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, September 07, 2009

Hot Air And Trial Balloons

In the world of policy making many ways exist to get an issue in front of the public or legislators. One well known method is to 'float' an idea, a 'trial balloon, what Webster's calls 'a project or scheme tentatively announced in order to test public opinion'. We are seeing it to different degrees in the USA with the current heated debate on health reform, in particular on the so-called 'public option'. Various ideas can rise or fall in favour depending on public reaction to them, or depending on the noise made my legislators, or depending on the movement of poll numbers. From that set of reactions, decision makers may be able to put together a package that is more likely to succeed because the problematic elements have been exposed and found unacceptable or palatable by means that were short of them being enacted.

I have been wondering about some recent policy movements in Barbados and thinking that they might have been trial balloons. I cannot come to a conclusion in short space of time but am going to try to look back and change the direction of my head to see if things make more sense if seen as tentative moves rather than definitive moves.

One of the advantages of letting the balloons fly is that hot air--in the sense of heated discussion--can keep them afloat and then a cold draught of reality may be allowed to come along and sink the balloons. I am looking back on the past few months of discussion on undocumented CARICOM migrants in this light. I think that I am correct in still not having seen the government's comprehensive immigration policy, which previous statements by the PM suggested that this would be outlined from early August. What I do recall is Prime Minister David Thompson telling delegates attending the annual Democratic Labour Party (DLP) conference in late August: "We have embarked upon the development of a comprehensive immigration policy which will be introduced shortly (see Jamaica Observer report). There will be no turning back on this issue." No turning back was of course bolstered by the recent CADRES poll that showed some 70% of people supportive of the government's stance on immigration, and over half of the surveyed backing the recent revised amnesty.

What does make sense is that the government wants to have a good sense that it can be tough on immigration, but the question is how tough, given the obvious sensibilities in the region. These are naturally based upon any sense that a particular nationality is being targeted; in that regard the noise has been loudest from Guyana, but also loud from St. Vincent. Sensibilities are also raw when it seems that moves toward regional integration are being sacrificed for narrow national interests.

So, where are we? The Barbadian public has sided with the PM. This has frozen the opposition because who wants to walk in front of that bus? But, still the real action is yet to be taken. It is a political game that is underway and as the year passes the likelihood that the policy will not see the light of day before the year's end and the end of the amnesty seems to grow.

The other 'trial balloon' I detect is that floating over the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and its leadership. Again, the CADRES poll was a useful needle to jab in the side of those who have aspirations of leadership. The current BLP leader, Ms. Mottley, is clearly not as popular as the former PM, Mr. Arthur. Astute and abrasive as he is, he has been quick to step into the gap and make sure that if there were doubts that he could come back to 'save the day' he is all but ready (see today's Advocate report).

This weekend, he was like the final runner in a relay, who had been handed the baton and was now headed to the finish. He spoke to a “Serving the Nation” theme, and responded to a front-page editorial published last week in the Barbados Advocate. I do not know Mr. Arthur but sense keenly that he has a clear view of his political and economic stature--dare I say, legacy--in the country and will, therefore, rise quickly to protect that. So, he has bridled because it seems inappropriate that he should be shuffled off the political scene: it is like his declining the PM's 'breakfast summit' invitation. More important, I suspect, he feels that he can be seen as the economic cavalry and save Barbados from what he regards as a road to destruction being laid by the current government.

Mr. Arthur took over in the mid-1990s after what Bajans see as the nadir of modern economic fortunes, and brought Barbados up to levels that are widely envied. Who better then to do the 'double' and save Barbados again? His claim that the present government is 'playing politics with the society and the economy' is to me as clear a gauntlet thrown down as there needs to be. Who will dare pick it up? It is a devilishly prickly glove as it has spikes for both those of his own party and those of the government. Given that Mr. Arthur spent a good amount of time in Jamaica, and took a Jamaican wife for a good while, he has more of a Jamaican "no man better than me" attitude than is often seen in Barbadians: he could say "Me likkle but me tallawah." Who would disagree with him?

We do live in interesting times.

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