see www.doingbusiness.org). I was not surprised to find Singapore in first place or that the Central African Republic was last (#183).

I eagerly thumbed through the document online searching for Caribbean countries, but first I wanted to see how high Barbados was relative to the others. Hello? Is anyone there? Barbados? Where are you? I could not find Barbados anywhere.

I found Barbuda (ranked #51, as always with Antigua). I found The Bahamas (#68). I found Jamaica (#75) and Trinidad (#81). Is the money being spent tempting people to come to invest in Barbados being done on a wing and a prayer? How is the world investing community supposed to know how Barbados stacks up against the rest of the world, or the Caribbean alone? I get it. They just come on a plane and soak up the business making environment. Why waste time on a survey. I hope someone at the World Bank or in one of the government's economic ministries has a good answer--a very good answer. I think back to the past week of PM Thompson glad handing in Florida and I wonder if the "Bajan" way is just more smoke and mirrors.

Puetro Rico (#35) and St. Lucia (#36) do best in the region. But nowhere could I locate God's isle. If you do not believe me, then look at the regional table for Latin America and the Caribbean (see table), which I also reproduce below.

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Latin America & Caribbean

[Clicking the headers below will sort data by column (try it and see).]

EconomyEase of Doing Business RankStarting a BusinessDealing with Construction PermitsEmploying WorkersRegistering PropertyGetting CreditProtecting InvestorsPaying TaxesTrading Across BordersEnforcing ContractsClosing a Business
Puerto Rico1130321321522124
St. Lucia244210185220278
Colombia3128126912016256
Chile41112153131148418
Antigua and Barbuda5861015275216510
Mexico61492514911161182
Peru719242322312151816
Bahamas, the8920727132033215
St. Vincent and the Grenadines9611125185751528
Jamaica1021162018153021221
St. Kitts and Nevis111331281851461828
Panama123132973202912012
Belize132724221823625293
Trinidad and Tobago14101583233543028
Dominica155716171358142828
El Salvador1620262147232210213
Dominican Republic1718171916131392924
Grenada187592918511132628
Guyana19161018931151912721
Guatemala20283124112517261615
Uruguay21232913307182729117
Nicaragua221528172618182817311
Argentina23243220189202323114
Costa Rica2422272259282692317
Paraguay2517223011131318311720
Brazil2621232619181525181322
Ecuador272916278182510281423
Honduras282614281232824243119
Haiti293225523292813301027
Suriname303119143129321193225
Bolivia313021322427253127249
Venezuela, R.B.322518311332313232626
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How utterly strange, I thought. With all of the IMF's recent commentary and concerns about the need to keep investor confidence high the last thing I expected was to find that Bim had gone AWOL in the eyes of potential business people. Is the country serious about moving ahead, not just out of the current recession?

The Economist does its usual nice job on summarising the latest report (see Reforming through the tough times). It shows that a lot of reforms have occurred since the last report. It's interesting that countries tend to emulate the 'leaders' in the region--more reason to see Barbados, showing what it means to be out in front.
  • Encouragingly, reform seems to be contagious. Countries try to emulate leaders in their regions. Many African governments, for example, have taken note of the success of Mauritius’s deregulated economy (#17).
The Economist reports that reforms matter a lot:
  • Lower barriers to entry are associated with a smaller informal sector. Informal businesses have lower wages, lower growth rates, poorer safety records, tend not to pay taxes and are prey to corruption. Reducing the cost of doing business leads to higher rates of growth and entrepreneurship.
  • One study shows that, in poor countries, a ten-day reduction in the time it takes to start a business can lead to an increase of 0.4 percentage points in GDP growth. Another shows that people who have a formal title to their property invest as much as 47% more in their businesses.
  • The best reformers have several things in common. Their reforms are part of a broad agenda of boosting competitiveness.
So, with all of these good things to come from reforming the business environment, why is Barbados apparently not in the race? I promise not to mention again my view about the perceived myth of Barbados' economic success, really I do.

A query to the World Bank in Washington DC, got the following explanation:

'The Doing Business report includes 183 economies. Since the launch of the first report in 2004, economies are added to the report based on their request. The Doing Business team has recently received a request from Barbados to be included in the report, and we expect that Barbados will be part of next year's report.'