Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, 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
Publish Post
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.'

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Census Time

In case you had not realised, it is Census time in Barbados, and survey teams are trying to establish what was the social and economic profile of the country on the night of May 1, 2010.

When the enumerator and her supervisor arrived at my house this morning at around 8am, I had to ask who they really expected to find at home at that time on a Sunday morning. They took my point. Anyway, they explained what they were planning to do and were making introductions first, but then the enumerator would start surveying from the start of the street and come back later. I suggested that she come back to me after noon. My morning was already planned and much as I was willing to answer questions, I'd like to have some breakfast first and get myself spruced up a little.

Well, after noon was well after noon, as the enumerator returned at around 6pm, as the sun was setting, and the moon was coming up. Had she heard me say "After moon?". She gripped her forms and started with her questions. "Who's the head of household?" Well, that is a tricky one to start with. Traditional roles don't run too strongly in our household, and I looked over at the head of household in my eyes and pointed to her. But, before I did myself out of a prize, I asked if there was a definition. None was offered, so my designated one was left to tackle the first salvo of questions.

We are not a standard household in many ways so I was intrigued how our oddities would get dealt with.

Before we got started, our visitor told us how she had been wary about "coming up in here" with all the dogs that were at the houses. I tried to reassure her that none of the houses had bad dogs that roamed freely outside their homes, but she was concerned that where gates were open dogs may be lurking ready to tear her and her forms to shreds. She had, therefore, come with 'back up' in the form of a friend and a car, in case a hasty exit was needed. I did warn that two dogs roamed the streets but as these were mere puppies I thought they would be harmless or a least less harmful. She was not reassured. She seemed unconcerned that she would also have to be in neighbourhoods with no dogs but with people who might pose more of a threat. She shrugged.

So to questioning. Well, not directly. We heard how in some areas people had indicated that they did not want to answer any questions, or they would answer some if a particular person asked them but not another. I imagined that this Census was going to be a tough task, given that many of the surveyors were employed for the job and not permanent staff.

My savvy head of household asked why the form was not on a hand-held computer so that the data could be recorded more efficiently. She quickly realised the job-creating aspect of not doing that.

The questionnaire has some peculiarities and some of the terms caused our questioner to slip a little. She had trouble describing the various forms of roofing, and with some help we agreed that what covered the house was not 'coral' but 'corrugated' sheeting. We were asked about forms of fuel used for cooking, and were both convinced that we were asked if we used 'natural grass'. We shook off the initial puzzlement, and said that we cooked with 'gas'.

We were asked if we had been the victim of crime. I offered to speak for myself, and hope that I would not get a surprise. I waited for the next question, thinking it may be whether I had committed any crimes, but that did not feature. I guess the Census only wants a certain kind of honesty and only so much information about people is deemed appropriate. But, I wonder how it would be answered if it were asked.

The questioning was first for the head of household, then for or about others in the house. As the surveyor noted, 'Certain questions divert.' I figured that she meant that some questions 'differ' or 'diverge', but some were intriguing enough to really divert.

My head of household (HoH) did her stint, then left me to tackle the rest. I had clearly identified the roles well. I also knew who was really in charge, when my HoH dared to ask if a question was just for her and she got "Yes. I speaking to you!" I did detect a slight raised eyebrow on someone's part.

Our education was hard to describe as we were not educated in Barbados and the form did not seem to suggest that any other educational system mattered; with some of the household residents being educated in the French system there was no matching all. Working at home as a self-employed person also seemed to pose some problems on the form. What about other sources of livelihood? Or, as it was posed, "What are your sources of lively income?" I was really glad that I had to deal with that question without my HoH present. I try to make it seem that my sources of income are quite dull.

By around 7.30pm, our lady was about done, and anyway the youngest 'live born child' needed to be put to bed.

Our gem of a surveyor admitted that "When you start you're a bit rusty so things go slowly." Fortunately, we understand the process she needed to go through so really tried to guide her, but I wonder if many households will be flummoxed and even upset by some of the 'personal' questions.

Well, looking forward, it will be interesting to see how the data come together and show what the population looked like that was living in Barbados on the night of May 1.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

International Workers Day/May Day Holiday

Barbadians celebrate the International Workers Day/May Day holiday in typical Caribbean fashion. Street parades are a prelude to time spent enjoying a restful day, eating, drinking, listening to music, and watching cultural displays. That was clearly evident at Carlisle Bay this afternoon. On the surface, few concerns were evident that jobs were at risk. It is an important gesture that employers put on a good spread for their workers during times such as these. They are a sign that employees matter.

The quality of relationships between workers and employers are often tested on a regular basis, but usually are under much more strain during a downturn in economic activity. Barbados has managed to limit job losses in both the public and private sector during the current recession. In a small country, the pain of unemployment can quickly become a shared personal agony as the web of connections can often be very close and it is harder to not know who has been affected directly when a job is cut, and also who may be affected indirectly by that loss.

One had to note the unfortunate timing of news today about some workers are being laid off at Elegant Hotels, reportedly 'without adequate reason', and 15 employees at Hanschell Inniss being laid off. That company issued a press release yesterday indicating that, through a 'restructuring' it reduced staff from 181 to 166 as the recession reduced consumer spending and affected one of the island's major distributors. Though the island has seen national unemployment rise to 10% it is clear that this figure could have been higher as many companies have resorted to shorter hours and various ways of rotating staff rather than laying them off. Wages and profits have both been put under strain and that has had repercussion on what people can do with the income they still have. Yet, when one speaks to employers it is still the case that many find that potential workers do not appreciate what it means to be 'responsible': being on time, coming to work regularly, and giving a good day's work are still not practices that are displayed as routinely as one would expect, especially when times are harder.

The steel band started tapping: the strains of Calypso were flowing from the road to the beach.The drummers started beating: the sounds of Africa replaced those of Calypso. The dancers started their rhythmic movement: no dance hall or wukkin up, but the silky, flowing movements of traditional west African styles. Food servers and drink dispensers started to work up a sweat to satisfy the lines of patient customers, who had just come from the walk to honour former labour leaders. Work and play were mixed together, as were owners, managers, and employees, and for a while, at least, the strains of current economic conditions were put on the back burner.