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**

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Talk The Talk? But Can You Walk The Walk?

I've not made a big secret of one of my major concerns about Barbados. It is simply that a great sales job has been done. That may come across as harsh, but it is important. I bolster my view with finding things that do not smack of having done as much as claimed or as much as could reasonably have been expected. For me, it covers how you deal with events like the Olympics and World Championships. Do you see them as important enough to let people watch? Whatever the reason, if you show soap operas but not major events like this, it sends a huge message. Do you ensure that your country's business practices are measured along with those of others in the world? If not, then how are you claiming anything about how good or easy it is to do business? I have written on these topics, and you get the gist.

When I first aired my concern it was in a world where many things that were not quite up to snuff, all over the world, were not that visible. The world economy was growing; life was good. We lived in a 'bubble' of economic success that masked the bad and the ugly and made many of them look like the good. As the world economy went into a tail spin around 2007 the cracks and worse became very apparent. The most glaring cracks were in the form of how those who were gate keepers were doing a very poor job and exposing many of us to dangers we thought were well controlled. I mean mainly financial sector regulators and also financial companies themselves who should have had much better internal control. The other glaring crack, and it is still widening, came in the form of companies that made a lot of money by lying and cheating. We have the Madoff scandal as the most high profile of these, but just the past weekend we had the arrest of Raj Rajaratnam, founder of Galleon Group on insider trading charges. Now the company's analysts, portfolio managers and traders due to meet this morning in New York as they raise cash to meet redemption requests after the arrest. It's not getting better and some would say it has to still get worse.

In the Caribbean we have not escaped but do not yet know how much of a problem we have: CL Financial Group and CLICO are moving to resolve a range of financial problems--I use guarded language because the news of what is going on is sparse and despite what I have heard I prefer to deal with what is public record. We have the side wash too of the Sir Allen Stanford fraud case. We also have the issue of political corruption, and here the cases in Jamaica are the most prominent, but they are not the only ones. We have hints of impropriety in Barbados, with recent reports concerning a building contractor and claims of work not well done, but also allusions to how the contract was gained.

My broad issues is not really with financial irregularities, though, even though it often comes down to money. If I wanted to I could put up the umbrella of financial mismanagement and I would feel that I was not pushing the envelope too far. No, it is more about the notion of whether you are what you say you are, or is your life one of contradictions? It's a big subject and I have tapped on the doors of only a few issues at a national level. But, my eyes have focused a lot of promises and whether they are kept and how.

I have been astonished that the recent application for a Rates Review by Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) was not a matter of major public interest as represented by extensive media coverage. The general view I took was that the public was not expected to follow this process except by attending the hearings. I personally wondered why a supposedly highly literate society was being treated as if it could not manage the complex issue. That's a conclusion from not seeing any live coverage, or even transcripts of the proceedings. If you have a desire to see people play a full part then you have to give them the means. Why should it have been left to the Barbados Association of Non Governmental Organizations to arrange the taping of daily proceedings and then posting them on one of the local blogs? The reported snippets in the newspapers barely touch what has been going on.

I thought back to the Budget speech this year and the notion of "Team Barbados" that was touted by the Finance Minister/Prime Minister. I wrote some months ago in Comments On The Budget 'Asking the country to rally together as “Team Barbados” and trying to sell the “Barbados Experience” of a country that wants to do better, are good sentiments but for me were not matched by bold action.'

My beef is simply an extension of the words used by those who have the means to make them real. What is being done to show that this is a country that wants to do better? People may be accustomed to 'Caribbean time' so getting policy developed fast and measures passed quickly may not be part of the 'experience'. So, I look at the time taken to move on integrity legislation (more because it was promised to be done lickety spit, but also because it would mark a major change).

I am not a voter so express my views in words rather than casting a ballot. But, if what I read means anything, then voters have a good dose of skepticism that is building up for the next round of voting. I had a look again at the CADRES poll. It looked at leadership but did not look at how government or opposition communicated their messages. I would be interested to see a study of how people feel about that.

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