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**

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Away from It All

One of my breakfast buddies admitted to me this morning that she is totally at sea when it comes to computers and things related to them. This was prompted by my snapping her image with my BlackBerry and sending it to her by e-mail. Funnily enough, she has a website for her business activity, which is tourism on the beautiful island of Bequia (see http://www.bequiavillas.com/). So, she has asked that I give her the benefit of my wisdom and teach her how to upload photographs, understand what is all the fuss about Facebook, put attachments in her e-mails, and download years of pictures from her cell phone. No problem, I told her, just make sure that I get lunch. She smiled, and said sure.

But her business reminded me of what has been on my mind for several weeks: the idea of making better use of the resorts that our islands offer to tourists from north America and Europe, but we seem to forget about ourselves, while we head to those place--admittedly, not for sun and sea but for shopping, mainly. For sure, our local regional airline, LIAT, seems to do its best to make these visits difficulty and less-than-cheap.

But back to the homes near home. What you see on the website for Bequia Villas is not just attractive, it's also nothing compared to the real thing. I visited for all of a day last year, on the edge of a visit to St. Vincent (where I stayed at another lovely resort on Young Island). You get no sense of the hospitality, from the time you arrive at the ferry terminal and are greeted by the ubiquitous "African"--the man who knows everyone and everything, and has a dinghy ready to transport you quickly to the bay of your hideaway. The solitude of the villas is easy to understand, and they are perched on a hillside. But you still have to soak up their quietness. The climb up the hill to the villas is breath-taking, for sure.

Why have I not gone back there for a longer visit? I guess we have too many places like this to tempt, but that's no real excuse. I think I am waiting for an invitation from the owner, and the promise of a weekend of roast fish on the beach.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not The Breath You Take But The Breath You Take Away

We all know when someone special has been around, and it's usually more obvious when they have left. Today, like many, I will think about the life of Michael Jackson.

Like so many on the public stage, no one I ever knew personally, but someone who affected a lot of my life. I remember the thrill of seeing his boyish face with the Jackson 5, and wondering how this boy, a few years younger than me, could be so talented and so at ease in front of massive crowds. I had only recently had to perform in a big stadium and remember how my legs had shaken and how I had sweat. Then I thought about his voice, and its sweet clearness. I had been a choir boy, and the notes I held were good, but this was something else. I thought of the previous black, singing boy wonder, Stevie Wonder, and how great he really was given his blindness. The Michael started to dance. Wow! Such rhythm and style, and the spins. I could hoof, but not dance. I tried the moves in front of a mirror: forget it. The Afro hair do; the hats; the clothes. Too much.

The songs were always there to hum and sing. Then the boy started to grow and he stayed awesomely good looking and I wondered what series of girls he would have on his arm. They never appeared.His brothers were good, but they were always just props. His sisters were very good and had to live in his shadow, and struggled to get out into their own light.

Then he became bizarre, and I don't know why and I don't know how. The change of skin. The change of hair. The antics--the monkey, the masks, the gloves, the marriage, the home, the children, the outfits.He made millions and like so many stars seemed to spend like it would never end: US$ 400 million of debts is a lot for a country let alone one man.

So, from a boy who seemed like a talented freak of nature, we ended up with a man, who had turned into a freak. Yet, he still produced stunning music and danced like no one else.

I cannot go deeply into someone I did not know. Hollywood took over Michael Jackson's life and living in Neverland was a dream that had to end badly because nothing lasts for ever.

I am going to really enjoy a weekend of finding some of my favourite MJ songs. I will continue to hold onto my fear that any child of mine shows exceptional talent and gets onto a roller coaster that seems to end up derailed more often than it gets into happy stations. I wont trash the images and lifestyle of this man, just gone. I know plenty will do that at the drop of a hat. I just hope that whatever demons he had to live with are now laid to rest.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Love You, Daddy

Fathers Day was nicely sandwiched between the birthdays of two friends and fathers. Nice, too, that the first born of the second wife had brought her crew from New York City to spend a splash and sand and sup weekend with us: for them, Manhattan is not just a place. It was hard to hang with them, so we did not. They were good troopers and supported the little one at her gymnastics show, but were then ready for grilled fish at Oistins. No need to think about early wake up, eh? Their energy levels were not limitless, but they seemed to party long, sleep long, drink lots, sun bathe by the pool a lot, tour around the island, hang off a catamaran, and still have time left over in 24 hours to text messages.

We're pretty hospitable folk, so all of this naturally gave my minimalist partner all she needed to head off to bank to get another loan so that she could go to the foodstores and arrange a lil' t'ing. Grill master Flash could, if he so chose, take charge of the one place a man knows a woman loves to be so long as she does not have to get her nails and hands mussed up, and offer the usual advice. He can stand and swig a cold brew, yet work and watch TV at the same time. She will come by and utter "Mmm. Smells good down here," and not mean the scent from the T-shirt. Or "Let me just check that this piece is cooked." Her offspring, always ready to mimic an adult, will also pass by and beg for just a little drumstick. She will then head back upstairs with her sticky lips and fingers and proceed to water the plants, without realising that the water was pouring down on Flash's shaved head. "Hey! Stop that watering!" So, with Tiger swinging to the corner of one eye, and ribs and chicken legs and fish kebabs simmering in the corner of the other, neo-metro-sexual man, Flash, was nearing another bliss point.

But, credit where it's due. Team work is all about give and take, and whatever Flash could do would only be the icing on the cake for the housekeeper who did the preparation. Truth is, I have my way of doing things but I know that only one hand can stir a pot. But, who was it standing in the sun for three hours? Do I love people, or what?

Those people know that I am a great defender of the unwashed father: men like myself, who have thrown away a love of unnecessary finery and now revel in their pyjamas until deep mid -morning. But, not insignificantly, in the modern era of the 'career mother' ("Where's Mummy, Daddy?"), we are also the ones provide some essential domestic glue. We pad around at night at the slightest cough from the child and try to make sure that she goes to the potty; we eat breakfast with her every morning and help her read the newspaper. My two friends who were celebrating are not disappointments in that regard. Neither seems to stay in his pyjamas very long, however. One, McDonald, utters things like "I can't do that early because I have to see my personal trainer." This is the mantra of the 'gym father', and I wonder if he is in fact buffing himself so that his lovely wife will realise that her prize catch is still a fish wriggling on the hook. He hopes that she will be like an alligator to his duck and just snap him up? The other, The Persuasive One, bless his hunter-gathering socks, is so often off the island seeking fodder in Europe for his brood, that I wonder whether his wife is now searching Amazon.com for a permanent replacement, or at least one that can be regularly by her side. But, when he's around, he does take care of the twins...well, sort of. I've heard that he does not cook, but is not hesitant of take them for a lunch.

So, it was a great idea to have the children at the BBQ offer up something for their Dad, ahead of our gracing the food. Miss Bliss stepped up, with her usual confidence, and belted out, in glossy pink:

Rose are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you

After that, I felt truly in the pink myself, and had to show her some love with a huge hug. Not to be outdone, another blissette, Emmsie, played a tune on the piano for her Dad. Our little neighbour, Lizzie, who is in class with Miss Bliss, talked about how her Dad takes her to the beach; her little brother, The Rustler, just asked for his dessert. Others got stage fright, but their Dads knew that they were brimming with love.

Most adults don't ask for much, but if what is offered is genuine, then take it, and hold it and love it to death.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What A Life: Come, Share Mine.

So much of what we take for granted is merely a matter of context. Take my little household. I have a housekeeper whose native country is somewhere in west Africa. Generally speaking, her native country has had an appalling time, economically, since independence from the French in the 1950s. The French helped by basically gutting the country when they left. But, on the positive side, her country has not seen much civil strife during the same period. Only recently have people really risen up against the rulers, and the death of only their second president since independence has been a spur for another military coup. But, her life and that of her compatriots is shaped by those economic-political backings and the following:
  • a country with wondrous mineral resources, which somehow has never had these enrich the population;
  • a land with many rivers, yet most people struggle to get a decent supply of drinking water;
  • those same rivers can supply enough electricity to light the whole country, yet regular power outages are the norm and the capital is notable for being a place of darkness when one lands by plane at night;
  • the country was once the 'grain basket' for the sub region, now it imports most of its food; and rice, which it can and did grow successfully for decades, is regularly imported from south east Asia, putting a massive strain on the meagre foreign exchange reserves in the central bank;
  • wars have gone on in most of its neighbouring countries, and hordes of refugees have flooded into the country, putting a huge strain on the already meagre pickings available;
  • if you want to leave, you cannot get as much as one flight out each day to Europe, though there are daily (arduously long and mainly indirect) flights to neighbouring African countries.
With all of that, you have to do the daily grind. When I heard her talking on the phone to her son (now 7), about some medical treatment that he had just had, I envisaged him in that setting, with his father and sisters, and pondered whether his mother was doing right by him by being here in Barbados, earning a very decent wage, with which she could offer the family good financial support.

She cannot share with them life in this blissful, small island economy, where most things work really well, crime is low, banks have ATMs, currency is stable, daily flights take you to the UK, US, Canada, and nearby islands. I think she is bewildered sometimes with what she hears on the radio as people talk about "how hard things are".

When I listened and read recently about problems of arrears at the Barbados Water Authority and to Barbados Light and Power, I though immediately to the situation that had applied in Guinea. Many people did not have water bills because they had no water piped to their properties; most had wells and the water quality was a bit dodgy. Many people stole electricity if it was available nearby. Even in the best of neighbourhoods, you would be a fool to rely on the national grid, and most homes had a diesel-fueled generator, which was often running because power cuts were often and sometimes very long. Add to that, the fact that those who worked in a property were not averse to stealing diesel for their own use or for profit. Those who did not steal electricity and paid in time and in full, like I did, were often bemused how the monthly bills would sometimes triple and quadruple, even in periods when the house was empty. Failure to pay would mean disconnection. I remember one of the difficult exercises with the government was to track down the arrears to public sector companies and arrange for their repayment. The amounts were huge and long-standing, and often the culprits were other government agencies, who were under tight budgets and passed on their pain. What would it serve to not have water and electricity in government offices?

Likewise, with the telephone company, who billed my residence for two years, even though they had acknowledged that it had no working line. They also billed my office for calls not paid for two years. I recall my first experience of negotiating in French, in my first week in office. The phone company threatened to cut off my office lines for arrears. I told them to send me the details of the calls for review and that I would get back to them within 48 hours. They refused. I threatened to call the Prime Minister and Finance Minister--I had a bit of clout. They still refused. I threatened to go to their Director General's office and give him a good working over. They sent me the bills. I reviewed them and found that most of the calls were made between 7pm and 4am, when no one was in the office! I told them to stop the nonsense, and find out who was pirating my lines. They did...for two years, then tried the stunt again. Suffice to say that by then my French was really good as was my command of a local dialect, and I invoked some jou-jou and all was hunky dory in a few minutes.

All of that spilled into my mind as we had a houseful of American 20-somethings staying for the weekend, and they were struggling with 'driving on the wrong side of the road', and how funny the money was. Coming from the land of AC ever on, they had to be told that breezes are cooling...and that leaving doors open with AC running would not cool the world. But they ate the soused pig knuckles and thought they were tasty. They were happy for sun, when NYC was awash with rain. They enjoyed Caribbean hospitality aplenty and went home with great memories of how strangers can become friends.

My housekeeper does not have to deal with household bills, which her employers (we) pay. She manages her local mobile phone use and pays as she goes. She calls Guinea whenever she needs to on a phone whose bill I pay. She does not really fathom the difference between energy-saving bulbs and any other kind, as before it was light or no light sometimes at night.

I try to put myself in someone else's shoes when I encounter a difficulty, but it's not always easy. The shoes are so many different shapes and sizes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lies, Lies And Damned Internet Statistics?

A commentator on another blog mentioned that the popularity of my blog was up there with Barbados Underground and Barbados Free Press, and went into the 3 million mark! I found this utterly unbelievable, because the counter on my site shows minuscule figures by comparison, and the little income generator on the blog does not seem to have passed any critical levels to start making me feel that I should go and get an investment advisor.

But I decided to do a little digging around the sources of Internet traffic statistics, and blow me down there are figures that seem to suggest that more people than I thought have nothing better to do than read my musings. The most understandable figures come from Alexa. These show a one month average of around 4 1/2 million and a three month average of some 3 1/2 million (see Alexa Traffic Trend Data).

What can I say?

While I get a certain satisfaction from seeing my blog at the top of a Google page if one searches "living in Barbados", I know that it wont change me, at least not into a money-splashing, champagne-swilling, playboy. I wont go hunting for babes to swing off my arm as eye candy, either. I will remain firmly grounded and simple. Like Warren Buffet, I have no private jet and will not fly in one. Whatever money I make from the site--and that seems to be very little so far--I will give to charities.

With Father's Day just around the corner and the summer solstice on the same day, what a way to bask in the light? Cue smug grin...Cancel all hard work for Sunday...

Tipping Points

I tend toward a view that, if and when people tell others they barely know about their problems, then the matter is really one that is deep in their core. I'm comfortable believing that when it comes to business activities.

I was at an establishment in midweek, waiting for a group of legal migrants to arrive at the airport from New York. I had been in a series of long and sometimes frustrating exchanges about Barbados' recently announced change to its amnesty regulations for undocumented migrants from other Caricom countries. I was glad to free my head from some of the silly diatribe and try to sift out some of the essential points that were being made.

The manager came along and complained to me and another guy I knew that people were using his establishment as a parking lot. To sour matters, they did not patronize the establishment and buy any goods. "Why not charge a flat fee for parking?" I suggested. He said that he could not do that because the official car park rate was the same. "Well, in that case, those who do not want to pay wont park, so you still win. Those who want to park for a long time could now do so more cheaply, so you win again," I added. He said he did not have the personnel to do that. In all, he resented the intrusion but felt helpless, and taking action like clamping or chaining the vehicles seemed to him like more work than it was worth. I suggested that he give it a try, and see what the reactions were, and I'd check again when I have to deliver my passengers back to the airport on Monday.

I then asked him a question: "When are you due to open each day?" He told me the time and noted my surprised reaction: "I know that we don't open then, because I call in and no one answers," he added. "If it rains, some don't show. If they have a bruised toe, some don't come. If they had a few too many drinks the night before, some don't come." I then asked why he tolerated that from his staff. Why did he not replace them. He then told me that he had plans to do that, but the government was blocking the plans, fearing adverse reactions during the current economic downturn.

There is often an uncomfortable stand-off between private or public entities, unions, employees, and government when it comes to actions that threaten jobs. In the end, if the private sector employer cannot bear the brunt of inefficient or less productive workers, he/she will usually up stakes and close, and then the job losses are there anyway. In the public sector, there may be a stronger push to hive off the entity and let it sink or swim in the private sector, so long as it's not longer a burden on the public purse.

This led me back to some of the discussion on illegal immigrants. It's well known that one of the driving forces is an inability to get certain types of workers from the pool of available nationals. The ethical thing to do would be to go through whatever processes are there to get work permits, etc. and engage legally non-nationals. But, ethics be blowed. People short-circuit the system, often with a complicit blind eye from officials, and bring in people to work whom they know do not have the right to do so. The migrant worker who offers to work without the right documentation, is of course prepared to have lower wages and worse terms and conditions of service than nationals because these are better than would be available in the country from which he/she came. I know that my frustrated entrepreneur would love to be able to take on a willing non-national and have his establishment open on time and the worker come in, no ifs, ands, or buts.

My thoughts also drifted off to the debate going on about productivity (though it's not always couched in those terms). We know that some public sector agencies are in a mess. There is the matter of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), a corporation that seems unable to deliver water where it should, and is incapable of dealing with wastage of water where it occurs: I have been driving past a leaking pipe for two years, and I heard reports this week of repeated calls to deal with leaking water pipes and stagnating pools that have gone uncorrected for months. It also has a serious arrears problem (the latest reports indicate B$26 million/10,000 accounts in arrears, and 60% of this is owed by residential customers, see Advocate, June 20, 2009, part of the rationale given by delinquent customers is that BWA is slower to disconnect for non-payment and no rewards for early/prompt payment). It is about to be granted an increase in rates, but I have yet to hear of a comprehensive plan to deal with its ills. We read that the Government of Barbados is currently in negotiations with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank regarding a package of measures to reorganise and modernise the BWA (see Advocate, June 20, 2009, front page). I personally cannot see the justification for a rate increase ahead of the reorganization and ahead of any move to bring those arrears down substantially: it sounds like pouring money down the drain.

The private sector has its culprits too, and we've seen, heard and suffered from the poor service doled out by a range of establishments that are supposed to make their livelihood from offering good service. While there may be no conspiracy, there may be an unholy alliance of the sort outlined by the manager of the impromptu parking lot. One of those, of which I have complained in the past, told me recently that they are making efforts to deal with poor customer service as reflected by public and less-visible complaints. That's a step in the right direction in one case, but will it work and will it spread? In the meantime, some prominent commentators continue to give air to their grievances (see "The Lowdown" in The Nation, June 19, 2009)

It's interesting to speculate whether the coming together of discussion on these and other issues of national importance suggest that we may be moving to some kind of tipping point, where lots of things change. How much discontent with the status quo does it take for people to say "enough already"?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Immigration Matters: Two Opposing Views

This past Sunday, The Advocate published a long article by Lindsay Holder, entitled "Immigration Blues in CARICOM". This contribution has provoked literally a wide range of discussion on the topic of immigration in Barbados, pushed harder by the government's recent revision to the amnesty for illegal immigrants from other CARICOM countries. 

But Mr. Holder is not having things all his own way, and George Brathwaite (who recently posted on this site his views on how the language used can shape the discussion on immigration, see previous post) has also gone on record again with his rebuttal. This is produced below.
By George C. Brathwaite

I do not intend to be lengthy in this critique to Mr. Holder’s contribution. I am well aware that each of us brings our biases to any project. I also believe that one ought to be sufficiently reflexive and admit to pertinent antecedents that may have an impact on the ways in which arguments are framed, analysed, and disseminated. My position is that of a Caribbean researcher who has been widely influenced by the shapers of postcolonial discourses and by the architects of Caribbean regional integration. Moreover, I have been exposed to a way of life and a thinking that suggests I should love my neighbour as I love myself.

A meandering diatribe that was published in the Sunday Advocate of 14 June 2009, and continued in the Monday edition of the Advocate and which is authored by Lindsay Holder served little in clearing away misunderstandings on ‘immigration policies and the status of immigrants’, if to do so was his primary intent. In this lengthy polemic, Mr. Holder appears more to be attempting to resolve his personal sentiments and advance his patriotic stance in favour of Barbados, than examine the “current issues that provoke discussion,” or provide a basis for managed migration. With all of the many complexities that surround the issue of immigration and more particularly, Barbados’ response to ‘unacceptably high’ numbers of undocumented CARICOM immigrants, Mr. Holder proceeded to exhibit a forlorn dismissal of facts and empirical data.

Surely any well-reasoned analysis would at least make an attempt to provide relevant statistical data that can substantiate arguments being advanced. Mr. Holder prefers to follow the position of the Government of Barbados by relying on “casual observation” on which to determine that “the level of undocumented immigration is unacceptably high.” The sentiments in that statement alone appear to be sullied by bigotry: even if one could make a distinction based on race or ethnicity, how does one come to the conclusion that persons observed at any one point in time and place are undocumented CARICOM immigrants? Isn’t there an ‘Indo-population’ in Barbados originating from Trinidad and Tobago and also from the Asian continent?

It is problematic that Mr. Holder commenced his arguments on the basis that governments make a distinct policy direction by either opting for ‘more liberal immigration policies’ or ‘less liberal policies’. While I do agree to some extent that there has been an identifiable trend that liberal democracies have expanded their rules giving liberal expression to the political and social inclusion of migrants, I will contend that Holder’s starting point is myopic. It is misleading since there are other coexistent requirements to be considered besides the extent to which liberality can be raised as the fundamental principle for states making accommodation for the entry of migrants into their economies.

Mr. Holder in a dichotomous manner, goes on to suggest that by applying an ‘optimal approach’ to matters of immigration policies, the Government of Barbados would in fact be basing such policies on “economic realities as well as some social considerations.” I believe that Mr. Holder’s interesting but ungrounded starting points have turned a blind eye to legal, moral, and ethical considerations. Barbados is a sovereign state, and it has voluntarily become a signatory to several international conventions and/or bilateral and multilateral arrangements (i.e. CARICOM; UN; and the ILO among others). Certainly these must have a bearing when a country seeks to determine more or less liberal policies.

This brings me to a fundamental area of departure with Mr. Holder. In one of his several superficial arguments, Holder fails to acknowledge that Barbados’ dependence on migration (inward and outward) long preceded “the last 10 to 15 years … to satisfy the demand for labour” in the sectors he outlined. I grew up in an area of Barbados that is still today considered a major agricultural salvation for Barbados. I remember the many hundreds of persons that came annually to ‘cut canes’ in Barbados. Many of them remained here ‘undocumented’, and they brought in other family members along with friends via the underground nature of social networks.

Holder argues that “the upper limit to the number of immigrants that a country can sustain depends on the geographical size of the country,” and I counter that it is as big a myth as Holder’s connected assertion that “immigration benefits countries that are under-populated, have ageing populations, or that have labour shortages in some economic sectors.” Surely these cannot be the over-riding criteria upon which immigration policies are fashioned, and neither can these be the sole considerations when a country seeks to adhere to international conventions that encourage the rights and dignity of the human being regardless of status. Moreover, and according to many of the multilateral institutions, “immigration benefits as well as affects all countries” some more than others.

Perhaps the greatest irony in Mr. Holder’s submission rests upon a dichotomous understanding as it relates to the history of CARICOM, the spirit of CARICOM, and Barbados’ leadership and participation in CARICOM. Regretfully, Holder posits that Barbados is “being painted as the main villain impeding the implementation of freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals,” when he knows full well as he did indicate that “Barbados has fully complied with the existing freedom of movement provisions of the CSME Treaty.” In attempting to raise his proud boast of Barbados (for which I also share), Holder conflates the issues of freedom of movement with unregulated immigration; unregulated migration is not a requirement under the RTC.

The RTC at Article 45 does speak to the ambition that “Member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community,” and this is in keeping with an underlying premise that there will be further momentum to “enlarge, as appropriate, the classes of persons entitled to move and work freely in the Community” (Article 46 (a)). In essence, the RTC has set the framework for a spirit of cross-border and functional cooperation with the understanding by CARICOM Member States that there will be a resolve to “establish conditions which would facilitate access by their nationals to the collective resources of the Region on a non-discriminatory basis.” If Mr. Holder accepts and understands the intent and meaning of the RTC, he therefore cannot surmise that the current amnesty offered through the discretion of Barbados’ Prime Minister is ‘non-discriminatory’. The amnesty, in policy and practice, specifically targets ‘undocumented CARICOM immigrants’.

Further irony is illustrated by Mr. Holder, when he quotes Gordon K. Lewis in referring to “the unity, the shared sense of being West Indians.” Holder reflects Lewis’ position that speaks of the necessity to “meet particular problems in which all possess a felt concrete interest,” and yet Holder seems oblivious to Articles 187 through 189 of the RTC. Hence, I contend that the pre-emptive posture by the Prime Minister of Barbados could not be considered as keeping within the precincts of the RTC or as Holder suggests, Lewis’ mode of thinking for strengthening a CARICOM spirit.

Many of the circumstances and points outlined on the EU misrepresented the nature of EU immigration policies and the legal facilitation for free movement of people within the scope of that jurisdiction. Holder, writing to correct what he saw as misleading from Ricky Singh, states that “the right of freedom of movement” allow its citizens to “have the freedom to move within the EEA to work, study, or establish businesses.” What he does not say is that there are criteria in place and these are consistent with basic measures of human rights and justice. The most essential point though in regards of the EU’s model, that it legally recognises its membership in clear contrast to citizens of third countries.

Holder states that demands ought not to be made on Barbados to “accept the burdens associated with unacceptably high numbers of undocumented immigrants within its borders.” I agree that there are burdens associated with irregular migration, but I challenge the Government of Barbados and Mr. Holder to make public the statistical data that suggest the intensity of any burdens that now impact on Barbados. How can a government be seriously seeking to address a problem and there is not the co-requisite of supplying important data in respect of the challenges, burdens, and economic costs.

I ask Mr. Lindsay Holder four (4) questions:
1.How much information has the Barbados Government supplied in recognition that these categories of legality and illegality coexists within the domain of immigration debates?
2.Should the focus be on limiting those persons who may have normally qualified under the amnesty framework which has been in place as far back as 1995, or should emphasis be on finding solutions to the problems identified as requiring reform at the domestic level of the agency responsible for internal migration control?
3.Would it not make more political currency to engage the public in Barbados, civil society, and regional publics such as corresponding Heads of Government on probable solutions to the problems that cause irregular migration and insecurity?
4.Do Barbados and/or other CARICOM Member States have a moral duty and ethical challenge to ensure the humane treatment of Caribbean peoples?

I close by stating that Mr. Holder’s article makes an interesting read despite its faulty premises and some misleading statements. Nevertheless, it opens discussion on several fronts that are important for consideration. It nonetheless falls way short of the consistency that would lead to the essence of his summary. Holder summarises that managed migration is “best suited for protecting the rights of the immigrants,” and I do agree with the conclusion. I hope that he is not insinuating that the discriminatory policy and practice as being undertaken by the Government of Barbados will achieve this feat. I am seeing and hearing widespread fear and this will only serve to push persons underground making it more difficult to actually manage immigration challenges.

I too end by stating that persons who support the Government of Barbados’ position do not continue to demonise and criminalise those persons who make a contribution to this country regardless of if they are citizens, non-citizens, documented or undocumented. Let us debate the various positions and come to consensus on a way forward and means to manage immigration in Barbados and across CARICOM.

There's not a lot of common ground between these two proponents. But that is hardly surprising. The subject is charged and emotive, and people appear to have taken sides that do not move much with discussion.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's Going On?

I'm not totally crazy after all. I'm supposed to have some understanding of how the big pieces of an economy fit together. Now, a former Cabinet Minister of the previous Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was ready to lay into me yesterday because he said my understanding was merely that of an IMF economist. I begged to differ, and he let me keep the BLP pen anyway. A topping gesture.

But, I have been more than a bit bewildered with the comments that I was hearing about developments in the Barbadian economy and what some people dealing with the economy were saying.

The latest data on the economy show that unemployment has risen (10.1% at March, some 2.2 percentage points over the same period in 2008). Retail prices fell by 0.4% in March to bring the annual rate to 6.6%. The combination of rising unemployment and falling prices brings forth an ugly spectre.

With the world in recession and its effects supposedly being felt in Barbados too, I had read some reports that Barbados was weathering the storm and not seeing much of a downturn.How could that be? The broad economic data show, unfortunately, that is not true (see Sunday Sun, June 14, page 17A). It will be useful to see how that unemployment increase is spread across the economy; the natural supposition is that its rising faster in construction and tourism. The loss of spending power of that group of workers has not yet had its main impact on the economy, I suspect, and may be less given some tendency for foreign workers to be important, so the bigger impact may be on their ability to remit funds abroad. That's an odd saving grace for Barbados.

What else is being affected? Take housing. (see Sunday Sun, June 14, page 5A). At last evidence is showing a slow down in that sector. Rents are falling, properties are not moving. Whether foreigners or locals are involved, people now want to get value for money, but people are clearly less willing to pay top dollars or pounds for a property of any sort and some of the inflated prices for luxury properties appear to have burst.The report indicates that prime seafront rentals that could have fetched B$2,200 a month are now down to B$1,500. And for B$1,500 people are seeking the best they can get. Also notable is that properties are remaining unlet for a long time, even about a year, Large properties that made for good executive rentals (perhaps B$10,000 a month) have seen prices slashed (to say B$8,000-7,000). But the lack of rental income will have repercussions, and it will be worth watching the 'for sale' signs. But one immediate repercussion is on jobs for people who provided domestic services for the properties: gardeners are still active, but less so while the houses are unrented; other staff are probably not needed at all unless the properties are occupied.

Another piece of the puzzle is tourism. I must admit that I think the sector has its head in the sand. "Staycation", which now seems to be the word of choice, meaning getting locals to stay in country and enjoy tourism facilities, should always have been a major part of the picture. When you have a clear seasonal pattern to foreign visitors, how could you not make a major effort to fill the gap with locals? I hear that a lot of foreign visitors are repeats, but that suggests to me a static rather than dynamic market. My naive view is that it's better to have 'bums on seats' as the English would say than empty chairs. In other words, do all you can to sell rooms, including to locals. I have a nagging suspicion why local hotels do not do this and it smells of a sort of classism.

The staycation idea, where family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions, works better on a small flattish island like Barbados, I think, given that it's no big effort to get from anywhere to one of the luxurious coastal resorts or the few too-few attractive sites that are here. Is is the case that some of the select hotels do not want to be seen as places for locals rather than foreigners? I have heard many unpleasant stories of how other Caribbean nationals have been treated at one of the major hotels when making business trips over several years. I will test this a bit myself with a weekend package at a small west coast hotel.. Admittedly, my treatment may be good as I have a passing acquaintance with a manager, but that may not wash away some general staffing attitudes that come over as a negative experience for other Caricom visitors).

I hope that the release of these new economic statistics start to remove the scales from some people's eyes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When Is Father's Day?

"When is Father's Day?", my little one asked me just before I put her to bed tonight. "I've no idea. I never celebrate it," I replied. "But everyday is kids' day." On that we agreed, and so to bed, as Zebedee would say.

Several lady friends have told me that the trouble with men (we always have trouble) is that we keep things bottled up. I tell them that this is hogwash. It's that men don't necessarily talk about their problems the way women do. "Let your frustrations out," they say, nevertheless. "I do," I retort, "But not by yelling at people or going on an ice cream eating binge." Agreed or not, we move on.

Yesterday was on of those days when I let it all out, and the poor victim was a woman. Her sin? She treated me like a father. Put another way, she treated me the way many women treat fathers when mothers are present. She ignored me when discussing my child. "On no she di-n-t?" Oh yes, she did. Imagine that I had brought my child to the dentist's office. Let her say her name; she does not miss any of the forenames, and makes clear how to pronounce the first of them correctly. I answered the initial questions. I got my five year old to sign a form--a first--and with lovely legible writing. Kept my child amused with some reading books, albeit while I had an ear to the cricket on the coverage playing on the TV. Then in walks her mother and the fun begins.

"Let's look over the form," says the receptionist, as she sits next to my wife, turning her back to me. Blah-blah-blah. "And this is Daddy here?" Well, I took a deep breath as I heard a six being blasted over the boundary by a South African player. "Yes," I said. "The same one who brought in the child without her mother and who now seems to have become invisible." My point was made and from then on, all the interaction changed as "Mummy" and "Daddy" appeared as new separate but relevant entities. Wonderful.

The lady called me this morning to check how my daughter had been since visiting the dentist. "Your wife gave me your number," she said. "I understand that she is travelling." I told her that all was well, and that no trauma seemed to have occurred after the visit. But, I took the opportunity to explain myself. I let her know that one of the problems that Dads have is that women especially seem to think that it's mothers who care for children. She explained that she had just had a father who was unable and unwilling to fill out the forms, saying, "It's my wife who deals with the children." I quipped that I was sure that if my wife had taken our car (almost like a child in some families) to the garage for a check up and I then arrived later, and the mechanic had immediately started to ask me questions about the car, she would have railed and gotten a bit nasty with a few "You men are all the same!"

Now that this is off my chest, perhaps I will accept the offer to do a radio program discussing stay-at-home Dads. I hope that it will be a call-in and that I get a good crop of questions on which I can chew.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Immigration Debate: An Attempt To Clarify Some Terms

The 'debate' in Barbados about immigation has been muddied by the government's recent decision to change the amnesty terms for Caricom non-nationals. The basis for this decision is hard to fathom, and the government's case has not been well made in terms of real figures about the extent of any problems from what have been termed 'illegal immigrants'. This lack of precision is made worse by recent press reports that flag that the Immigration Department essentially has no data worth talking about on the matter. This raises many red flags, not least to ask on what basis government's decision-making is based on hard analysis, rather than anecdotes and impressions, what some would call 'rum shop debate'.

A Barbadian, George Christopher Brathwaite, who is a PhD Candidate (International Politics) at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, England, has written a piece entitled "SOME TERMS CAN AND DO SEND WRONG MESSAGES: A CLARIFICATION ON ‘ILLEGAL MIGRANTS’", and he has agreed to my posting it, to broaden the debate on the topic. It is reproduced below.

On May 24 2009, I was part of a Sunday Brass Tacks panel discussing the problem of migration as it relates to Barbados. At that time, I proposed that for several reasons it was more appropriate to be clear on the terms we use when making reference to those persons normally viewed as ‘illegal migrants’. Today I stand by those arguments knowing that such arguments are in keeping with international best practices and cursory distinctions. There is increasing attention placed on issues of migration (i.e. legal and illegal) because it is a complex phenomenon that straddles several spheres of cultural, social, economic, political, and geopolitical domains among others.

Specifically, we in Barbados are drawn to the debate because contemporary discourses associated with illegal migrants speak to essentially two forms of threat. The first is a threat to Barbados’ state sovereignty and the second is to societal identity. We are witnessing a clash between societal perceptions of cultural security (i.e. as a specific threat to identity), the economic need for migrant labour (i.e. in the context of social and market integration), and wider national security issues (i.e. the preservation of sovereignty). In essence, the inclination to treat migration in terms of threats, danger, and the need for emergency safeguards through the urgent implementation of policies raises the treatment of migration from a political problem to one of securitisation.

Many of us hold the developed world as the standard bearer in many policy arenas. I contend that there are indigenous solutions to many of our problems; however, I refuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater. In this regard, I make a few clarifications on the issue of illegal migration and seek to shed light on common misconceptions that pervade debate over this issue in Barbados. Nearly one of every 70 persons in developing countries is a migrant. Without specific estimates for Barbados, I need to clearly understand from the administration of the day what constitutes illegal migration, and is this terminology appropriate in the context of those phenomena we are describing in Barbados?

Human rights treaties provide many guarantees to all individuals whether present in or outside the territory of their country of nationality. Illegal migration is essentially an all-encompassing term that may include both the illegality of immigrants and emigrants. Persons can be deemed to be illegal on entering or on leaving a country although most countries uphold international law and the conventions stipulating the right of a citizen to exit his or her country of citizenship.

There are four main common categories addressed when one speaks of illegal migration. These are namely, unauthorised entry, fraudulent entry (i.e. with false documents), visa or permit overstaying, and violation of the terms and conditions of a visa or permit. Many of those we call irregular migrants started their journey perfectly legally, for example, by travelling on a tourist visa, and became “illegal” or “irregular” when they stayed on after its validity expired. Most typologies of irregular migration are therefore set up around three focal points. There is legal and illegal entry, legal and illegal residence, and legal and illegal employment. My question therefore is how much information has the Barbados government supplied in recognition that these categories of legality and illegality coexists within the domain of immigration debates?

8% of the world population lives as migrants; over half of them are women. Hence, not only is there a securitisation of migration but there is also a feminisation of migration. Many women in the world are away from their places of origin looking for income generation opportunities for themselves and their families. Guyanese and other CARICOM nationals are not outside the parameters of this trend. These patterns are directly related to a feminisation of poverty. Underdeveloped countries such as Guyana despite its status in CARICOM as one of the big four do not have sufficient social and economic security systems in place to provide potential emigrants with the necessary employment for a life with dignity and a reasonable standard of living. Hence why does the current amnesty established by the Government of Barbados seek to prejudice itself by targeting CARICOM nationals rather than undocumented immigrants from all destinations?

To be certain, while national legislation and immigration reforms represent the most obvious policy responses to immigration, administrative decisions and policy implementation may provide more practical implications of the character of immigration control or preferably immigration management. This brings us to a point that I have recently made in relation to the management of people flows as opposed to costly restrictive measures and the arbitrary expulsion of those who do not meet amnesty criteria.

The two basic standards upheld by the law of aliens are the equality of treatment principle (providing that aliens should receive equal treatment with nationals, with some exceptions such as political rights), and the principle that certain minimum international standards for humane treatment cannot be violated in relation to aliens. These concepts affirm the existence of basic rights to be enjoyed by all aliens. The principles and a number of other provisions in the law of aliens, concerning issues such as expulsion and conditions of admission, are applicable to migrant workers. The law of aliens, however, largely ignores the status of undocumented migrant workers, or those in an irregular situation, and thus does not fully apply to a large proportion of today’s migrant workers.

The United Nation’s (UN) International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) treats the issue of expulsion in Article 13. It states that:
  • An alien lawfully in the territory of a State Party to the Present Covenant may be expelled therefrom only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with law and shall, except where compelling reasons of national security otherwise require, be allowed to submit the reasons against his expulsion and to have his case reviewed by, and be represented for the purpose before, the competent authority or a person or persons especially designated by the competent authority. This provision extends its guarantees only to aliens who are lawfully residing within the territory of a State, thus not protecting undocumented or irregular migrants. However, if the legality of an alien’s entry or stay is in dispute, any decision leading to expulsion should be in conformity with Article 13.

I mention all of these matters not because the recent amnesty espoused by Prime Minister Thompson is unnecessary or flawed, but because it fails to consider as many of the practical concerns merited in the context of Barbados’ reputation for upholding human rights, and the fact that a great measure of unsubstantiated claims exists. The problem then culminates in responding to perceived threats by a promise to expel without speaking on actual immigration reforms that are necessary or to the due process that ought to be afforded within given parameters of law and morality. Such an action will send many persons underground considering that networks exist and in any event, this has been the global trend. I urge Barbados to revisit its intentions on immigration policy and to open the public sphere to informed views and rigorous debate.


Friday, June 05, 2009

You Don't Say

My blogging friend, Ingrid, who is also my friend in a wider sense, has liberated herself from her bind known as writer's block and, so she writes, can once again marry fingers to keyboard happily in rhythmic fashion and craft words and ideas that please her and, I hope, others. But, I too have been suffering in a similar way. My mind has wrestled with a lot, but getting that fight up from the mat of my mind into an arena more visible has been nigh impossible for a few weeks now. You cannot take pills for this. True, I was very excited about my first born finishing university and graduating this past week, and I have played over in my mind a lot of life issue: a child of a divorced couple should always be watch for vulnerability, and the matters that tip the balance need to be noticed carefully. Poor girl, though, with her great degree, now has to try to swim in the economic swamp of a world recession. She wont be alone if she decides that dog walking is the career for the next year: true, no real academic qualifications are needed, but a lot of care and compassion is, and they are worth developing.

Part of my blockage has been built on not knowing whether to caw about some deep issues or leave them for others to mow through. Part has been due to a sort of bleary eyed amazement at the drivel that people do dole out in the form of ideas and opinions. I know that I am not alone in that view and was heartened to hear one of the moderators lay into a few callers for just that sort of thing.

But let's take a look at the drivel factory. I listen to a particular radio call-in program more than I really want to so that I can help the producer by making pithy comments that usually have a beginning, middle, and end. I decided some time ago, that while I can spout out views about almost anything, I would try to build a reputation of having some sense and worthy views on financial topics. I can stand on a soap box to rattle on about other things. But, as I have listened over the past few weeks, I have noticed that few of the commentators seem to have any sense that they can limit themselves. In addition, few can string together some sentences that have any coherence. Few can sense that they are contradicting themselves, as the arguments develop. Few even listen to the moderator asking them to slow down as they press on to make points that make no breeze of sense. I wonder if part of this is because they are trying to listen to themselves on the radio and get confused by what they say and what they hear themselves saying. Few have any facts to support what they say, as they flip subjects when a question is posed. Most use anecdotes as if they are hard evidence but do not see that talking about "Miss Parris" and her sweet breads is not enough to make conclusion about the wider world. Clearly, some love their own voices so much that the more they hear it the more excited they become. Bunch of charlatans or just like most people? Admittedly, people can talk about things that move their emotions and with the Budget and a new government policy on the matter of immigration from other Caricom countries, there has been no loss of topics on which to vent. I have decided to stand aside from that waft of hot air, and tried to think about what I would say if I were to say anything.

I've written a piece on the Budget and now I look to see if what I thought is turning out to be close to what is happening. The one area on which my beady eyes are focusing is that thorny bush of public sector activity. I have not hidden my view that part of the Barbados economic success story is built on some myths, and one of them is about labour productivity. Part of this myth is unraveling, in the form of statements about what the civil service is not doing: the reports of the Auditor General paint a picture of lack of accountability and departments having very little to show for the money that is spent, either in terms of a mission accomplished; some ministerial statements point to the difficulty of getting a day's work for a day's pay out of some public servants. For example, how can the Immigration Department not know basic information on immigrants when every person has to complete an entry form and when the government is shaping new policy on immigration? Some would call this pure slackness. I will watch the wind swirl around this area and see if the dust makes anyone blink.

The deep issues include the matter of what to do about foreigners in your midst. I wont deal with that so much now, but have that gnawing feeling that comes from living most of my life as a foreigner in the midst. But, it's interesting that as economic conditions worsen so does talk of needing to weed out foreigners increase, and one does not need to listen to white skinhead racists in Europe talk about "wogs" and yell "send them back home" to anyone they see who has a dark face. Here in Barbados, we can see that black views on black people can be as villainous as the oft-detested white views on black people. Yet, this is an island whose economy has been built on presenting a welcome mat to foreigners. Now it is struggling with those who come here because economic conditions offer better options than in their homelands, and want to work, or buy land, or own companies, or marry locals, and more.

Now, we know that in the minds of many not all foreigners are the same. When people here think of foreigners they don't like they tend to be those who are 'in competition' for jobs and houses and social services, and that means those coming from other poorer Caricom countries; it could even be made more specific by pointing at Guyanese, Vincentians, Antiguans, Lucians, Jamaicans and some more, including any Chinese or Nigerians who happen to be contracted to work here. It does not really spread to Canadians or Brits or Americans or Mexicans--they tend to be in a world that seems a bit more luxurious and from which many locals are excluded (voluntarily or not). But, I'm trying to figure out how people are drawing the lines. It's not a simple matter of black and white. It may be about perceptions of rich and poor. But what I am also seeing is that the loose lips-shoot from the him thinking of the call-ins is also evident in what some prominent people write. I have to think about why a prominent businessman, like Ralph "Bizzy" Williams, would think it's a good idea to limit voting to people born in Barbados as a means of preserving national 'culture' (see letter), and if he realises that this does not limit rights to those who could claim to be 'truly Bajan'. Reflect on Mr. Williams' views expressed in a letter to the press in late May (my highlighting):

As I see it, the biggest danger to Barbados in allowing foreigners into this island to work and possibly settle is the possibility of a foreign culture being able to determine how we are governed.

There has been non-stop debate about the new Barbados immigration policy announced by our Government in the press and on the call-in programmes, but I have not heard anyone articulate this possibility.

Barbados has traditionally been governed by the BLP or the DLP. The support for these two parties is pretty even and in most cases, seats in an election are won or lost by a small percentage of votes cast. If therefore we allow in and grant residency to foreigners whose culture is unlike our own, we could easily end up with a small percentage of our population that embraces a culture unlike ours determining the outcome of our national elections.

This to my mind is an extremely dangerous possibility because knowing this, our political parties would tend to be very accommodating to the interests of these new residents at the expense of the interests of the wider Barbadian-born population.

The solution to this potential problem is simple. We should only allow people who were born in Barbados to vote in our elections. This would ensure that the shift to the control of the island by a foreign culture would be much slower and everyone who is allowed to vote would at least have grown up in Barbados and had the opportunity to embrace our culture.

I hope this suggestion will be implemented and that its implementation will put to rest the fears of born and bred Bajans who are concerned over losing our homeland to foreigners.

I wonder on whom his eyes are really set. Does he mean the snow bird crowd that has descended from England or Canada, and flaunt such 'foreign culture' as enjoying the Holders season or ice hockey or cheering for Man U? Does he have in mind those who have come from the land of wood and water, who like such 'forrin culcha' as eating patties and drinking a cold Red Stripe? Does he mean those coming from a south American neighbouring country, who love such 'foreign culture' as cook-up rice and say "Jawgetung"? Does he mean those coming from a neighbouring oil baron state who are 'buying up di ilan', party all the time and want such 'foreign culture' as Calypso and steel pan and doubles and roti? So, let's take the votes away from the foreign born people. But let's think about what is happening to so-called local culture if you say to foreigner come and invest in the country; come and spend your vacations here and spend and behave as you would in your home country; sell goods into the country; provide foreign services to the country; come and regularly put on shows on the island, etc. Is local culture somehow safe because these people do not vote. Give me a break!

Those Bajans born here but now residing in England or Canada or the US would be eligible to vote, even if they have lived abroad for decades. The children of legal Caricom non-nationals immigrants born in Barbados would be able to vote. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, was born in Barbados, so would be eligible, but the present Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, who was born in England, would not. Go figure.

So, I have removed some of the cobwebs from my fingers and the much of the dust that was gathering on the keyboard has been swept away.