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**

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Blog

For those who wish to continue following my writing from the US, it's in a new blog entitled Grasshopper Eyes The Potomac (http://potomacgrasshopper.wordpress.com).

Friday, August 06, 2010

Time To Move On

I've given myself time to slide out of Barbados and into the Greater Washington area in both a physicial and mental way, and it's time to draw a line on living in Barbados. This does not mean that my interest in Barbados stops suddenly: I even got my regular reminder of upcoming discussion topics for this weekend's Down To Brass Tacks, and with technology at my disposal, I can continue to contribute as I and others wish. But, I want to start looking at the world from a different perspective and maybe with some different interests, which will evolve.

Certainly, being out of the Caribbean does not mean that I have left Caribbean things behind. On the first full day back in the US, we went to buy a car. We got into conversation easily with the sales consultant, whose accent was clearly Trini. When we asked if he knew Jamaica or The Bahamas, he quickly replied "I did a junkanoo wedding once, a few years ago, in DC." My wife and I took a deep breath, and I asked the man his name (I had not seen the full correspondence by e-mail between my wife and him during the preceding week). Once he answered, I said, "You were the DJ at our wedding!" We all fell around laughing. I had known his sister in the late 1990s, through work; she had given me his contacts, and he had done a great job. Somehow, I felt that we were not going to buy our car from anywhere else. It did not come down to knowing the man, but once you get a good chemistry going other things fall into place. He did not butter us up with turkey sandwiches and potato chips, while we worked through the process. His colleagues sweetened things by giving me a US$40 voucher for lunch at a nice restaurant, for the delays I had to deal with as a minor mechanical problem on the car was fixed. So, within a few hours, we had the car bought, and with the American easy financing set up, had arranged a loan, had insurance, and were good to go within three hours of starting discussions.

We've already experienced many differences in life styles, within a week, even having to deal with a five hour power outage as violent thunderstorms downed trees that fell on power lines. The radio this morning reports tens of thousands of local residents who were without power and the clear up of debris that is beginning.

The neighbours in our little spot have realised gradually that we are back in our house, and we have had some nice 'welcome back' conversations. We are the only non-white family in the immediate area: our street has about 10 homes. Beyond that, non-white families are very few. It has never seemed to matter much. It's a nice area, where we can walk to food store, pharmacy, eating places, bank, and more, in a small plaza just a five minute walk away.

I have taken some early morning walks, instead of my regular swim. I greet those who pass me, but often get nothing but a glazed response. Funnily, fellow walkers, joggers, or cyclists are more civil and they pass each other. On the start of my walk, I passed a young lady waiting for a bus, engrossed in her can of Slim Fast. On my way back, I saw her get rid quick approach, as the can was lying on the sidewalk. Too much to hold onto it and put into trash somewhere? Not only Barbadians litter, I know. But, are people just learning to care less? Those are salutary lessons in manners but also more.

I have to look forward to a state holiday: Virginia has a tax-free holiday starting today, so that great bargains can be had before kids go back to school. Have to find ways to keep the local economy ticking over.

As I tune into National Public Radio (NPR), which is my diet of news and comment, and hear about the coming release of US jobs data, I know that the economy here is in pain, and that finding a way through harder economic times is a major issue here, as it was in Barbados.

I will be trying to continue my writing and will post information of a new blog, as and when it takes shape.

A big thank you to all who tried to help me ease my way into living in Barbados.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hands Across The Water

One of the more pleasant aspects about leaving a place is the outpouring of affection between those soon to be parted. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the prospect of absence is also very powerful. Our move from Barbados had been due originally around January. However, several personal concerns (schools, especially) made that timing less desirable. The bottom line was that it made more sense to put off the move until at least mid-year. Through a process that crept up on me, I increasingly became very uncomfortable about leaving Barbados, and reflected a lot about the time I had spent there and the people I had met and things that I had done. I felt good that I was uncomfortable about leaving behind many newish acquaintances, because that indicated that the relationships had some meaning.

As word got out that we were leaving, people started to warm even more and some of the socializing was really special, especially in the last few weeks, when we had informal dinners and lunches and just impromptu gatherings with the many people we had come to call friends. All of these were special and easy on the adult heart, as they did not have any real sense of finality. My daughter's goodbye to her best friend and her friend's brother and mother was, however, very tearful, as our two families had lived close to each other and really become very close. But, we hope that the young children do as they often do--bounce back fast and stay happy.

Some people asked "Why are you leaving?" It was simple to explain, but it was interesting that people felt that somehow we had become fixtures. It was impossible to say a proper goodbye to many people, even though I tried to arrange a few special trips to see people whom I thought would be very upset if I had just upped and left. For a while, I just let the departure matter come up if it did, as I really felt that I was missing people a lot just by mentioning departure dates. In the end, the final days were near and departure was nearly a fait accompli. Not neat and tidy, but the event would happen.

As a good many people know, I found myself turned into a sort of pundit on things economic and financial. That is perhaps not surprising, given my background, but it is surprising given that I had no intention to do any such thing when I arrived in Barbados. An accidental contact had led me onto that path, and becoming a known voice on Down to Brass Tacks or making occasional written contributions in the mainstream press had been things far from my thoughts on heading to Barbados. I also commented on issues through several of the local blogs. For the most part, I enjoyed having a chance to say my piece, and from reactions I had along the way it seems that I was regarded as someone who made sense and was frank about how he perceived things. I never had any axes to grind--other than trying to see things for what they really are or pointing out too much acceptance of mediocrity--and I think that for many people in Barbados that was hard to understand, as they needed to put me into a box to then deal with my views.

With that said, I was still taken aback when during the last week in Barbados I got a call from the Nation asking if I could write a short article on the need for a fiscal stimulus package. I had declined the request before the question had been put fully, as I really knew I could not focus on any such request. The Editor concerned was amused that I knew what the request was ahead of her finishing her plea. I reminded her that I had never been paid for my pieces and the 'price' that had been agreed--a visit for my daughter and her class to see the newspaper office--had never been exacted. I let her know that I was due to leave the island by the end of that week and she lamented the prospect of no more writing from me. A few hours later I got another call from her asking if I would do an exit interview. I agreed and set it up for July 29. Somehow, I had been had, but I did not complain.

On the day concerned, I was staying at Accra Hotel, and I had other things beforehand, so agreed on 10am; the interview with Stacey Russell lasted about an hour. We sat near the outside walkway and I talked about the economy as well as my broader experience in Barbados. I did not realise that things would move so fast, and a piece on the economy appeared in Barbados Business Authority at the start of this week, about which I got a few messages. I had forgotten that Senator Boyce had been due to speak to the press about the economy later that day, so my remarks were not influenced by what I later heard him say. My daughter was headed out to meet her mother and got in on the interview, too. She may feature in some other piece that is being prepared.

IMF staff are used to being seen as ogres, so it was a nice feeling to have given a sense that some of us are really less scary.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What A Production!

Moving home is no picnic, and doing so while having to change countries can really put a lot of life to tests. Having gone through that process several times over the past six years, I would not recommend it to anyone. It's more stressful than people imagine. The people who are there to help you, often end up being a hindrance, or worse, a series of aggravations. What is clear is that many of the things you have to do have to be done and you just have to deal with the frustrations along the way. Finding ways to stay sane or make light of the bungling has been a lesson over the recent weeks.

Moving gives you the chance to reduce clutter in your life, but it also challenges you to let go of things that you have owned for some good reason. I tried some time ago to do 'one in, one out', hoping that my personal effects would not increase. It did not work perfectly, but when you have not used things for a year or more then you should be able to say goodbye. However, when you are due to leave, people want to give you gifts, and all the well-planned packing ends up with additional bags and boxes. My idea of only travelling with two items of hand luggage on a plane just about held true: I travelled with one suitcase and found a box that I filled and put in the hold for all the 'last items'.

The people who were contracted to pack our Barbados belongings had their way of doing things, and it was universally at a slow pace and also to a daily working day that seemed short: arrive after 9am, take a lunch break, leave by 3.30pm. On leaving after day one, they said they would arrive earlier on day two: well if 9.30 is before 9am on your watch then they were not late. Hello! The crew was made up of all middle aged men, with a young man as 'supervisor'. I had met the older men before, when a friend moved back to Barbados last year and was getting things out of storage. I knew what to expect. The job that was scheduled to take two days, stretched into four. It was a constant battle to stop things that were not supposed to be packed being wrapped and made ready to ship. I did not want to have to ship back our landlord's belongings. That's stressful. I am always ready to share and they were ready to take as many guavas as they could find in the yard. It helped to keep them happy.

The man my wife asked to help move some furniture and clean, needed my help to lift things and created a environment in which I could not work, so forget about what I needed to do during the time he worked. He has a good heart, but when he finished his task and then went for a nap on the furniture he had moved--for a good two hours--I was pushed to not shake him and say "You're being paid to sleep!"

The people who were handling the shipping from the US end were giving my wife no end of grief, and I followed a stream of her e-mail messages that would have driven many a decent person to take drastic action to cull some of the world's population. It was not just the moving of personal goods, but also matters dealing with movement of people. I wont go into the gruesome details, but somehow, in the process of my resigning from the IMF in 2007, that eliminated her in the eyes of the IMF, even though she is an employee in her own right. She disappeared from an important part of their data base and was thus having a hard time getting visa clearance to go back to the US, even though she had renewed her visa recently and travelled to the US many times since my resignation. Don't ask me how that happened, or why the IMF and US State Department reconcile their data concerning special visa status staff.

Having sold a car and wanting to take the proceeds back to the US in US dollars (as the purchase had been financed with them), we had to go through the dark tunnel marked 'exchange control'. We were not impressed to hear that the forms that had been sent to the central back for processing were still 'awaiting action' nearly two weeks later. Cue dog-like barking at someone. Papers move. But why does the Inland Revenue have to be involved in the processing of exchange control requests? For the life of me, I cannot see what it has to do with bodies other than the central and commercial banks. Maybe someone will explain to me.

I have to say that closing our bank account with Scotiabank proved relatively painless. Ending balances were agreed. Documents signed. Exchange control approval noted. Banker's draft issued. All of that within 30 minutes, and only time lost due to the need for multiple signatures by bank officers.

Getting closure on my mobile phone account had more than its share of drama. Somehow, LIME could not allow me to determine termination of my contract at some future date, sign for that, and arrange for payment of the final bill when it became due. Given that there was a security deposit and other funds on the account, I could not see what was the problem. Why would I need to arrange for someone to go into an office after I left the country to deal with that account closure. Having failed to closed the account at a store, I sent a message to customer service, as suggested. I should have worried when I saw the address (windwardcustomercentre@time4lime.com). My message received an instant automated reply (and to this date no further response!). Perhaps someone from LIME can offer a reason why 10 days after sending a message to customer service, the customer remains unserved. Maybe the address should be changed: wayward may be better; that 'time4lime' aspect seems to be taken a bit too seriously in the organization.

"I know someone at LIME you can call," a friend told me. I said I could call someone I knew too, but I was tired of having to go THE person, and wanted to deal with a system that worked. Eventually, I contacted an account manager, whom I do know for the job that goes with the title, and she confirmed that all of my wishes would be handled and that I would be informed in mid-August that the account had been closed, with any refund due being sent to me. We did all of that by e-mail and I have every faith that she will carry through.

I know that life is not about smooth sailing but why should it be the case that processes seem to be set up that do not help people do things they want to simply? I know that one often has to do a lot of 'leg work' to deal with administrative processes, but given where we are with technology, why does it not offer the solutions it can. Who is holding us down? For example, I pay my LIME phone bill online by credit card every month, so why (except for doing the programming) cannot I deal with any other account issue similarly? Some of the contrasts are stark for me: I have had a US mobile phone account since being in Barbados, and everything I need to do with that account, I do online. I did not even need to actually go to get the phone: it would have been sent to me in Barbados by mail, but I happened to be travelling to the US and it was mailed to my then office address for collection.

Thinking through the answers to some of these 'challenges' can go a long way to seeing what kind of progress can be made in Barbados. Productivity is key to making economic headway, but we seem to find ways to thwart it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Not Quite The Last Post

Although I have left Barbados, I am going to try to make a few last post entries that reflect the last days and the transition back to the USA. Part of the complication is that moving involves losing access to the Internet, except via a mobile telephone or an airport lounge. That part of life will take a few days to be re-established. Meanwhile, I say thank you to Starbucks for offering 24/7 free wi-fi.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All The Rage

The current debate about the state of Barbados' international reserves is not just about statistical measures, but about the nation's ability to pay its way with foreign exchange. The latest salvo that I saw in the press was yesterday's piece in the Nation, with Albert Brandford trying to explain the two common measures cited--gross or net official international reserves (see report)--taking his cue from Clyde Mascoll's muscular arguments during the past week about how the central bank has moved the analytical goal posts in its latest economic review. I am not going to get into a bicep flexing contest about who knows more about these measures--I do know a bit, having worked on developing the methodology for measuring the concepts (take a look at the IMF's Monetary and Financial Statistics Manual, or the associated Compilation Guide) and also having worked on seeing how they are applied in many operational contexts.

The bottom line with any measure of international reserves is how much money does a country's central bank actually have available to meet the country's external financial needs. In some instances, we can stretch the official hand so that it has access to (gross or net) foreign assets held by commercial banks to help bolster the situation. But that is largely private money that is held for commercial operational needs.

Whether you take the current level of gross or net official international reserves, Barbados is seeing the level fall. Moreover, the activities that would help turn that situation around--mainly money coming from tourism--is clearly waning. The things that have to be paid for are not reducing fast enough, hence reserves are falling.

But, are they at a critical level, or approaching that, on any measure? As I cannot see all the cash flow needs that are facing the government and central bank, I cannot say for sure. But, what I do know is that some large needs are there and they will have to be covered in part, or in whole, by borrowing more foreign assets. The conditions for such borrowing are not good, and the sense given by international rating agencies is that they see Barbados as less worthy of being upgraded in their eyes, and more worthy of being downgraded. So, the question that arises is "Will Barbados have friends when it is in need?". If reserves are falling but you cannot borrow commercially (on acceptable terms) then you are in a bind. Something else will have to give in your policies or to whom you have to turn. You can argue about the when and the what and the how, but it has to happen. As an economist, I cannot take it for granted that most people understand this, but I am sure that policy makers do. So, what will they do to either explain that truth or start to deal with it? Lamaze breathing is not going to be enough to deal with the pain.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rescue Me!

Two of Barbados' well known economists unwittingly, but wittily, faced off in this morning's Nation: they each had articles about the quality of economic analysis, which were set on adjacent pages. Clyde Mascoll, whom I would describe as an economist-turned politician-turning economist again (see Standards for all) attacks the public for their preference for style over substance in economic discussions. In his 'take no prisoners' style, he opens with 'I certainly have offended my share of media practitioners over the years in one way or the other. I am therefore fully aware that I am not popular among certain personalities in the media,' and keeps beating. I'm with him on what I see as an appalling lack on the printed media's part to help the economic debate along, and have said so enough times.

Meanwhile, trained agricultural economist-turned man-of-letters and humorist, Richard ('Lowdown') Hoad, takes economists to task for not saying much that is easily understood and not understanding what can easily be seen, agreeing along the way with similar comments by Central Bank Governor Worrell (see Unstable condits). He opens with 'IT HAS been said that we would be no worse off, and would be equally well informed, if we let the weathermen predict the economy and let the economists predict the weather.' His stance seems to be that if all the economists were put into a dung heap it would certainly smell no better than it did before, and their contributions as mould may be more than their contributions with models.

You have to take each point of view where you wish.

Over a lovely breakfast this morning with another of Barbados' well-known economists (he ate the 'Bajan', I ate the 'English'), I likened the discussion over the state of the economy to that over a piece of broken china. So much of the discussion is about who to blame for the breakage, and too little discussion about how to fix it (if possible), or replace it (if needed). It can even get heated about descriptions of the number of broken pieces and their shape. Meanwhile, the broken pieces are being gazed at or stepped over, and some would even try to deny that there has been any breakage. All very surreal.

One collective voice that I have not heard in the recent discussions is that of the National Council of Economic Advisors. If you read one commentary from over a year ago (see Advocate report), when Minister Estwick 'outlined an extensive action plan which puts Government at the helm of steering Barbados out of troubled waters and called on the public to position themselves as part of the response plan' and a 'set of operational responses were indicated, driven by the Prime Minister and comprising a Cabinet Economic Committee, which Estwick chairs; and a Council of Economic Advisors made up of eminent professionals in the area of economics' you may be tempted to ask at least one question. Have I been deaf or blind in that I had not heard more than a peep from the Council?

When I talk about 'implementation paralysis' it includes not acting in a way that can be seen or heard or understood, after promising that each and all would occur. One of my constant themes has been about transparency, governance and accountability and how each seems to be much talked about but not that much seen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Still Scratching My Head

I know that odd things happen everywhere, so I am only noting an instance in case anyone else has similar experiences.

I heard today that on a recent visit to a store in Sheraton Mall last week, an acquaintance found a cleaning product she needed, and took it to the cashier for purchase: it was marked at B$13. However, the cashier said that the marked price was wrong (saying it should have been B$20), but did not know the correct price for the item, so would not sell it. Customer left without goods. Store left with merchandise and no additional revenue, but have they since determined the correct price? Part of me says that I would have left B$20 and my phone number in case I was due a refund, that way assuming the risk of being overcharged rather than the store being underpaid. I remember a law class on contracts, decades ago, that was about offer and acceptance and would have thought that my acquaintance would have been in her rights to leave B$13, take the product and leave. Maybe I misunderstood.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unity Bar Lunchtime Lecture, July 23: "States' obligations under extradition treaties versus their obligation to protect their citizens"

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, July 23, by Dr. Caleb Pilgrim, an Attorney-at-Law of twenty years standing, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his topic will be "States' obligations under extradition treaties versus their obligation to protect their citizens". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Which Way To Go?

At the end of this month, I will no longer be living in Barbados. That pending departure has caused me no end of problems in deciding what to do with this blog and how to engage on the many issues that interest me, many of which, like the state of economic policy, appear to be at difficult junctures.

Many people have asked that I continue the blog, even though I may not be living on this island, and I cannot say how easy that will be until I see how things work out looking on from afar, but I really appreciate the encouragement behind such requests. I was also touched deeply by a gift I got yesterday from a friend, which as a piece of mahogany with 'Living in Barbados' carved on it, in exactly the style of this blog's title. That is going to be a precious souvenir.

As has been the way for a while, I have made contributions to discussions about the economy without them being in the public glare of this blog, on the radio, or via one of the local newspapers. I know that there is a very vigorous set of discussions going on about the state of the economy and ways forward, and there is nothing secret about it and all the participants are very open with their opinions, which they are expressing without any cover of anonymity. One element that seems lacking has been a forum that is more visible for such discussions, because it is important that people with contributions feel that they can make them freely and openly. Blogs have been useful in opening some channels of discussion but I have always been wary of comments made under cover of anonymity (whatever the apparent bases for choosing that).

Amongst the many things that seem clear to me is that Barbados is not short of people with ideas. But, there is a problem in turning ideas into action. That is a problem of a broader scale which is starting to show up more clearly as a sort of 'implementation paralysis'. In the case of the economy, part of that lack of action has arisen because of the health issues of the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance. But, one of the important tests of organisations, including government, is how well they can function in the absence of particular persons. I would have to say that Barbados is really struggling to function during the past months. Putting the constraints imposed by the Prime Minister's health concerns into a separate category, I see another problem. Many who have opinions and ideas are not directly involved in making decisions about policies, so depend on those who are to listen and decide if the ideas floated can be taken further. So, the simple question I have is whether policy makers seek to really listen to those who have ideas or have they closed their ears? If they are listening would they indicate why the many ideas that seem workable and beneficial do not see the light of day as policy actions?

I am not going to comment much on the wave of views that have been expressed recently about the current state of the economy, though if one looks at column inches or time discussed on the radio, it would seem that this topic is now fully in the centre of many people's concerns. I would merely suggest reading some of the weekend's commentary and thinking about what some of them said. In particular, I was struck by Hartley Henry's piece in Sunday's Advocate, that seemed to take solace in saying that an IMF programme or devaluation were not being discussed as options for Barbados. My take on that is simply that the government in various forms has said that neither option is for consideration. So, having closed the door to them, why would people keep them on the burner publicly as options? But, having summarily dismissed them, the question is still there of how the government will try to right the economic ship and get it to steer a good course.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Starving To Death

I bristle a lot when I read the newspapers in Barbados. Let me limit my spikiness today to matters on the economy. I am not surprised that people do not have a good grasp of certain realities of the economic problems facing this small island. That is, in part, because those who are charged with reporting and discussing them seem unable, or unwilling, to give information that can help that understanding. Let me call that 'context' and 'analysis'. I do not expect that of politicians, because they have a range of agendas that dictate the massaging of information, and misunderstanding by the public. So, the media has to hold politicians and others to a high degree of scrutiny. That is what is so severely lacking. There does not need to be much 'context' and 'analysis', but without it, most people have no idea where to turn and surely cannot draw any conclusion other than that stated on the printed page. Let me focus on some very recent reports.

When I opened Monday's papers, I saw the front page headline of Barbados Advocate Business Monday, 'Minister: Barbados Tourism Rebounding'. The piece noted that Minister Sealy said visitor arrivals from the UK registered an increase during May, but that "we are still down overall in the UK market" (though the US and Canadian markets were "climbing nicely"). The piece was almost all about what the Minister said. Not one word was written about what the Minister said could mean if one looked at other information: nothing about the UK, Canadian, or US economic situation; nothing about what is happening to travel from those countries and what that may imply for tourist destinations like Barbados; nothing else of relevance for context and analysis. If the press or parts of it are accused of being merely a mouthpiece for government or some political party, then it is rightly because of reports such as this.

Many can, and will, take issue with statistics, or facts, or information, but do not let that stop the press from feeding them to us. So, let me just throw in a few salient pieces. On the same day as we read about 'tourism rebounding', the UK Guardian flags how UK travellers are shunning foreign holidays, with visits abroad in 2009 declining by 15%, the greatest decline on record (since they began in the 1970s). That is at least context. We can all analyse what it may mean for any expected rebound. Since the new British government took office, concern has been expressed about how its efforts to address deep budgetary problems could tip the UK back into recession. Last week, I was taken aback to read a New York Times editorial that criticized that UK's recent (June) budget under the headline Britain's Budget Pain, with comments such as 'the needlessly draconian emergency budget', 'the misguided nature of this budget', and 'the coalition’s budget aims to cut too much too soon, in pursuit of a pointless structural budget surplus by 2015'. That, at least, would tell you that some see the UK as headed into a further economic tail spin and would make you ask how this may affect Barbados. Top it off with remarks from Mr. Adam Posen, a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, saying that he sees a risk of renewed recession in the UK, in part because of looming fiscal austerity and problems in the euro zone, and your rosy glow should have dimmed.

On page 3 of the same Barbados Advocate Business Monday, I also saw comments attributed to fellow economist, Anthony Johnson, under the headline 'Recovery of pound sterling should bode well for Barbados'. The article talked about sterling's 'rally' to now trade at close to B$3 (following its move to just over the US$1.50 mark). The article flagged that Barbados depends heavily on British long-stay tourists (40% of overall), and also for exports and imports. But my concern was to read nothing about how the exchange rate--the central point of the article--had changed. Were the readers supposed to have all of the recent historical context in their heads? Were they supposed to have recalled that the pound fell from a high of US$ 2.1o (B$ 4.20) in November 2007 to a low of about US$ 1.35 (B$ 2.70) in January 2009--a fall of some 35-35%? Were they supposed to recall that sterling rallied well (up 25%) from that 2009 low to US$1.70 (B$3.40) in the middle of 2009, before falling again to the US$1.40-1.50 area that is being cited as a rally? To me, sterling is now not far from the recent lows, and I would not say that that bodes well for Barbados. But what do I know?

Barbados is supposed to have a highly literate and well-educated population. If that is the case, why is it not fed a diet of material that would put all of that literacy and education to good use?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unity Bar Lunchtime Lecture

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, July 16, 2010, by the Hon. Ronald Jones MP, Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his topic will be "Challenges to Formal Education in the Era of Technology - Dilemma and Survival". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Still Not Getting It

I spent the first 9 days of July in the USA, and strangely, did not have a lot of access to either computer or Internet. So, I am back in Barbados and trying to do a bit of catching up on issues and ideas. So, what do I find in just the Sunday papers?

First, I have to wonder (again) about what the newspaper editors do. The front page of the Sunday Sun celebrates 'golden girls', two sisters who have passed 100 years of life. They are described as 'from a family of long livers'. Now, I have mentioned before that my wife has a keen eye. "What does the size of the liver have to do with how long you live?" she asked me. I am no doctor, so I do not know. Maybe the Editor can elaborate tomorrow, and perhaps explain if what was meant was that the ladies came from a family of long lifers. That said, let me pass on my congratulations to the two ladies and wish them many more happy years of life.

I had seen the announcement on July 1 that the Prime Minister was going to take two months' leave from his duties as prime minister, and that the time would be spent outside Barbados (see Nation report). I was puzzled by the associated statement that Mr. Freundel Stuart (already Deputy Prime Minister) was going to hold the reins of government and the PM 'was devolving on him the authority to make whatever decisions he deemed necessary “to keep the social and economic ship of state on even keel”': I thought that was already a given. A news report later passed my eyes that Barbados had a new Attorney General (Adriel Brathwaite, MP for St. Philip South), and that this was not an 'acting' position but substantively taking over the ministerial portfolio up to then held by Mr. Stuart. I was confused, but accepted that from a distance I might not have grasped the right impression, yet wondered if a similar change would soon come regarding the portfolio of Finance Minister (held by the PM). However, Ezra Alleyne put better than I could several constitutional issues in his Focus column today, 'Constitution and power of the PM'. He may not be correct but he poses what, I think, are some valid questions about what is the real constitutional situation underlying the various changes resulting from the PM's leave from duties. While those matters are pondered, however, I would like to add my good wishes to the PM and hope that his time abroad will help resolve his medical problems.

Lastly, I read The Barbados Advocate front page 'No letting up on lobby against APD'. My question from a long time ago has been why the Caribbean Tourism Organization finds the UK's airline passenger duty (APD) contentious but does not seem to find as contentious the seemingly high passenger duties levied by regional countries on intra-regional air travel. I recall a detailed article on these levies written by Adrian Loveridge, where he pointed to the stunningly high level of these taxes but also that they were far higher than taxes levied on cruise travel.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Welcome To The Pleasure Dome

The Barbados Economics Society has decided to dip its toes into the waters of blogging (see http://barbadoseconomicsociety.blogspot.com). In addition, one of their first posts is a recent address by the central bank governor, Dr. Delisle Worrell, who takes issue with several aspects of modern economics and modern economists. I recommend reading his address. It's a good challenge on many fronts. It's good to air some issues for debate in economics, and doing so in Barbados is also refreshing, or could be if it generated a discourse within the profession there.

For my part, in reading the governor's remarks, I disagree with his comparison of exchange rates with physical distance, in defence of fixed exchange rates. Even if you want to say that exchange rates are not prices, they do not measure a fixed relationship, but rather a relative relationship, between countries/economies, so the notion of their being flexible is not so strange. The same logic applies to a composite measure of relative standing, such as the human development index (HDI), which he argues to be a more 'reliable indicator of the quality of life in any society' than GDP. Whether or not exchange rates are realistic or good relative measures would be a different debate.

Let the jousting begin.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What To Do WIth A Sorry Bunch Of Overpaid Sportsmen

I do not favour politicians getting involved in sports, either in their clear political roles or as benefactors who happen to be politicians. The wielding of power is corrupting. However, I have seen in several recent instances that governments and politicians have decided that some sporting activity at the national level has become so bad--read 'embarrassing'--that they have felt compelled to intervene. The latest such keeling back in horror comes during the current FIFA World Cup 2010, being held in South Africa. Nigeria did not play well and the team did not pass the group stage and have headed home. No starry welcome, I'm afraid, after the team lost to Argentina and Greece, but salvaged a point against South Korea. The economist side of me laughed heartily when I saw this group, which could have been labelled the 'group of economic crises past and present'. But newly appointed Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, has seen nothing funny and (see Guardian report) and banned the national team from international events for two years 'to enable Nigeria to reorganise its football'. Not for them the rumoured working in coal mines that await the North Korean team.

FIFA, not the most enlightened of organizations, has a thing about political interference--it does not abide it--and will be reviewing this matter carefully. FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter, is already putting his beady eyes on the French government's investigation into France's first-round exit from the World Cup. But Nigeria risks being banned by FIFA from all international football because of the government action. I know, that sounds like what the president has done. But, when FIFA does it, it means it really is not politically motivated but for the integrity of football. Like when it suspends referees who seemed to have been slacking on the job. Do not ask if FIFA's decision, when taken, will be reviewed in camera. We know it wont be reviewed on camera, and no replays will be available on screen.

We poor suffering souls in the Caribbean, may want to take a leaf from our cousins in west Africa, and get our governments to slap a ban from international competition on the West Indies team after their string of woeful performances. Limbo like me, is the team motto: how low can you go? Some would suggest that they be sent to North Korean and do a bit of soul searching while hunting for lumps of coal.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Duh Moment

I do not know what the experience was during the previous World Cup, but I would have thought that serious second thoughts would and should have been given to mounting a major international sporting event in the midst of the World Cup finals. Now, Wimbledon is a bit different and has its annual and substantial following in England and world wide--it's even more ironic to see in the papers a picture of former Test great, Brian Lara, taking the applause in the crowd at Wimbledon. But Test cricket in the Caribbean? I must admit that I was not at all surprised to see the pictures in today's papers showing empty or near-empty stands (see Nation report). Choice: pay money (reported average B$50) to watch a day of Saturday Test cricket between West Indies and South Africa (which meant the unlikely prospect of seeing any result), or watch international football from South Africa, especially the prospects of major break through by Ghana (our African cousins) or the US (with whom Caribbean people have a love-hate relationship)? I thought that the football was going to win; I had placed my bet and was in front of a screen screaming for Ghana to do it. I read that the Kensington Oval in Barbados barely mustered 1000 fans.

Much criticism has already been heaped on the organization and administration of West Indies cricket. I suggest that this episode be added to a litany of lamentable decision-making.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unity Bar Lecture: June 25, 2010: Robert Verdun discussses "15 Ways to Improve our Number One Industry without Expending a New Penny"

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, June 25, 2010, by Mr. J. Robert (Bob) Verdun, Specialist in Social & Environmental Responsibility, Hotelier and Columnist, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his/her topic will be "15 Ways to Improve our Number One Industry without Expending a New Penny". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Susan Haynes-Elcock is friend, who is a writer, housewife, avid gardener and volunteer with the National Trust in Britain. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in October 2008, she has carried out much research to understand the long-term condition for which there is no cure. Shocking facts revealed that the Black African-Caribbean communities are one of the highest risk groups in the world for contracting diabetes – mainly, type 2.

Diabetes is a killer if not caught and managed carefully. Susan should know, hers went undiagnosed and she went into a coma as a result. Once she got over the experience of nearly dying, through her writing and other projects, she is now hoping to help educate those with and without the condition about the myths and reality of diabetes.

However, it doesn’t stop her living life to the fullest. She is developing a website, so keep an eye out. She is also workingjavascript:void(0) on becoming a culinary coach, and creating a range of ‘diabetically-friendly/everybody who loves food’ products. She promises more to come on that. As a part of a National Trust project, she has written ‘The Wightwick Manor, Caribbean Herbal’ - a book about many of our Caribbean herbs and their culinary and healing properties. Her article below was published recently in The Voice.

By Susan K Haynes-Elcock

Diabetes: This silent stalker, common chronic lifestyle condition, is cloaked in myths. The most common of these - ‘the sugar myth’, unlike most myths, at least has a modicum of truth attached to it. Research shows that it is a universally accepted ‘truth’ that ‘if you eat too much sugar you get diabetes’ and ‘if you have diabetes you can’t eat sweets or chocolates.’

I laugh when I think of this particular myth, as I was once a member of the ‘sugar myth club’. When diagnosed with diabetes back in 2008, my first and only thought was ‘OMG, no more sugar.’ The simple truth is that the ‘sugar myth’ is just that – a myth. My diabetes was triggered by medication.

To make sense of how this myth has been accepted as fact at a global level, we need to go right back to the beginning to what is known about diabetes. Historical evidence shows that in approximately 1550 BC, an Egyptian papyrus mentions a rare disease ‘that causes the patient to lose weight rapidly and urinate frequently’. This is thought to be the first reference to the disease.

However, it wasn’t until around the 1st Century AD that it was named by the Greek Physician Aretaeus. He described a condition with symptoms of ‘constant thirst, loss of weight and excessive urination’. He called it diabetes meaning ‘siphon’ or ‘flowing through’ in Greek.

Around the 19th century, methods of testing to identify the disease included official ‘water tasters’ and some physicians actually tasting the patient’s urine. As it had a sweetish taste the name ‘mellitus’, which means ‘honey or sweet’ in Latin was added. Hence the name Diabetes Mellitus. Even more interesting though, is the actual makeup of the condition which gives a clear link to sugar and the disease.

Diabetes, a serious life-long condition is caused by a build up of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. The body breaks down food into glucose which moves through the bloodstream to provide cells with the fuel needed by the body to produce energy – similar to petrol in a car. To do its job, glucose needs the help of the hormone insulin which is produced by the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, the insulin produced is not enough, or the body cannot use the insulin produced (insulin resistance), thereby causing a build up of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.

Diabetes is classified mainly as type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics, viruses, medication, stress and unknown factors. Type 2 diabetes is linked to genetics, lifestyle, obesity and age. Eating excessive amounts of foods high in sugar like sweets, pastries or drinks, can certainly lead to weight gain and an increase in the risk of developing diabetes, especially if there is a history of diabetes in the family.

The charity Diabetes UK describes myths as ‘old-fashioned untruths’ and state, “From misinformation around what food to eat, to incorrect causes of developing the condition, these old fashioned untruths cause various problems around living with, treating or even talking about diabetes.”

Diabetes is serious. If left untreated it can lead to heart attacks, blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease, and other life-threatening complications. So much damage can be done by these myths that during Diabetes Week 2010, Diabetes UK have launched a campaign aiming to dispel the myths about diabetes.

The sugar myth and other myths might be dispelled over time, but the real worry globally are the cultural and traditional beliefs of a community. Unfortunately, it would seem that the people most at risk include the ethnic minority communities of the North American Indian, Asian, African and Caribbean peoples. In the Afro-Caribbean community the belief was that for a female to be attractive, she had to have ‘some meat on her bones’. Other deep-seated beliefs are that diabetes is caused because of sin or evil spirits which only a spiritual healing or ‘bush bath’ will cure. Added to these are the beliefs that herbal healing and traditional medicines will ‘cure’ diabetes. Presently, there is no cure for diabetes.

The problem is that cultural and traditional beliefs are an integral part of a people’s heritage. Often no one knows where they originated but eventually they become ‘truth’ and accepted. Additional problems occur due to the inability or refusal of some professional care providers to acknowledge, respect or give credence to these cultural and traditional beliefs. As a result, ‘underground pockets of self-healers’ develop.

Researchers in the USA believe that unless care providers change their attitudes, they will continue to have little chance of being successful with the treatment and lifestyle changes they recommend. In spite of whatever education they provide or the arsenal of drugs, the communities that need it most will not fully benefit.

The belief amongst communities that herbal remedies such as garlic, ‘ganja’ tea, cerasee, lignum vitae leaf, and cinnamon lower blood glucose or even ‘cure’ diabetes is real. Forward-thinking Diabetes UK says, “Using herbal remedies and plant derivatives to help in the treatment of diabetes should certainly not be discounted’, with a caution that thorough research and consultation with experts is necessary (www.diabetes.org.uk) I personally have found using ordinary herbal remedies along with my insulin very beneficial in maintaining my blood glucose ‘sugar’ levels.

2010 Diabetes UK figures show globally 285 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes of which 2.6 million are in the UK. The question is, what more can be done to dispel diabetic myths? How helpful would it be at global and national level to include a formal structure that accepts and encourages the use of cultural and traditional beliefs in conjunction with modern diabetes treatments.

The truth is even though diabetes is a ‘killer’ disease, it has been proven that with careful management, dispelling the myths and avoiding ‘chocolate meltdown’, people with diabetes can have long and successful lives.

©2010 Susan K Haynes-Elcock

Monday, June 14, 2010

Whatever Moves You

I have no idea what the probability is that I arrive at another Caribbean island for the first time--Grenada--and one of the first people I meet is someone who is the son of Grenadian migrants who grew up in the same town as I did in west London, England. Someone who also played football in that same area; he was much better than me because he now plays in the English Premier League. But to add to the irony, he now plays for a northern England club in a town that I also know very well and used to visit often. I then go on to meet someone else from this island who also went to this same town in west London as an immigrant, where he raised his son, who has now gone back to their home island to help his father run their restaurant business.

But, so it was this weekend in the Spice Isle. All the things that went through my mind during the brief meetings go a long way along the road of the migrant experience in England. (I had thought about how Caribbean offspring may be about to make more political waves with Diane Abbott putting her hat into the Labour leadership race. I had also thought about how Ivorian, Tidjiane Thiam, who is the CEO of the Prudential Group, can stand up as a black man and not have his mistakes fall on matters of race, rather than competence.)

As for my chance meeting, we were none of us products of areas where migrants traditionally settled, ending up in some of the sleepier suburbs on the edge of London, and not getting lost in a bad educational experience. That the people I met had decided that for part or all of their time going forward they would go back to their native islands and try to start some venture is also interesting. I did not get into the issues enough to get a true feeling but even after a short time working in the Caribbean the full-time businessman and his son were talking about how hard it is to get used to how people do business, and their 'lack of professionalism'. Put nicely, they felt that making things work well would be 'a challenge'.

But, that said, there was something special about their being back in the Caribbean and working in what seems like a place that really values community and personal relations. Those are good and bad attributes. I do not know how long the father and son team will stick it out: the son was honest to say that his brother could not settle and was keen to head back to England. The father is set to stay, but he's been back less than 10 years. The professional footballer struck me as someone who has a head for other things and I would not be surprised to see him turn his interest and ideas into political leanings.

There is nothing simple about returning to the Caribbean and making things work. It's a hard fit. But, those who are trying it need more than applause and support, because two very different mind sets are now having to work together. I had a feeling about two years ago that recession in Europe and north America would lead to more of a flow of returnees to the Caribbean. I still hold that view, and I wonder how it will work out. The phase of outward migration from this region was extremely difficult for those who left and those left behind. I suspect--and know from some personal experiences--that the reverse movement will also be difficult. The diaspora has not been well nurtured over the years--exploited in the basest ways rather than used creatively, is my impression. But the region needs to change how it seems all its people that reflow back to the Caribbean need to happen so that all of its resources can be harnessed better for development.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why? Because I Say So.

Several days ago someone asked me about my lessened involvement on the radio call-in programs in Barbados. I explained that for a variety of reasons I had not been very audible for several weeks. Some of the reasons were that I needed to focus on what I do as work, and financial markets were very nervous and turbulent: I have found that I cannot concentrate on what is going on there for my benefit, and also have an ear and voice tuned to the issues coming across on the radio. Multitasking usually means that something or someone is getting short shrift, so I made a decision to limit certain distractions. I also explained that, while I may have a view on lots of things and some expertise in certain areas, one of my motivations was to encourage people who had views to express them, not to take up the airwaves with my own views and thoughts. I listened a lot to the discussions and formed ideas in my head, but did not feel the urge to express those on the air.

One thing that struck me was the repeated recurrence of particular topics and points of view and wondered how it was that this was still going on. Why do people need to use the call-in to let the water authority know that pipes have been leaking for days/weeks? Why cannot the electricity company address the issues of disputed meter readings? Why are those involved in West Indies cricket so seemingly out of touch with what the public wants of the team and its administration? Why are parliamentarians acting as if they are not being televised and broadcast live and stop what most people see as a set of boorish and uncivil behaviour, supposedly doing the people's business? Why can't a company representative give a simple answer to a simple question? Why is so much action promised and so little delivered? Why is it that things seem to get little or no action until a crisis appears? And the list goes on in my head.

In a sense, the various complaints and criticisms had not found a good ear on those who had the power to address them. What I also heard was a very distinct tone of defensiveness from decision makers. Whenever someone was being asked to take responsibility or give an explanation for why no action had been taken, up came the 'wall' of 'when the time is right, all will be explained' (or words to that effect). By and large, I find that approach very unacceptable, but I cannot speak for the general population, and if they find this 'wait awhile' style fulfilling. The other aspect that comes with that approach is a clear paternalism, that says 'we', the decision makers, know best when to tell you things that are important to your lives that we have done but not yet shared with you.

When I heard fellow economist, Tennyson Beckles, speak recently about the need for transparency in public decision making, his points seemed so obvious. Yet, here was a situation where information about a substantial addition to the public burden seemed to have been kept very close the chests of a select few. It does not matter how good or necessary the decision was/is--in this case, how to finance the rebuilding of prison destroyed by fire--the thinking seemed to be that people could not handle the nasty news that taxpayers would be on the hook for a lot more money over several years to come. That suggests that, had the public been informed, they might have said 'No, don't do it that way.'

Subjecting public decisions to public scrutiny is still not part of the Caribbean reflex. I'm not sure if that comes from centuries of having been subjected to bossiness of one sort or another. People seem to know how to ram decisions down people's throats, but not how to take people into their confidence or negotiate their way to a solution.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Unity Bar Lecture: June 11, 2010: Mr. Guyson Mayers--"The Implications of Entrenched Organized Crime: A Caribbean Perspective"

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, June 11, by Mr. Guyson Mayers, Attorney-at-Law, and Chairman of the Rural Development Commission, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his topic will be "The Implications of Entrenched Organized Crime: A Caribbean Perspective". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Pants On Fire

I was intrigued to read today's Nation report that the Attorney General (AG) is concerned that new applicants to the Royal Barbados Police Force are balking at taking a lie detector test (see report). I'm not sure if the AG has really thought through his concerns and the reporter does not appear to have asked any questions about that concern. But, applicants could have a lot of reasons for objection, including hiding a prior criminal history. Not least, is the test for those interested in joining also being applied to those already in the force? Lying is not a crime, and it's clear that people lie for a range of reasons, feeling that this offers better protection than telling the truth. But, if such a step is being taken are we to see it as the norm for job applications into the public service? Should political candidates be subjected to the same? Don't laugh.

Given that lie detector evidence is not admissible as evidence in many courts of law, why would one want to base an employment policy on it? You'd deny someone, accused of nothing, a job based on it, but would not use it to help establish the innocence or guilt of an accused? It is not clear to me that being asked to take a lie detector test for a job application is a 'reasonable request'. Why not an HIV/AIDS test, given the contact with public and risks of being able to transmit a disease? Does the force also have a test for drug use? I would have thought that the country's top lawyer and the police commissioner would want to pursue the logic of this polygraph policy as far as employment criteria are concerned a bit further.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

How Some See Crime

A reader of this blog sent in an anonymous comment today on the post "A Hard Road To Travel":

'Honestly, I am more concerned about what Jamaicans are doing in Barbados than what they are doing in Jamaica. Today, I read in www.Barbadostoday.bb and the Nation online that three Jamaican men, along with a Bajan man, have been arrested for allegedly committing a string of armed robberies (at least 15) throughout Barbados within the last 5 months. I have long suspected that many of the armed robberies committed in Barbados were being committed by Caricom nationals. Though Bajans commit armed robberies, armed robberies were rare in Barbados until recently. Bajans need to look to Jamaica as an example of what can happen if thugs are allowed to take over a society and fight to stop them before their way of life becomes the norm in Barbados. I feel sorry for Jamaicans, but as long as many of them choose to take to the streets to fight to keep criminals in their communities instead of taking to the streets to protest against them, not much will change in Jamaica any time soon'

This is an interesting set of concerns. On the matter of who is committing various types of crimes, I would say that the nationality is sometimes mentioned in crime reports, but the data I have seen show that the majority of crimes are being committed by Bajans, not foreigners. Who committed the daylight robbery at the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School in late May? No doubt, certain types of crimes do involve foreigners to a high degree, for instance trafficking in drugs: today's Advocate has a report of a 'Vincentian charged with drug offences'. Crimes reported in the press are not the full story--not least because they are a selection--but these have involved a range of nationals, including those from Europe. The last information I say reported indicated that non-nationals are not disproportionately amongst those charged and convicted for crimes. I am not going to make a guess based on people's names. Given that deportation is an option, I have not seen a spate of stories about non-nationals being deported for crimes. It's fine to have a suspicion, but it needs proof, otherwise it's just a plain old prejudice. What would be helpful, would be if the Royal Barbados Police Force gave statistics on the national profile of criminals. That, at least, would give the proof as far as their coverage of crimes go.

The recent discussions about gangs in Barbados was notable in that very little reference was made to active foreign elements, though some had an element of 'copy cat' behaviour. Notably, today, new Senator David Durant stressed the need to take the Barbados gangs problem seriously (see Nation report).

A tendency exists that says bad things come from outside and somehow no one needs to look within for problems. As someone commented on the radio this week, even if a proximate cause comes from outside, it cannot really
take hold unless the conditions are there for that to happen: the host must be receptive. So, foreign influence may be a catalyst, but is not really the cause. Judging from the local scenes I see of children and adults misbehaving, there is plenty of violence that is part of everyday life. I just came from the yard of one private school and saw two young children (about 5-6 years old) 'playing': the boy was chasing the girl and when he caught her, he beat her with a stick. I could not tell from a distance what were the nationalities of the children and I could only guess from where that behaviour had been learnt. I know one parent of the child is a Bajan and past student of the same school. As was also reported today, Professor Linden Lewis, outgoing president of the Caribbean Studies Association, noted that violence seems to have become a banal part of life for many, and he lays part of the blame at the feet of 'globalisation' (see Nation report).

It is a major worry that Jamaican citizens in a community would defend an alleged criminal, but that also ignores that the person concerned may not be committing crimes against the community, but may be using crime and its proceeds to provide goods and services to the community. In that case, people are defending their gains. It points to the failure of other agencies and institutions for not providing and for letting a void exist. The truth is also that most Jamaicans did not rise up in support, and had called earlier for the extradition order to be laid. But, if one is concerned about what has happened in west Kingston, then one also has to decide if the same concern should not apply to say public or elected officials who are accused of misdeeds yet are robustly defended, at least verbally, by their constituents. I can think of some very recent instances in the precincts of Parliament that would fall into that realm. Assuming that in either case allegations have to be proven, the defending of a representative by his or her constituents is not that peculiar.

I would not disagree with any notion of opposing thugs and preventing them from taking over society and having their way. But that means seeing a thug, whoever that may be and not sitting complacency thinking he or she is not local and that they are persons who come from outside.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Credit Where It's Due

I've not hesitated to be critical of indifferent attitudes displayed by those who provide service in Barbados, so let me at least acknowledge a few instances from the weekend of what should be the norm.

At the weekend, I needed to put gasoline in my car, and did that after I had run my morning errands on Saturday. I paid by debit card and took my card and receipt back after I had entered all the authorizing digits into the hand-held card reader. I do not use the card often, so did not really notice anything wrong. Then I got a call this morning from the bank to say that my debit card was at the gas station, and that the pump attendant had given me back another card by mistake. I was given the name of the attendant and her phone number. I called her and she apologized for her mistake but told me that my card was there to be retrieved. As it was partly my fault for not really checking carefully, I thanked her and apologized too. I went to collect my card, which was sitting in a jar awaiting my return. All's well that ends well, but a thanks to all the staff at Shell (Banyan), near the Yacht Club.

I noticed at the weekend that my LIME modem was not working and its power light was red. I tried another plug but no change. I called LIME's help desk and after a little run around as someone attempted to transfer me, I got an agent who told me to take the modem to Windsor Lodge to be checked. I did that this morning. The first thing that I noted was that when the security officer saw me with my modem, he asked what I needed done to it. I explained and he redirected me to the main building: things have changed so the security officer is now the first point of contact. As soon, as I entered, I was redirected by another security officer to the area/person who would deal with modems; I was told that I did not need to pull a ticket. As soon as I explained to the agent the problem I had with the modem, he replied "Power cord". He plugged in the modem, and all lights glowed green. "There, you go." He waited a few minutes to ensure that nothing else changed, and said "Come back with it, if you have another problem." I went home, and reconnected everything as before and Internet service was resumed.

Finally, I called B's Bottles for another pick up from my house. I was redirected once my call was answered. I gave my name, and got the response that showed that my address was known. "The truck will come tomorrow", I was told. I asked "Do you want to confirm the address?" I was told no, and that it was in the system. Now, I had had a long chat recently with B's owner, Paul Bynoe, about some slip ups on previous occasions and that he needed to get some better coordination in the various operations. I'll see if the improvements have filtered down to the truck operatives.

There's a lot that goes into feeling that service has been good and I met many of the right elements today. One swallow does not make for Spring, and I wont presume that all is right in the service delivery world, but someone is getting the message.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Hard Road To Travel

Every Jamaican, or persons who feel allied to Jamaica, should have an opinion about what is going on currently in that country, as the government and its security and law enforcement agencies confront citizens who purport to stand in defence on an alleged criminal.

Jamaica did not get to this situation overnight, and most Jamaicans know this all too well, having lived in a virtual 'state of siege' for nearly four decades, as crime and violence dictated so many aspects of what was deemed to be normal life, especially in and around its capital, Kingston. But, that it should get to this situation through the request by a US law enforcement agency to extradite, for alleged drugs and gun running, a Jamaican citizen who resided in the constituency of Jamaica's current prime minister is quite amazing. That this constituency in western Kingston, Tivoli Gardens, should also have been that of a previous long-standing Jamaican prime minister, would make most people wonder how politics and crime are intertwined in Jamaica.

Elected people are there to represent and lead. But, a case such as this has made many wonder who is being represented and how is the nation being led. I cannot cast aspersions against any individual but one consequence of this current series of events is that facts that some may wish to keep secret will find their way out into the public domain. If not done openly, my feeling is that it will be done covertly. We live in an age where there are really no secrets and once information is passed it can be shared almost infinitesimally. It's really a matter of choice and timing over what is disclosed. That's good for ordinary citizens.

Yesterday afternoon, Jamaica's prime minister made a statement to Parliament about the state of emergency in Kingston and St. Andrews, and how the emergency powers regulations would be invoked. Later in the evening, when I heard discussion on Jamaican radio about how high school students at Excelsior had been sitting CXC exams when gunfire rang out, and students crouched on the floor and continued to try to write their answers, I knew what it meant that a country's priorities were all wrong. It is one thing to grow up doing homework by the light of a candle or kerosene lamp, or as I saw in Guinea students sitting at a gas station because it was one of the few places that had light. It is something else to try to gain an education when you feel you are in a war zone. Jamaica, in the eyes of much of the world, has been one crime zone, with its horrendous murder rate. The fact that the crimes are not really spread across the nation is irrelevant to international perception. Tourists ask about places of interest but really are hard pressed to feel that it is wise to leave the north coast enclaves or the bucolic south coast to venture into Kingston. That attitude wont be changing anytime soon. For that matter, I wonder how many people will start to really draw in their horns and start to isolate themselves from downtown Kingston even more. Sad, when a long-awaited revival of what is still a beautiful capital is getting underway.

I also heard some Jamaican journalists talk about how foreign media seemed to be demanding information or creating stories in the absence of rapid information. How strange it seemed that BBC reporters appeared in fatigues alongside JDF officers and were able to interview people, yet local journalists seemed absent. How odd that stories were breaking in foreign media rather than in local ones. Part of the problem is that even though the media in Jamaica is quite vigorous, that in much of the developed world is much more vigorous and have no need to be sensitive to any local mores. Moreover, what is Jamaica to them? A broken or failed state of some 3 million people. A blip that has grown to be a bit of bigger blip. I wont even go into the potential racial angles that may get thrown on it by news agencies that are largely Euro/North American-centric, as yet another state run by black people seems to descend into chaos.

We in the Caribbean have lagged in our participation in some aspects of the information revolution. The speed of the Internet does not wait for those who want to massage every message. In the same way that electronic surveillance does not respect the walls of any building. If a businessman can set up cameras to observe his business without any of his staff or customers being aware, simply as a means of avoiding theft and crime, how hard is it to set up similar to deal with any aspect of life? Those who have committed wrong acts need to live with the reality that facts are facts and never change. Their disclosure is no longer a matter of personal choice. The world is almost totally open, and secrets will out. Be sure of that: ask Sarah Ferguson.

One good thing I hope for from this frightening debacle is the disclosure of what does what with whom. Like my daughter chewing gum but pretending she is not but my being able to smell it, Jamaica is full of inappropriate liaisons. It's not unique in that sense. But its people have paid a very heavy price for that and when you have to take goods that you did not really want to have, it's good if you get a chance to send them back from where they come.

Jamaica's bizarre socio-economic clock cannot turn back but it can be reset. This may be the spur to find ways to start dealing with that process.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Shot The Sheriff? Get Up Stand Up? No Woman No Cry?

What has been going on in Kingston, Jamaica, for the past few days has many people totally bewildered. Once PM Bruce Golding made his national apology for his role in getting legal representation to lobby the US in the extradtion case of Mr. Christoper "Dudus" Coke, but did not resign, it seemed clear that his political moral compass worked in a strange magnetic field. Once he and his government gave its agreement to accede
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to the US extradition request for Mr. Christoper "Dudus" Coke, most knew that it would not happen smoothly, and feared that violence would erupt to stop it happening. But, few of us can imagine a situation where the security and law enforcement agents of a government of a country are being kept at bay by a group of its citizens, and the country is not in a state of civil war. But, maybe that is what is going on.

Ordinary people ask for credibility and accountability from elected officials, and from decision makers at all levels. When this is not forthcoming, as is often the case, people quickly revert to their view based on having seen this happen all too often: they take it that most people in positions of power are self-seeking, without little real concern for average citizens.

I am glad to admit that I am one of the bewildered people in terms of seeing how the stand-off in Kingston will end. What seems clear is that many aspects of an orderly society are being put to a serious test. What is also clear is that one feature of a failed state is playing itself out. For too long, Jamaican government agencies have not been to whom many citizens turned for their welfare: their goods came from those who were known to be criminals but who lived and operated in their midst and provided for them. Government was not reaching them, in terms of messages or in terms of actions. So why, given a choice, should the government get favour? That is one of the plain dilemmas that Jamaica has to address.

The immediate outcome from the state of emergency in Kingston and St. Andrews and the actions to try to extradite Mr. Coke will have an obviously impact of how Jamaica goes forward, but it may raise again how Jamaica is perceived and dealt with by both its Caricom and north American neighbours. Its one thing when citizens lose faith, trust and belief in their elected officials, but it's something very different if those losses are felt by other national governments.

A few months ago, Jamaica was riding the crest of a wave as it secured a new financial support package from the IMF to help it deal with a crippling set of longstanding economic woes. Now, it stands crestfallen as one of its other longstanding woes--a rampant tolerance for crime--shows that its head is considerably bigger.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unity Bar Lunchtime Lecture: Mr. Alwin Adams--"Whither the Quality of Education? A Critique of the Common Entrance and Co-Education"

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, May 28, 2010, by Mr. Alwin Adams, former Principal of Colreidge and Parry, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his topic will be "Whither the Quality of Education? A Critique of the Common Entrance and Co-Education". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Too Easily Bowled Over

When it comes to pinpointing some of the obvious reasons for the recurrent failure of the West Indies cricket team in recent times, the piece by Guyson Mayers in today's Advocate hits many nails squarely on their heads (see Advocate article 'We are missing something'). In particular, he points to something that I and some others have said about cricket as a metaphor for how things in the Caribbean are allowed to proceed. As he writes:

'My main concern is what does all this say about us as a people? Here, I am not speaking about winning or losing, but about our slowness to recognise our weaknesses and or our unwillingness to move to correct our wrongs.

“This thing goes beyond the boundary.” This speaks to character traits that engender practices that will keep us from realising our true potential, in cricket and otherwise.

I really do not feel the need to go beyond that. But, I will in the direction of character traits. Whenever I have been to watch cricket at Kensington Oval--and it has only been since the stadium was rebuilt--I have asked myself a set of questions, mainly along the lines of how are people regularly convinced and reassure about the real economic worth of the decision to rebuild--and by extension, about other major public decisions? It goes to whether people are prepared to see the gloss and just take it that all is well and not pose any questions? Is it also that policy and decision makers exploit this lack of willingness to question by offering little or nothing by way of justifications? The kerfuffle about the cost of Dodds Prison is one of those cases in point.

My ever-analytical wife added to some of them today as we were in the ground, but she wanted the answers on her desk by the morning. The questions go to how much do we understand and care about the value of this sport and what its economic impact has been, is, and will be? At the end of a series played in Barbados do certain questions get asked and answered and if they do, how are the answers used for the next occasion? I will pose a few of these questions, and in doing so, lament the fact that if the questions are being asked by policy makers and answered by those involved where is the public sharing of that analysis?

What are the attendance totals for the events and the revenue from gate receipts? How much of that goes to Barbados and how much must be shared with other countries?
What are the sales figures for vendors?
What is the cost of park-and-ride and what are the ridership and revenue figures?
Do taxis gain or lose from the public transport arrangements?
What are the identifiable costs to the government of providing security for the events?
I like to know about the tourist arrivals and spending and have some clear idea of how that has been generated by the event.

These questions are not a full list but really beg for a cost-benefit analysis of major events such as World Cup and Twenty 20 cricket. I cannot understand how the politicians and nation as a whole can evaluate whether these events are worthwhile.

Someone adjacent to me asked where were the solar panels at Kensington Oval. I said I was no engineer, so where ever they were they were not immediately visible. We then discussed whether solar power was being used for water heating, as should be the case. We also wondered why the design did not have more solar panelling to help generate electricity for lighting or other uses. Maybe these are questions that were asked and answered by architects and perhaps decisions were taken that meant that use of renewable energy was not going to be a centre piece of this centre piece structure. But, to me, it goes to what sort of vision one has and what one sees as progress.

The flag waving and wuk up and after match fireworks are all jolly good fun but I want to know what events such as these and big projects are really worth and I do want to hear anyone tell me about a bunch of intangibles.

The Health Of The Prime Minister

I wish to add publicly my voice and prayers to those already expressed wishing Prime Minister David Thompson well. I also wish to lend my moral support to his family during what is a difficult time.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shame On You: Your Misdeeds Are A Centrepiece Feature

I'm not sure if I am witnessing a real change of attitude and approach to certain social problems in Barbados. What I have noticed over the past few weeks is a tendency to an unstated policy of public shaming. The Nation has been running a series of 'Centrepiece' articles entitled 'Danger Zone', by Toni Yarde, focusing on many irregularities and misdeeds on the roads (see report). Many of the paper's readers would have witnessed similar incidents and perhaps scratched their heads about what to do to reduce the risks that they faced due to such actions, or what to do to try to deal with the drivers concerned. In some of my own instances, I have tried to deal with a tail gater, or a red light runner, in a direct way, noting a number and trying to alert the police. I have never had any indication of follow up. I have even seen police officers ignore red light runners going past them at junctions and blithely carrying on as if nothing wrong had happened. So, what can ordinary citizens really do?

Well, the Nation has started to show prominently in the printed editions the cars and their licence plates of all the miscreants they feature in their stories; the pictures do not appear to feature in the online reports. At the very least, the drivers, or owners, or employers, or friends, or associates, of the drivers, will be alerted to the alleged misdeeds. The pictures are not date and time stamped, so in some cases there could be some dispute about who was driving, especially when a rental car is involved. However, this practice may produce a spontaneous correction of behaviour when people are confronted with "Man, I saw your car in the paper while you were running red light!" The reason this practice strikes me is that it was not so long ago that the paper blotted out the licence plate of vehicles involved in a road accident, where there was no allegation of who might have been wrong in the incident. I wonder about the change and I wonder if and when the paper's editors may come clean and say what they are really aiming to do.

I've known such public shaming tactics to work well in some countries and it's interesting that as Greece tries to deal with its pressing economic and financial problems, one of the reports on the BBC today is about how a good number of doctors have been named and shame for tax evasion.

For all the talk of Barbados being a country built on rules and law and order, most people know that their widespread non-observance is a daily truth. Let's see how this self-inspection in the mirror plays out in coming weeks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will You Take Me To The Ball? Political Indecision In The UK Shows How MPs Can Waltz

The indecisive result from last week's General Election in the UK put into sharp focus what happens when the rhetoric of adversarial politics as practised in many of the Westminster-based parliamentary systems comes face to face with an electorate that is not polarised. The UK does not have a history of coalition politics at the national level, in contrast to experiences in many of its European neighbours. Much of that is a reflection of the first-past-the-post system as well as the skewed outcomes that come from the allocation of constituencies. In short, voting shares do not result in similar allocation of seats and therefore the claims on power. It has been a while since any UK government had an actual majority of votes. Many European countries get coalitions because their proportional voting systems recognize that overall majorities are not often the result for which people vote and therefore combining to make a majority is more a logical outcome needed to get governments formed. Whether the coalitions make sense in terms of political leanings and policy agendas is another issue.

In the UK, the mad electoral system has just about run its course, where a hung Parliament seemed likely for a long time before the voting, and turned out to be the outcome. Conservatives gained 306 seats of a possible 650 [see BBC report on results] (47% of total seats, with 36% of the vote). Labour had 258 seats (40% of seats, with 29% of votes). The Liberal Democrats got a measly 57 seats (9% of total, with 23% of votes). Other parties gained 28 seats (4 1/2% of total, with 12% of votes). That shows as clearly as you need that the system does not give people what they vote for.

It is interesting to watch the process of 'king making', with the Liberal Democrat party getting the 3rd highest share of votes and now meeting its suitors. First, its negotiating team went to the tent of the party with the largest vote share (Conservatives, right of centre)), but with whom the Lib Dems (a centre-left party) have fewer 'natural' policy overlaps. Then, yesterday, with PM Gordon Brown's promise to remove himself from leadership opening the way for formal negotiations with the Lib Dems, they naturally went to sit in the Labour (left of centre) tent, where they will have more policy overlaps. For the Lib Dems, the real test should be electoral reform, as this should give them a more assured political future if they have some variant of proportional representation which would translate their strong vote into Parliamentary power. But, electoral reform was not a major issue during the election, which was dominated by economic issues and immigration. The sweetener for the Lib Dems that the Tories have now offered is a promised referendum so that the people can decide.

Whether those who voted for the separate parties will be happy with any coalition formed is another issue that has to be dealt with by each party and there are some poisoned chalice situations waiting to be met. One also has to think that 'stable government', if there is a Labour-Lib Dem pact, will depend on the support of other small parties. It will be a muddle to get this all stitched up quickly, and speed is not really the thing that is important politically, despite lots of media and financial market pressures to do a deal quickly.

For the Caribbean, the thought that comes to mind is whether we have been served well with the Westminster-style system and local politicians' efforts to polarise voters, even though in many of the region's English-speaking countries the differences are not poles apart. Trinidad's election is now running, and for fun, I have been playing with the idea of how the lack of any overall majority there may play out. It's worth watching the UK dance for both style and substance and lessons that it may offer.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Unity Bar Lunchtime Lecture, May 14, 2010: Hon. Stephen Lashley, Minister of Family, Youth and Sport--"Government's Focus on Youth"

The next lecture in the series will be delivered on Friday, May 14, 2010, by the Hon. Stephen Lashley, Minister of Family, Youth and Sport, at the "Errol Barrow Gallery", DLP Headquarters, 'Kennington', George Street, Belleville, St. Michael; his topic will be "Government's Focus on Youth". As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place: The IMF Reports On The Regional Economic Outlook

The IMF's latest quarterly regional report on Latin America and the Caribbean has just been released (see report). As for the world as a whole, growth is occurring in the region, but it is uneven. Much of the growth in the region depends on external developments, and here we have a cleft stick for tourist dependent countries, like Barbados, which have seen tourism and associated foreign investment suffer (see more on this below). The IMF analysis is clear and speaks much for itself, but a few points are worth highlighting. The press release notes that the outlook for smaller economies remains difficult:

“But within that regional picture, countries with strong ties to global financial markets are likely to stage a more vigorous recovery, helped by their access to ample external financing and by strong prices for their commodity exports. On the other hand, some of the smaller economies will experience more sluggish growth, and some of those will even contract. Accordingly, policy approaches will have to vary considerably to ensure a sustainable recovery across countries.”

In assessing the varied outlook, the IMF comes up with a grouping named 'net commodity importing countries with large tourism sectors'. This group comprises Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These countries depend primarily on tourism for their current account revenues. In general, they have high external debt burdens but otherwise are not closely integrated with external financial markets. They experienced sizable terms-of-trade losses during 2000–08, given their limited goods exports base and their reliance on imported fuels.

'Growth in the commodity importing tourism intensive countries has been marked down and is expected to perform worse in the current cycle than in previous episodes of global stress. The relevant external conditions are less benign for these countries. Reflecting strong links to weak employment in advanced economies, shocks to tourism have not fully reversed, and elevated commodity import prices are weighing on activity. Moreover, in some of these countries, high levels of debt constrain the room for policy maneuver. Although some countries managed to implement countercyclical fiscal policy in 2009, the payoff in growth was limited, probably reflecting small multipliers. And fiscal stimulus efforts may be short-lived, given financing constraints in forthcoming periods.' This general picture has its clear image in Barbados.

The report adds: 'Policy challenges in the coming years will correspondingly vary across countries. For many of the financially integrated commodity exporters, the challenge will be managing the upswing of the business cycle. A main theme will be the timing and sequence of exit from the macroeconomic stimulus implemented in 2009, and the adjustment to a more benign external environment. In turn, for many of the tourism intensive commodity importers, the sluggish recovery, coupled with high external and fiscal imbalances, will require difficult policy choices.'

Many of these countries are the filling in a sandwich that is hard to stomach: dependent on growth and strong employment in developed countries that should generate tourists, and push the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI, often also in the tourism sector). The report highlight graphically how that situation is looking bad for many of the region's small economies. 'Estimates of tourist arrivals to the tourism intensive commodity importers suggest that the impact of a 1 percent increase in OECD unemployment implies a contemporaneous decline of 4 percent in arrivals, on average (Box 2.6). For the current downturn, the approximate 3 percentage point increase in U.S. unemployment squares with the average 10 percent decline in Caribbean tourism. Longer-term investments in the form of vacation real estate and other forms of tourism fell concomitantly with short-term vacation arrivals, as household wealth declined in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This is particularly costly for the tourism intensive importing countries, as median FDI (in percent of GDP) had tripled, from below 4 percent in 1996 to more than 16 percent of GDP by 2008. The importance can be observed in the concurrent declines in median unemployment in the region, from more than 16 percent in 1996 to single digits in the most recent years. With the onset of the crisis, FDI fell sharply to 10 percent of GDP in 2009. Employment in advanced economies is expected to improve only gradually, with weak prospects for tourism in the coming years.'

The nail is driven home with 'The weak recovery in the tourism intensive, commodity importing countries will pose a great challenge to policymakers, as elevated debt levels and limited access to financing impose difficult policy tradeoffs.'

The recent concerns about debt and financing could indirectly affect the region through market confidence effects or directly via Spanish banks but also due to general concerns about high debt and deficits levels.

It is worth remembering that one of the mainstays of many of the region's small economies has also been one of its constraints. 'Moving toward more flexible exchange rates, where possible, would serve as a cushion against potential future external shocks.' Holding onto fixed exchange rates has become sacrosanct in many territories, but without proposing that this be dropped one need only look at Greece's plight to see what happens when you cannot devalue your currency in light of severe economic problems.

The IMF report also highlights the burden on the region of the still unfolding financial difficulties of the CL Financial Group and the pending Securities and Exchange Commission fraud charge case against Allen Stanford and three of his financial companies fro running fraudulent investment schemes. The Fund, ever the master of understatement comments 'Both experiences point to the need to improve financial regulation and crossborder cooperation.'