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**

Friday, April 23, 2010

Are The People All Doddery Or Just Imprisoned By Their Points Of View?

The little tempest that has begun to swirl on the island over the past week since the central bank governor published comments and figures about the wider financial cost of building a new prison at Dodds has become more blustery today.

The Advocate leader says 'Gov't should know better' (click link to read or click image to enlarge) and argues that the previous Barbados Labour Party Government showed 'poor reasoning and bad judgment' in its choice of options to rebuild the prison and its selection of a contractor, alluding to the fact that the contractor, Alaskan company, Veco Corp., had executives who were under criminal investigation from 2007 and the 'former chairman and former vice president pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and tax violations'. It draws the connection between a new home for criminals being constructed by those who were themselves involved in 'serious irregularities'. Naturally, it touches on what has confused many: that the cost of the new prison has shifted from B$200 million, to B$289 million, to B$749 million. That is not so hard to understand, as the first figure was an initial estimate of 'general costs'; the second figure was agreed contract amount; the third figure is the total contract figure plus interest to be paid as part of the BOLT (build, operate, lease, transfer) arrangement.

The Nation is on its rival's heels, with an editorial entitled 'Let's reason in prison debate', which talks about how issues can get both emotional and get mired in political point scoring. Its slant is to not question the arithmetic but to plead that 'critical elements went into the decision to build Dodds have been ignored'. It argues that these were made for 'safeguarding the economy from the deleterious fallout' from the fire that destroyed Glendairy prison. Cricket World Cup was in the offing; the security of Barbadians and tourists were 'equally paramount'. It's probably right to argue that 'we do not feel there could have been many Barbadians...who would have disagreed that new prisons (sic) had to be built'. But that does not excuse what appears to have been a case of being economical with the truth about what the country would have to deal with financially. If public comments flying around now are a gauge, it is the case that a good part of the population had no idea that the final cost would be more than the capital sum to build the prison. That reflects a certain attitude on the part of those who govern: we know best what should be shared with the populace and the less, the better. But it also betrays a certain attitude on the part of those governed: not to press for disclosure and to be content with flimsy arguments about major decisions. It has nothing to do with 'a modicum of reason and common sense'. My understanding is that the matter was not pressed that hard by those who were in opposition politics at the time, and are now in government, so it's an awkward falling knife to dodge.

Finally, Clyde Mascoll's weekly column in the Weekend Sun, 'What Matters Most', talks about 'Dusk or dawn'. He, too, talks about the governor's report and the discussion on how economic trends were portrayed. On Dodds, he feels that the treatment of payment of debt service on the lease agreement for Dodds 'justifiably triggered' a response from the leader of the opposition (Ms. Mottley) and the former PM (Mr. Arthur). I wont argue about the governor being selective in his treatment of debt obligations: he was. What I would have preferred to read from Mr. Mascoll (whom we should not forget was Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance in the previous government during important decisions on the matter) was more than 'It has apparently fallen on me to give the public a perspective that offers an alternative understanding of the economic issues confronting Barbados'. He could have said something like the partial treatment needs to be complete and that transparency in the fiscal affairs of government was less than it could and should have been. This is not just my view, but has been written publicly by the IMF in its Fiscal Transparency Report on Barbados. The country needs to see and understand what its forthcoming debt obligations look like, and for how long. We could then have a useful public discussion about how it is envisaged that these will be met.

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