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**

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.

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

1 comment:

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