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, October 31, 2009

A New Citizenship: The 2009 Reith Lectures

I would be lying if I said that I did not think a lot about the moral issues of our everyday lives. Accuse me, if you will, of being intellectual, but my parents encouraged me to develop that muscle inside my skull. Society generally likes us to show that we have made good use of educational opportunities, so accuse me again for being a follower of what I would call 'right thinking'.

Economics has become my chosen field. Those who know me from a long time know that I did a lot to not become an economist, but each time, something propelled me toward that discipline. So much so that I ended up working in a few of its most prestigious halls. Now that I no longer work in such rarefied air, my brain is so shaped that I cannot but think in a certain way.

Economics is about choice. But economics in not value neutral, so 'acceptable' choices reflect our values. The debate about social choice is always going on. It is very difficult to have these discussions in a calm atmosphere if you are a political partisan; your political bias affects how you see choices. This is no big secret, but often gets forgotten when people look at policies and try to assess their outcomes. Even what some would like to claim as absolutes get caught up somehow once we have to make choices. Look at health care. One would imagine that everyone would agree that having 'good' health care is a good thing. But then we get into problems. What does 'good' mean? How do we get to 'good'? If we need to finance 'good' from taxes will everyone be happy to do that? If we need to finance good using private donations will everyone be happy? And so on.

I have not been able to express my own ideas on certain socio-economic and political economy problems as well as does Professor Michael Sandel, of the Harvard School of Government, in this year's Reith Lectures (see link). His series, 'A New Citizenship', has Professor Michael Sandel delivering four lectures about the prospects of a new politics of the common good.

His broad topic of a new citizenship, looks at how citizens (as individuals and corporations) should rethink how they interact with what we call government. It touches on some big issues including whether government and its expertise should be exercised without going through certain democratic processes. I wont try to summarise all the arguments but suggest you listen to the four lectures. To some it will sound like socialism in new garb, and given views on that stance he may not get a good hearing.

One set of topics that is close to my heart is in the lecture on 'A New Politics of the Common Good', which goes into one of the thorny issues about what governments should do, especially the role of 'correcting market failures'. It digs into cost-benefit analyses, an area of economics that can justify almost any decision if the desired numbers are plugged in and the desired assumptions are made. You can easily find that smoking in public is as equally 'good' as it is 'bad'.

Professor Sandel has an interesting set of arguments about markets mimicking governance, and takes to task those who go with assumptions that rely on taking social preferences as given.

Effective politics is really in the doing. What 'great' politicians do is corral the feelings or emotions of the people--that swings both ways of course and history shows us that this can produce 'evil' as well as 'good' outcomes. How does that corralling differ from mere populism? I think that is hard to discuss conclusively. Redefining purpose and actions, though often criticised, is part of the craft of politics or social leaders. Good 'politicians' change the meaning of events as they unfold.

But a lot of politicians also lose the moments that arise to make an event give clear direction. At any level that is clearest when the same issues get turned around and around without effective action being taken (take misdemeanours by public sector vehicles and general conduct on the roads in Barbados). In Jamaica, eyes look at what politicians say and do about violent crimes and about economic management. People see through the spinning as clear indications that the politicians do not really care. Why? Well, that involves other issues. Outside of this little region, many people are looking at the Obama administration's handling of the financial crisis, health care, and the US military engagements as issues that have many events that can give clear direction of what President Obama's idea of 'change' really means. In Barbados, immigration will also be 'defining'. In Jamaica, an effective reduction in murders or some major shift in government spending would be the first signs many would expect to see as indicating that something serious is being done about the 'problems'.

We can all have fun watching. We can also have our hopes raised or dashed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Farewell Governor Williams

Barbados' central bank governor is moving on to new pastures, to a place where bells are often ringing. Governor Dr. Marion Williams will soon become the country's Ambassador in Geneva, Switzerland. She got a fitting farewell from the audience gathered to dine with her at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on October 28. She had been at the bank for 36 years, and as the bank is 37 years old, she was as much the bank as anyone could be.

Governors are often known for what they do not say, as much if not more than what they actually say. Over many decades, The Bank of England's Governor's eyebrows gave the signal for interest rates to rise or fall: bankers knew what to look for, and were not just focusing on what they heard. We heard from one of the current deputy Governors, Harold Coddrington, that Governor Williams' main non-verbal signal was her right index finger. She was Barbados' first woman Governor at the central bank and if some find that finger-wagging image of her to be motherly, it should also be clear that mother often knew best. But Dr. Williams often did things with the broadest of broad smiles, and spoke in the softest of tones, so was often listened to very carefully and her wisdom taken graciously.

We know that Governor Williams was a well qualified Governor: an economist by training, who then qualified as an accountant and banker because her responsibilities required that she have those skills. It meant that when she did speak to the financial sector or about the economy she did so with a certain level of expertise that was hard to fault.

PM David Thompson gave the final tribute to the Governor, and amongst the many nice compliments that he offered, he noted that the Governor had always been "fair and balanced" in her views. He also noted that her voice was often one of calm and was thus fittingly calming: he alluded to the stressful atmosphere that emerged as the problems of CL Financial came to light several months ago and how the Governor calmed many with her putting the 'crisis' into a better perspective that included a reminder that similar problems had been faced before and overcome. However, he made the enigmatic remark that the Governor was "not a cigar-smoking, back room boy". For that clarification I can breathe a deep sigh of relief.

The Governor took the last chance to make her position clear on relations with the IMF. While she applauded the technical assistance that the Fund offered, including more recently through its Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC, with which I am very familiar), as far as policy making was concerned, the Fund should be kept "at arm's length"; policy making should always be a national issue. She's absolutely right, of course, as as far as policy making goes, but I would always venture that some uncomfortable policy decisions need bolstering, both in terms of justification as well as application, that can readily be provided if the distance is less than arm's length. The dinner had been arranged so that each course was bridged by a tribute. Fortunately for me, by the time that the Governor was offering her views on the Fund, I had already swallowed my main course and was happily onto the dessert, so everything seemed sweet to me.

I don't think the Governor will send me a request to be her interpreter or economic advisor while in Geneva, but she may be nice enough to make me welcome over a bowl of cheese fondue. She wont need to keep me at arm's length. I hope she and her husband, Clyde, enjoy their time in Switzerland.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Make More Of Your Life

When a friend sent me a message "I'm happy to announce that I've been published in More Magazine's on-line website. I'm very excited as this represents another achievement for me." I felt more than a little pleased. Lisa lists herself as an expert in "Nothing in particular but willing to discuss any topic." I can vouch for her ability to discuss.

In her piece, reproduced below, she wrote:
"My life has been renewed in my forties because I did not hide from my passion to pursue physical and mental achievements. Improving the world means creating a safer and more prosperous environment for struggling populations and future generations." They say that life begins at 40, and when you reach that milestone, if your life has not started you certainly feel that it had better begin now, if the three score and ten years life expectation is going to play out. But, many adults need to find a new push at that point in their lives.

Her story may inspire you on many levels. For me, I focused on how an adult's life can be transformed by the arrival of children. This can be a blessing of many magnitudes. I don't use curse, because the difficulties that having children pose to adult life are challenges and adults should be able to adapt and profit. Within that view lies many a discussion, I know.

Read and enjoy Lisa's story of personal transformation, which is beginning and nowhere near its end.

Discovering My Passion To Transform

Forty years after I was born, I found myself giving birth to my third child in five years. “Now what,” I asked in September 2006 while surveying my world with many children to raise and goals to complete. The answer came a year later… in a supermarket. While standing at the register, I read a magnet quote that said, “Be the change you seek in the world”.

Reflecting on those words enabled me to see that I had to follow my desire to be a socially responsible global citizen who wanted to create economic opportunities in the developing nations of Africa. Lofty goals for a woman with a cart full of youngsters standing in a checkout line, but then I transformed from that point. I became passionate about fulfilling personal goals. My mantra was to focus on obtaining a fit body and educated mind.

As a lifelong athlete, I have always valued my physical fitness. The last of my three pregnancies had me tipping the scale at 170 pounds, so I knew it was time to get into shape. My mental resolution quickly turned into action as I started exercising and losing weight. In April 2008, I joined a gym and began running, cycling and swimming while mastering racquetball and rock climbing. And that was not enough because I soon reinvigorated my love for yoga, pilates and aerobics. By January 2009, my momentum enabled me to run in my first 5K race. I knew that after shedding over forty pounds, this would not be the last finish line I would cross. Becoming fit was essential to preparing me to meet my next challenge.

Although this is not the choice of many forty plus mothers with young children, I applied to business school and was accepted. This fall, I will become a full time MBA student. I now have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m no longer putting off graduate school. I will never say, “I should have done it!” The first steps are finished and I’m on my way to the next chapter in my life.

My life has been renewed in my forties because I did not hide from my passion to pursue physical and mental achievements. Improving the world means creating a safer and more prosperous environment for struggling populations and future generations. I want the impact of my life’s work to benefit my children and other families, not just me directly. Unlike many women in developing countries, I have the pleasure of watching my offspring grow up. They keep me company and motivated even though many ask how I continue to reach goals with such a young family. My response, “I’m changing because I’m passionate about change.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mia And My Shadow? Two Bees Buzzing Round A Honey Pot.

I imagine there are some people in Barbados who do not have a thought about what has been going on in the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and its attempts to clear up who is or should be its leader. But we have had some exciting days in Barbadian national politics.

We had the spectacle over the past few days of the BLP Parliamentary party members being asked to swear their allegiance to the current leader, Miss Mia Mottley. She got the necessary votes and was 'crowned' the Queen Bee-at least in their eyes. Miss Mottley came away with what she could: she had the clear support of her Parliamentarians. But she did not have what she needed, which was a clear mandate to lead the BLP. That really can only come if she goes to the base for them to somehow affirm her as their accepted one.

We had the figure of of the previous party leader and former PM, Owen Arthur buzzing in the background and foreground, sitting on some pretty flowers and acting as if he just happened to be smelling them not looking for any nectar. But he did not attend the allegiance swearing and of course sent tongues wagging with that.

We knew that Mr. Owen seems to be the people's choice judging by a recent CADRES poll. One of the papers points to how that poll's findings added to the leadership strains (see Nation report). To an outsider, Mr. Owen could have squashed what the polls implied by stepping forward and saying in whatever way he wanted, "Thanks for standing up for me, but the party needs to move on without me at the helm." By not doing that he of course left open the possibility that he would take the helm again.

The strategy of making it seem that one is only being propelled by popular will is of course easy and it is attractive. In that sense, I think the governing Democratic Labour Party's tactics warrant a little scrutiny. I have written before about the 'olive branch' offered by PM Thompson to Mr. Arthur to be part of a series of breakfast meetings - along with former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Sandiford and former Minister of Finance Sir Richard Haynes - to discuss the economic crisis. Mr. Arthur had declined Mr. Thompson's invitation last May, as he should have. It was an offer that was also a poisoned chalice because it immediately undermined the position of a key active politician who should have views on how to solve the economic problems--that is the current leader of the Opposition and shadow Finance Minister, Miss Mottley. I personally see that as a nice wedge driven into the Opposition that looked like a play for national solidarity because it said "I know who is the real leader on these issues". Even as a matter of courtesy, Miss Mottley should have been invited to breakfast with the guys.

But of course, pot stirring is only now starting. Mr. Arthur went public to explain himself and held a press conference yesterday (see Advocate report). Of course, it offered sparks and tinder to make a fire. Mr. Arthur said:

"...he had been forced to comment on why he was absent from a meeting of the BLP Parliamentary group on Monday evening, where eight of the BLP members of Parliament present reaffirmed their support for Mottley." He said he did not attend the meeting because the issue of BLP leadership should not have been brought into the public domain in the manner in which it was done. Too right! But he should have yelled that for the world to hear BEFORE the weekend's events.

He touched on his popularity: “It is natural that after somebody has been a leader of a party, and the leader of the country for 14 years, you’d still come to enjoy more than a modicum of support in sections of the society and sections of the party.” No argument, but I have said how he could have taken the accolade and put it to one side.

Then of course, he added fuel to speculation on the leadership issues:I cannot say that there is not a challenge of leadership in the BLP, that the party doesn’t face an issue in respect of the challenge of leadership, but the challenge is not about a struggle between Ms. Mottley and myself for that leadership. The challenge is, I think as represented in the Wickham poll, that Ms. Mottley ... faces a problem of being accepted by the society at large and faces a problem of being accepted by a cross-section of the BLP....But there is a part of it that she has to deal with, [it] has to do with what she symbolises in the minds of the people of Barbados and how she comes to get the people of Barbados to accept her as their leader. I cannot do anything about that." Well that as much as damned the current leader. How about helping to build the acceptability of the current leader in the eyes of the nation? A seasoned politician cannot find a way to mould a new leader of his party, especially when he had nominated that person as his deputy? How so? Whatever the 'unacceptable' elements are, should we believe that they are new and unknown? Or were they known and left unaddressed? And if so, why? Surely they would not be vote winners then and so could not be vote winners now. Sounds like hanging up a pinata.

The comment "I accept that Ms. Mia Mottley is political leader of the BLP, I also accept that she has to be allowed to be the leader that she wants to be," just sounds hollow after the preceding commentaries.

According to the Advocate report, in terms of his relationship with the Opposition Leader, Mr. Arthur admitted that it has been "difficult", especially since the publishing of the CADRES poll and that they had not been speaking regularly and this had led to tension. Well, there you have it. All of the waters have not had much smoothing over, and that tells many a negative story.

There is plenty to suggest that gender is part of the issue. Are Bajans ready to be led by a woman? There are reasons to believe that class or social standing is another issue. But, you cannot choose your family and how you develop is what you are. Miss Mottley is clearly a popular politician amongst some key elements of the society, so why not amongst others?

One thing is clear. The BLP leadership issue is nowhere near settled. The MPs might have indicated their preference but it is so out of line with what public opinion appears to be (poll) that one has to ask what credibility do the MPs have if they are not going to go back to their bases and take soundings to check and confirm that they are with the people.

A friend of mine summarised what has happened in a way that I think is spot on:

"Mia thought that by pre-empting and forcing an early vote she would cut Mr. Arthur off at the knees. But in fact she gave him the perfect platform to relaunch his leadership campaign, undermine her credibility and leadership qualities and defend the integrity of his party all at the same time. Master stroke."

I think what is also clear is that Miss Mottley is being asked to play with 'the big boys' and she should be ready for more rough and tumble.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Get All Worked Up When You Can Wuk Up?

How people approach work is always a fascinating subject. Those of us who live and work in the Caribbean but have also lived and worked abroad are often quick to point to certain regional differences that make the Caribbean worker and the workplace different from many others. Francis Wade hails from Jamaica, via the USA and back to Jamaica. His wife, Dale Pilgrim-Wade, is from Trinidad, via the USA, via Jamaica. They are a couple of recent acquaintances, who make their business out of helping businesses. Dale has focused recently on helping people settle and resettle in Jamaica. Francis has been studying and trying to advise companies on how to deal with the Caribbean worker and the workplace behaviour seen in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.

In a recent article in Jamaica's Observer entitled J'cans rebel. Trnis crack jokes, Francis discussed the complexities of the Jamaican workplace. He thinks this "is not very far from the days of the plantation...you realise that even when Jamaicans quickly learn new behaviours abroad, things don't necessarily change at home...plantation syndrome translates into workers giving very little and even practising sabotage". Anancy lives on, I would say. He says there is still the pressure of feeling workers have that they are under the hand of the overseer, hence they view their tasks as "their work, not mine". Remember what PM Thompson was urging on Bajan workers last week about workers needing to identify more with those who own companies, and needing to see the link between their individual work and the enterprise's success?

Francis makes an interesting distinction though: "I have found that under pressure, Jamaicans become rebellious, Barbadians become restrained and Trinidadians resort to humour." During the recession, however, I do not think this distinction has played out.

I can attest to seeing "employees refuse to be responsible, wanting the boss to be fully and solely in charge, while the boss is expecting an unhealthy loyalty, a kind of subservience." I recall a recent incident at the airport when I asked a worker if she could act independently. She replied, "Yes. I do as I'm told."

He says that in Trinidad, they make fun of their leaders and the boss drives a modest car. "In Jamaica, even as we are criticising the boss, we may withhold our respect if he or she is not living large, complete with fancy car." Another Jamaican friend of mine has seen this difference too in Barbados, where Jamaicans are regarded as 'show offs' because they have fine and nice things prominently on display, feeling that a more modest approach is fitting.

Francis also said, "We like to keep our leaders on a pedestal...And our politicians have exploited this over the years. They give themselves biblical names and offer manna-like promises. But this adulation is not useful because it doesn't build a healthy community." I would add that in Barbados, I have seen amazing deference for those who happen to hold the mantle of authority, to the extent that I would almost say that 'slavish obedience' prevails.

But, as I have noticed and noted, we live a life full of contradictions. Francis has seen people even doing good work and not taking the credit, as they fear it may lead to greater responsibility. That's a part of the syndrome we often see in schools when clever pupils play as if they are less able because they get better acceptance. It's a very socialist way of living.

Francis also warns against the labels we put on our businesses: "Workplaces are not families" He notes that this time of recession presents the best opportunity to call people to "a different way of being". The savvy leader can change his organisation "from kingdom to team". Now, wasn't PM Thompson who has been touting the notion of "Team Barbados"? Does that make him a savvy leader? Shame on those who would anoint him 'King David'.

Anyway, Francis has lots of advice and he seems to like giving it for free. His e-zine, FirstCuts, can be found at http://blog.fwconsulting.com/firstcuts. Now, I know that nothing is free, so we will pay for his advice somehow, hopefully in a way that will make us into better workers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas

The essence of praedial larceny is simple: it is stealing someone else's agricultural produce or livestock. You know it when you see it. So, when I read this morning that the Barbados Agricultural Society is hoping to use electronic means to deter praedial thievery (see Sunday Sun report), I wondered if they were considering the plight of people like me. I am no farmer, but a mere urban dweller. I am someone who loves the land and I have grown fruit and vegetables in some of the world's best known cities. I also have a father who has grown produce and raised livestock, mainly for his own sustenance, in rural and urban settings alike in Jamaica and England and now again in that crime infested island of Jamaica. Where we differ is that no one has ever stolen his crops. Now I have to live the scar of that crime on my life.

I had two banana trees planted in my little piece of land in St. Michael, and I had shown my little daughter how they were growing well, and faster than her. I had travelled recently and wondered why I had not seen any bananas on the trees as yet. Then it dawned on me. The trees are adjacent to a wall and there is a large garden on the other side. That garden is safeguarded by extensive barbed wire, presumably to keep out thieves. It is also the home of a senior legal person. Imagine my despair, therefore, to find a stump hanging over the wall from my banana tree when I examined it a few days ago; a freshly cut stump at that, dangling into my neighbour's garden.

Now, true, for the legal eagles this is all circumstantial and then there is the issue of what to do about a neighbour's plants or livestock that stray beyond their boundaries. All of that is nice to discuss, but simple things need simple minds. The bananas belonged to me and my family. Slice the matter anyway you like: we tended and cared for them to bring us satisfaction in some way. We did not raise them for our neighbour's benefit. What of the harm the hanging fruit was causing? Give me a break! If my legal neighbour has a case to deal with that concerns praedial larceny I hope that he had not recently dined on my bananas for that to stick in his craw.

We live in a neighbourhood with lots of monkeys and parrots and other birds, all of which like bananas and guavas and mangoes to differing degrees. I have seen monkeys in the house trying to get food. I have seen birds pecking at the mangoes and guavas. But I have never seen any of these wild things wielding a cutlass. My mind boggled when a legal friend or two suggested that the monkeys might have been to blame. I shuddered as I could not easily imagine being mugged at gunpoint by a monkey. Mind you, better that than the image of a swooping flock of parrots wielding cutlasses.

Now, the sanguine part of me says that if someone needed those bananas more than me, for food or income, then so be it. But I still have my disappointment to handle, and my daughter's. I will manage her disappointment and I will give her the life lessons. The message I will give her will be clear: stealing is wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Have a blessed day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Region And The Recession: Some Views From The IMF

It is opportune that Barbados' PM gave a warning a few days ago about how the country may fare at the end of the recession. The IMF, whose business it is to try to make economic assessments, has just published some interesting reports on how the recession has affected the Caribbean (and Latin America) region.

First, they have just published their periodic Regional Economic Outlook, which basically says that we have escaped the worst, but major challenges lay ahead. Of particular interest is the IMF assessment of why the region has done better during this downturn. Basically, it reports that resilience was better, vulnerabilities were less and policy frameworks were stronger. That's another way of saying that the region learned well from its past encounters with economic problems. But that view is the general one and does not mean that each country was well placed before the downturn or will move out of the downturn well.

The region has particular problems due to the heavy reliance on tourism from developed countries. Today's data release from the UK that its GDP declined by 0.4% in the third quarter rather than an expected increase, and fell by 5.9% on an annual basis, highlights how deep the problems have been for one of Barbados' major markets for tourism. This is the longest downturn for the UK since the Second World War and is on a par with the recession of 1979-81 (see Financial Times report).

The second report, on the IMF's own blog, looks at how rising commodity prices are affecting the region. It notes:

What does the recovery of commodity prices mean for economies of the region? Clearly it’s not welcome from the point of view of countries that are net importers of commodities, including, for example, most countries of Central America and the Caribbean. Many of these economies are already at a disadvantage these days, given their reliance on income from remittances or foreign tourism—both flows are sensitive to employment conditions in the United States and other advanced economies, which are expected to recover only slowly. "On the other hand, for net exporters of commodities—including the largest economies of the LAC region—the recovery of these prices is a piece of good luck. Still, these countries need to bear in mind that commodity prices are rarely stable and that their future path is always uncertain.

The implication is that fiscal policy should respond cautiously when commodity prices trigger big gains in government revenue, saving rather than spending revenue gains that are seen as temporary. The eventual reward to such fiscal caution comes when times turn bad, and prudent governments find that they are able to implement counter cyclical fiscal policies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hello! Are You Listening To That Sucking Sound?

We know how much people get excited by buzz words and phrases, hearing them and using them. Nothing like throwing out a little metaphor. It often may not apply but it's good for a sound bite (as you see). So, today I was struck when I read that the PM was telling workers that "it is imperative that we think outside the box". His basic message is that workers have to give a good day's work for a day's pay, while not forgetting that people are often the best resource of any business.

To me, it's taken a long time for the message to be sent to the Bajan population that the world has changed dramatically, especially in terms of what life will be like after this recession. Favours have not been given for a long while. But one of the issues that is always a conundrum is how in a world of rising unemployment and rising job losses people can act in their work as if they will keep their job even if they are really doing nothing to justify the pay and time they are given. So, when I read the papers today I had to scratch my head and ask if the PM has just had it.

In economics circles, people have been talking about 'a jobless recovery' for some time. Today, when weekly initial jobless and continuing claims data for the US were released, the expectations were for an increase in the former and a reduction in the latter. So it was: the Labor Department reported that initial applications for jobless benefits rose to 531,000 last week, topping the average analyst estimate by 16,000. That's a new 1/2 million people out of work (double Barbados' population)! Continuing unemployment claims declined by 98,000 to 5.92m in the week ending October 2 (See Financial Times). That's about the number of people in the English-speaking Caribbean without a job! Many Americans have seen their jobless benefits expire and are waiting for government legislation that could extend payments.

But do workers in Barbados realise what all of that means for them as some clearly lolly gag along?

The PM has touched the point I have made before, which is that "We who live in developing countries may very soon read and hear of a world economic recovery, while large numbers of our workers remain idle." I have gone further by saying that the recovery may go ahead and local economic activity is not really getting back on that train. I'm glad for for the reality check from on high. But who is listening and prepared to make the changes?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On The Road To Somewhere?

Today's Advocate leader points to the way that highway management issues are now to be addressed. The text is below (my highlighting). I'm not sure that I would agree that they should take so much of the credit but let that pass for today. What is more important is that a series of not well thought out aspects to road use are apparently going to be addressed. I have touched on some of the aspects of highway design (such as pedestrian crossings along stretches of supposedly fast, free-flowing roads; see Why did the chicken cross the road). Many of us have also contributed in other online forums with ideas to deal with the ways that driving is done on the ABC Highway. Anyway, the point is that something may get done. I am not sure that a booklet on how to drive will help. Remedial training will be needed for many drivers, for whom highway driving is really a new concept. But, let's be good and give the Minister a chance to get things right.

Positive signs


Time to follow through

Although much is said about the “power of the press” and much credence is given to the impact of call-in programmes and other media of public discourse, at times it can seem as though comments and suggestions made by the general public and other commentators go unnoticed by the powers that be. Therefore, it is to some extent heartening when we see moves being made to implement some of the suggestions made by persons outside of the halls of Parliament.

This was the case recently with the announcement in the House of Assembly that the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW) will be publishing a guide on how to use the ABC highway correctly. Minister John Boyce apologised for the lack of public relations programme thus far, noting that this was an “absolute priority”. He concurred with our view that if the matter is not dealt with post haste, road users will develop their own individual road practices, which would be hard to reverse.

Having commented on the “roundabout nightmare” that now pertains at regular intervals along the ABC highway, we are pleased to hear that this matter will be accorded the necessary attention and hope to hear more concrete news of the publication’s release.

In highlighting the difficulties encountered with manoeuvring the new highway, we also made mention of the importance of clear, understandable road markings. Therefore, we were pleased to learn that the Minister revealed at a recent DLP branch meeting that “When we [government] consider estimates this year – which we will be doing shortly – it is my intention to have road markings for the entire Barbados on the front burner to be completed by depots.”

However, while not wanting to seem greedy, as the saying goes: “one must make hay while the sun shines”. Thus, since it appears that road usage is again high on the agenda, we take the opportunity to call once again for better signage along this country’s roads.

Apart from the large signs along major arteries indicating popular destinations such as Holetown, Bridgetown, Farley Hill or the Airport, there is no real attempt to give drivers clear directions. Many road signs are damaged, illegible, or simply confusing, since they do not point in the correct direction and, inexplicably, they are almost always positioned at the entrance of the precise turn off, so that unless one is extremely vigilant, it is missed altogether.

Compounding this situation is the rapidly changing face of our landscape, with the large number of new buildings and developments constructed in the last few years, as well as renamings of buildings and districts. The idea of navigating one’s way around using local maps is unheard of, given the poor quality of those currently available. Indeed, it would take an intimate knowledge of the country to find them useful for giving more than just a general idea. Too often, they are not drawn to scale and roads and other landmarks are not accurately represented.

We therefore think it is past time for the MTW to also look into upgrading the roads signs in this country. While there are still many other transport matters that need their attention, such as traffic congestion, the ATV conundrum et al, we believe that if cosmetic features such as road markings and road usage guide are being considered as a top priority, another that should be added to the list is better road signage.

We hope to soon see the signs that this and the promised measures are going in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Intervenor Funding: Helping The People Participate

On the matter of how the people are implicated in major decisions, I found the following article by consumer analyst, H. Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt) a very well argued position, which also sits well with my earlier post. The article can be found on the GoWeb site (see http://www.gowebnow.net/epress/2009/10/intervenor-funding-by-h-malcolm-gibbs-taitt/).

INTERVENOR FUNDING – (H. Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt)

IT IS ESTABLISED, in this country of ours, that if someone is accused of committing murder, the courts allow the accused murderer to be legally represented, in much the same way that representatives of the dead person are permitted to pursue justice by bringing evidence to show how the innocent may have suffered at the hands of the accused.

With an application for a Rates Review, as is the case with the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P), in 1983 when Objectors were allowed to be awarded costs, and, currently, where there is a state of flux as was with Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Limited in 2003, these are not by any stretch of the imagination to be equated to murder.

This writer is reminded when a former Prime Minister of this country took him aside and suggested there is no need to come across to the public in an aggressive manner in order to make a point. The admonishment was given, as an example, that to kill someone it may be possible to use a feather and a smile rather than a cutlass. To this day, I have remembered this lesson. For what it teaches, there are other ways to achieve a given result.

With a rate hearing, the intent of the Applicant is to have increased rates imposed on its rate payers who are their consumers. Therefore, without consumers, there would be no Utility. May I suggest, neither would there be any need for a Fear, Unfair or Fair Trading Commission (FTC). To go further, one has to question why Governments have not seen the obvious need to include the most powerful and important people in society – consumers – into the Social Partnership. All of us are consumers, unless by the mere dent of our financial position or ignorance we opt out of the loop.

By now we would know that as part of the process the Law allows for interested parties, called Intervenors, to represent fellow consumers in society. Unfortunately, the consumers of Barbados do not yet understand or appreciate the power they wield and will put up with whatever others in society throw at them, without creating much fuss, other than ‘the lotta long talk’ at the village bars and elsewhere.

The case for Intervenor Funding, as is conducted throughout the developed world by people who care about their communities, is nothing new. It is not some venture to discriminate against those who were called Lay Litigants, as if a perverted breed, but rather for people more accurately described as Public Interest Litigants to be a part of Participatory Funding.

At an Issues Conference, just concluded Thursday, 3 September, it was suggested that we put our case for funding to the Government. This shows a level of ignorance that people charged with commissioning a Regulatory Authority should not be credited.

I have to submit, that just as the Applicant will write the cheques to the FTC, as mandated by Law, its own army of Lawyers, Consultants and others attached to it, that those representing consumers must have similar treatment. They must not be told to be good volunteers. Let them alone decide for what they will volunteer. In fact, regardless of who writes the cheques, the consumers are the eventual payers of everything. To not understand this simple reality is to deny a people their rights in a democratic society.

There are two (2) fundamental and overriding recommendations for this type of funding:

  1. To establish the right to participate in the decision-making process
  2. To ensure adequate resources to make public participation in decision making meaningful.

Establishing the right to participate in the decision-making process

The legislation governing the FTC already permits for Intervenors to be a part of the process. Further, the Constitution of Barbados also provides for this right of assembly and participation.

Even the right to participate is not fully established by the FTC. Calls, on the eve of a Confidentiality Hearing, to the President of the Barbados Consumers Research Organisation, Inc. (BARCRO), Mr. Carl L. Ince – a former Ombudsman of Barbados – and me, as Representatives, were hastily made from the FTC to inform that as Intervenors to this Hearing, we were not welcomed at the Hearing conducted earlier on the morning of 3 September. We became members of the Public.

We have not grown up yet. Apart from the discretion of the FTC, nowhere in the Legislation or the Utilities Regulation (Procedural) Rules, 2003 does it stipulate that those who are party to the process are to be excluded from the very process. To think that those making these decisions are not those horrible Colonialists but people who look like us, is indefensible. One is reminded of the proverbial crab-like behaviour that will climb on the backs of others and once out of the barrel, carry on their merry way without even a glance at those on whose backs they trod.

Ensuring adequate resources to make public participation meaningful.

Let me quote from the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund, commissioned by their Ministry of the Environment (MoE) to conduct a study of the effectiveness of intervenor funding in Ontario. The study concluded:

  • “Intervenor funding is an important part of the environmental decision making process in Ontario, and although it can be taken for granted, it is essential in providing environmental justice. Funding intervenors should not only be made a permanent regulation, it should be strengthened as recommended in this study and the province should make a continuing commitment to the funding of participants so that private or environmental interest group resources are not constantly threatened by new projects or policy changes.”

The study also states, “Funding is not an endpoint – it simply provides a means for the public being at the table. Progress forward requires the inclusion of participant funding rather than just intervenor funding.”

Reference to the above quotations is apt, since the very Fair Trading Commission Act, CAP.326B, owes as part of its Genesis, sections borrowed from the Act in Ontario, Canada. Section 46 of the Act, gives the FTC the discretion to award costs to parties. Except that the word “costs” is problematic and the High Court has already ruled on this matter. So, as Intervenors, we have to rely on Out-of-Pocket Expenses based on Cost Assessment Guidelines until this is corrected by our Parliament.

In a Notice of Motion to the FTC, the Representatives for BARCRO cited two (2) distinct issues for agreement: that Intervenors be awarded as per the High Court OPINION and “that WITNESSES, as may be summoned by Intervenors, be recompensed as per a schedule, in accordance with standard accounting procedures that shall be determined, at an ISSUES CONFERENCE of the Fair Trading Commission.”

Instead, the FTC never addressed the schedule but suggested that witnesses be “public spirited”. This is ridiculous and a travesty of justice. Since no one is suggesting that the Lawyers, Consultants and those attached to the BL&P and putting the case for the Applicant and, hence, against the consumers who will be the eventual payers, be public spirited, it is a gross insult to our justice system to deny WITNESSES, putting the case on behalf of consumers, equality of opportunity. This is not equity.

After all, during the 23 years from 1983 to 2005, BL&P’s Audited net income, prepared in accordance with the Historical Cost Convention as modified by the revaluation of property, plant and equipment, racked up profits of $220.948 million. For the 3 years from 2006 to 2008. Audited net incomes, without modifications, were $95.090 million or $31.697 million per year. It is to be noted that during those 26 years the Grand Total of, at least, $316.038 million have accumulated and, for not one year did BL&P make a loss.

Moreover, there is a cost for justice but to show that the results are fair and reasonable; injustice, too, carries a cost, except that added to that burden are unfairness and unreasonableness being the attendant baggage that the consumers eventually must carry.

H. Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt

Consumer Analyst


Talk The Talk? But Can You Walk The Walk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Facing The Nation: Why The Reluctance To Talk To The People?

On Sundays, I like to get a sense of what has been happening in the country. I admit to being spoilt by the American diet of Sunday commentaries on TV--Meet the Press (NBC) being my favourite, but also, State of the Union (on CNN Live), and occasionally This week with George Stephanopolous (ABC). It's been a while since I lived in the UK so I cannot relate so readily to the offerings there. When I am in Jamaica, there is a daily and weekend diet of analysis programs on radio and TV. I even found it on radio on a short visit to Dominica. So, I know that what I do not get in Barbados is not a matter of a different regional perspective but more about how a country sees news and information and discussion. If not on the sound or visual media, then give me some deep assessments in the press. I used to spend my mornings reading commentaries in The Sunday Times, then The Washington Post and New York Times. I would listen to the BBC's range of programs. I get to know more about what is going on in the minds of politicians anywhere else in the world than I do here. What do I get in Barbados? Sweet F.A.!

My views may be best expressed in a range of questions.

Why cannot the PM or a Cabinet Minister come to the people every week and give an account on one or several issues? Why do we have to see or hear some staged event with a few journalists and with or without a studio audience?

Why cannot talking to the people be a constant? I listened today to President Obama's top advisers and Cabinet members on a range of programs talking about a range of key policy issues (Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, in particular). They are trusted to be able to speak for the administration and for the president, and just to speak well and coherently. Is it that the PM has to be the spokes person?

Are politicians afraid of these regular contacts because it means you have to stick with a story line? It may mean also that they have to get close for reasons that have nothing to do with electoral cycles. Show me the social and lighter side of a Cabinet Minister. Show me what a day is like in the life of one of the political leaders. Help me understand what are the issues and pressures and pleasure and pain, and gains and losses. Let their wives and husbands tell us something too. Get off the hill and come down to the valley.

So many policy initiatives that I have tried to follow in Barbados over the past two to three years have been a mix of utter confusion and missteps. They have had their biggest moments at a 'press conference', but what strange events they were. Looking back recently. In Georgetown: the PM goes abroad and gave advance warning--to talk about the major domestic issue of immigration! Is that not showing a degree of disrespect for your constituents? Your leader wants to invite the region's journalists to hear these important words and leave your citizens to track it on radio and TV? No. That statement and press conference should have been held on Bajan soil. PR score: high negative. Beyond the stylised debates that go on in Parliament, when do we get politicians to lock horns? They do it in an asynchronized manner: A speaks...B rebuts hours or days later. Stand up to each other in the public gaze and give us your best. Maybe by the time of the next elections we may see head-to-head debates. I'm not holding my breath.

There should not be a want for PR and how to deal with issues. This is an industry that is so well developed that we may well have to hold back to not get swamped by the major machinery that can be rolled out.

Barbados is supposed to be highly literate. (I go to this again as much because I attended an event for the Barbados Statistical Service and heard a renowned local professor say that to his knowledge no literacy survey had ever been conducted in the past 50 years.) Assuming this high level of intelligence and mental competence, the people should be clamouring for explanations. Maybe they are and politicians are just down right hard headed and refuse to give them what they want.

But the problems do not stop at the door of politicians. Captains of industry should be in the same boat. I see executives from top companies being grilled week in, week out, day in, day out. Why not here? I do not know COW or Bizzy but I would like to see and hear them tell me more than about polo or a housing development. I would like to hear their views on things economic, financial, social, and political. If they so wish, they can get personal. I would be more convinced that enterprises had an interest in the country's welfare rather than their narrow bottom lines if I heard more about what problems they faced and how they are dealing with them, other than seeking an ease in this or that levy or telling people how another cost is to be passed on. Explain why cost reductions never seem to lead to price falls. Tell us what the exchange rate is doing to your business and why you're happy or sad about that.

Of course, Barbados is a small place and comments may touch people and political and business interests in a way that is more obvious than in a large country. But so what? If there really are no secrets then why do we act as if life is nothing but one set of secrets?

I am trying to live a life free from contradictions, so I press points like this. I do not have a vote but have a keen interest in politics. I do not give advice to any party or politician or institution but am keenly aware of the economic developments that appear to be happening. I fear that this fear of commentary is a sort of disease. I have no name for it.

Francis Bacon is credited with the words 'knowledge is power'. Some debate exists over what that really means. The phrase may imply that with knowledge or a good education one's potential or abilities in life will increase. But, having and sharing knowledge is recognised as the basis for improving one's reputation and influence, thus power. The phrase also identifies a reluctance to share information when a person believes that withholding it can deliver to that person some form of advantage. Bacon could also have been paraphrasing Proverbs 24:5: "A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength."

I think that many local politicians are afflicted by a mixture of these meanings, including a sense that being better educated than average means that they are the ones best placed to understand the information that exists, so why bother to share it. Businessmen, with their more varied backgrounds, including through heritage, are less pompous on that count. But, leaders here are not demonstrating one inch of leadership ability. Leading is more than standing in front. It means standing for something and it means standing up to account for yourself.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lashings Of Good Things-REDUX

Further to my commentary yesterday in Lashings Of Good Things, the follow on from yesterday's pictures have been interesting in the press and on other blogs. In the press, David 'Joey' Harper has a very good take (see Advocate), also reprinted below:

As A Matter of Fact: It was licks like peas


By David 'Joey' Harper

Over the past years, many social issues have surfaced: we have spent significant time on matters of domestic violence; drugs; sexual exploitation; irresponsible parenting; declining interest in education; flogging in schools just to name a few, and within current times, abandonment of children – from foetuses to minors.

And the most recent development to attract the attention of the nation and create intellectual discussion, sometimes way above the people it should be seeking to gain their attention, is bullying.

A recent article on the front page of another section of the press read “Licks for latecomers”. The accompanying picture attracted my attention and for all the wrong reasons. When I saw this photo, my immediate reaction before reading the details was what is happening to this school- boy? This was accompanied by the second thought after reading the first line in the article “licks like peas”. Immediately, it made my mind drift back to the headlines that used to accompany articles coming from another territory where a gang was referred to as the “licks like peas gang”. Looking at the picture and the deportment of the ‘licker’ and taking into consideration the fact that this was a public beating of a child arriving late for school, inspired my final thought which was simply “What the heck is going on here?”

I have the greatest respect for the press, but this headline and the accompanying picture did no good to the child, the teacher or the teaching profession. Public floggings in the civilised world went out a long time ago except for in a few countries where it is still seen as a religious requirement for criminal acts. Even in the past, where here in Barbados flogging was an accepted form of punishment, it was on very rare occasions that children were flogged in public and never before the lenses of photo journalists.

Let me make it clear, I am not in favour of the total abolition of corporal punishment. However, what I subscribe to is sensible administration of any kind of punishment.

Natural physics makes it clear that every action leads to an equal and opposite reaction; a child beaten in public may grow up to be an adult who believes that public beatings will gain the reaction he needs. It does not take a genius to understand the social ramifications that can occur. Coming to school late is not a criminal offence, it is a disciplinary matter that needs to be addressed, and there is no question about that. But we adults have glamorised lateness, we have associated it with the designated explanation, “Man you mean Buhbadus time …?” and laugh off arriving half-an-hour late for an appointment without either an apology or explanation.

E L C Cozier once wrote an article entitled “Punctuality: The Politeness of Kings”. It should be resurrected and made compulsory reading for the aficionados for lateness.

I wonder if Matthew Farley has seen this most recent issue that has the capacity of growing into a national debate and again attracting significant attention from the enthusiasts of controversy who will bring bullying to a whole new level. I also wonder how Mr. Farley will respond when one of his students brings to him a picture from the newspaper to use as evidence when the matters of dress codes are raised, the question as to whether double standards exist as far as teacher and children are concerned? Or even if being a Rastafarian doctor allows for special dress privileges?

I am truly concerned about the direction our social values are heading. I am also concerned that in attempts to make change, we are trying to turn around over 30 years of negligence in dealing with issues that have not just emerged, hoping to change them in one year. Contrary to common feelings, change does not happen overnight, we do not wake up one morning and find ourselves fat, neither do we wake up and suddenly find ourselves void of moral, social or economic values. The change took time, ignoring little things have now led us to have to deal with major issues.

Dramatic solutions do not work. The children that we may be trying to change may have already been indoctrinated by the environment in which they were raised and coming to the press to send the message must be done in a controlled manner, always remembering that today’s children see no mystery in the printed word, but have become experts in reactionary environments taught by television, music and casual lying by those that are deemed the decision-makers.

As a matter of fact, surprising as many may think, children are looking for people who will not ask them to do as I say and not as I do, but to show them that right spelt wrong is still right, that living by the rules still has values, and that laying down the law as a family of people can bear results. Unless we truly recognise that children are begging to see their parents, teachers, priests, pastors, lawyers, doctors as positive persons to be emulated, they will continue to be late, lie, underdress and oversex, seeking out the environments where anything goes.

Doctor, principal, beating in the street is not a deterrent, but an added reason to believe that violence really works and that from belt to gun is a practical development. A word to the wise is enough, please do not make me speak too long.

The Barbados Family Planning Association came out with a clear condemnation (see Nation report), also reproduced below:

Family Planning head speaks out against beating students

Published on: 10/17/2009.

A VULGAR DISPLAY of barbarism!

That's how the flogging of students late for school was described by George Griffith, executive director of the Barbados Family Planning Association.

The flogging was done by a senior teacher at the St Leonard's Boys' Secondary School on Thursday.

Referring to yesterday's WEEKEND NATION photograph of one boy being punished at the school gate, Griffith said: "I believe we saw a violation of the child's fundamental rights and we saw an action which offends the child's sense of dignity and a real vulgar display of barbarism.

"I would advise any parent to seek legal advice because rights were broken and we need to start taking the rights of children seriously in this country."

Some students of the school arrived after 10 a.m. and were met at the gate by Dr Victor Agard who flogged them one by one for their late arrival.

Griffith expressed disappointment that St Leonard's Boys' was the only secondary school signed on to the United Nations Child Friendly School programme.

"I don't think the public humiliation can do the child any good and I have to ask the question what about the 'five star' schools in Barbados? I wonder if it would have happened at Harrison College, Lodge or St Gabriel's and I doubt very much," Griffith said.

He added: "It is a school which is nestled in what the young folks call the 'ghetto', close to working class Barbados and that is all the more reason why any attempt to discipline children must be done responsibly and humanely and should reflect a level of scholarship which utilises modern scientific approaches."

The issue sparked a heated debate on yesterday's call-in programme Down To Brass Tacks on Starcom's 92.9 FM and Griffith, who describes himself as an avid listener, also disagreed with many callers who supported the flogging.

"I heard people on the radio talking about how good the flogging was and these are clearly people who are stuck in the 40s and 50s, who are not far removed from the days when our parents were flogged at the will and fancy of not just the plantation managers but those they hired to drive us like cattle."

Griffith said more communication should have taken place to uncover the specific reasons for late arrival.

"It would have been far better for the school to have those children enter the school, engage them in some discussion as to why they were late and I'm sure the reasons will vary. We must bring the parents on board and even then, there are many variables that can affect punctuality and a child's performance overall."

Griffith hopes that in the near future, corporal punishment would be completely removed from the law books of Barbados and alternative methods employed. (PCA)

But there was a mix of condemnation and support from a wider public and the Nation reported on these also, see the sections reproduced below,

Readers split over flogging

Published on: 10/17/2009.


Digital Editor

TO BEAT or not to beat?

That was the question on our online edition yesterday as debate raged over the story of several St Leonard's Boys School students being flogged after arriving at school late.

Emotions ran high, with readers on both sides of the corporal punishment fence expressing strong opinions about the incident and about corporal punishment in general.

Several readers, particularly those in the Barbadian diaspora, were appalled at the semi-public flogging which was carried out at the school's entrance by senior teacher Dr Victor Agard.

"Barbaric, backwards and a human rights violation. Is this Barbadostan? When [were] the last public floggings? Is this a teacher or a Taliban leader? . . . The only purpose here is to rule through fear, intimidation, and embarrassment. I tip my hats to those kids who refused to take part in this barbaric act," declared one reader, Shocked In Canada.

Another reader, using the handle Proud Bajan Canadian/Ron expressed similar sentiments, writing:

"This flogging by the senior teacher is insane. He should be disciplined by the principal. If the principal [condones] this type of act, it should be behind closed doors. The days of flogging children at school should be abolished. There are other ways to punish for being late such as school suspension . . . This public view is ridiculous for overseas viewers."

100% Bajan In NY commented that "if it were my child being flogged in public, it would be lawsuits like peas" while New Jersey Gal termed the punishment "archaic in nature" and opined that "in some parts of the world that would be considered child abuse".

On the other hand, however, there was a strong show of support for Dr Agard's actions, with many readers singling him out for praise - one reader dubbed him "my hero" and declared that he should be considered "Teacher of the Year" for his disciplinary stand.

Other readers felt the same.

"Dr Agard, I salute you and please continue to give them a flogging. I know that those will never be late again," cheered Trolly.

". . . Dr Agard, when they are in your care, keep them disciplined," urged Baje In NY while Bajan In Canada thanked him "for having the courage to do the right thing not just for these particular students but for St Leonard's, our school system and our country".

In addition to praising the senior teacher, several other readers had tough words for the delinquent students, with many raising the point that school at St Leonard's begins at 7:50 a.m and the students had arrived after 10 a.m.

"Well I would say it's about time. When I see [the] students traipsing at not just minutes past 9 but all in half past, quarter to, and worse yet 10 or 11 [and] not just one or two that look like they could have some sort of excuse. It's nuff of them . . . If they learn that this lackadaisical attitude is alright, then of course when it comes to work, they aren't going to do anything at all," asserted Unimpressed.

"Bet he won't be late [any] more. I used to be flogged at school and it did not cause me any harm. Being late is disrespectful. Ten o'clock. What school was he going to?" questioned Bajan-ATL.

Another reader commented:

"I think that more schools should encourage the same. Turning up at 10 a.m. for school that started at 7:30 is blatant disrespect. This means that that student would have missed [two and a half hours] of the six-hour day - that is a lot and if a particular student is late everyday then it is possible that that child will become an under-achiever."

This is an important subject for public discussion and people's views should be expressed freely. Nothing may change but it would be good to get the impression that such a dialogue really can go on. There are other tough subjects where this is also needed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lashings Of Good Things?

There is little that happens nowadays that does not find itself reported upon on some electronic media. That means that information can spread like a virus. That is happening today with an article and pictures that show an aspect of life in Barbados that I do not like--flogging. The Nation today has its front page showing a schoolboy being beaten by a teacher, reportedly for being late to school (see article). THe report indicates that 'some students stayed on the outside until principal Joseph King stopped the exercise and ordered all students to enter'. The still pictures are not edifying and it may be that the incident looks worse if seen on a video.

I've written before about the practice of flogging (see previous posts on flogging), but when you see it as done at St. Leonard's School yesterday it is hard to fathom what the teacher thought he was doing.

When I see this approach to 'discipline' I wonder why it stops when people leave school. Why are university students not flogged? Why are workers not flogged? Why does a police not take me out of my car and give me a few lashes? What makes the society draw the line that says it is alright to flog young children but that once they grow up, or simply leave school, this is no longer the thing to do? Why are teachers so special that they can be the ones who inflict this kind of punishment? I've never understood so I guess I never will.

Residents' Perception Of Tourism: Results From Recent Study

Fellow blogger, Amit Uttamchandani, concluded recently a study of residents' perception of tourism, as part of his course work of a Durham University Masters in Business Administration degree. He has kindly shared the summary of his findings.

His results show that economic factors dominate as positives from tourism. In his words, “Tourism increases employment opportunities” is the most positively perceived impact of tourism. He also finds that “Tourism preserves the natural environment/does not cause ecological decline” is the least positively perceived tourism impact.This is consistent with the finding that “Tourism increases the price of land and housing” as the most negatively perceived impact of tourism. Interestingly, “Tourism has heightened tension between residents and tourists” is the least negatively perceived tourism impact.

I hope that this study catches the eyes of the Ministry of Tourism and those involved in this important local economic sector.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Below is a request from my friend and fellow Barbadian blogger, Ingrid Persaud.

The proposal is simple.

On Friday 16 October at 12 noon (your time zone) you take a photo with your phone camera (or any handy camera) and e-mail it to her.

The photo can be of anything or anyone or yourself.

Her e-mail address is ingbgi@gmail.com.

She will collage the photos into one (hopefully interesting) image that will be posted for all to download.

All it takes is a minute to be part of art-through-web-collaboration.

Looking forward to your pictures from around the globe.



PS: Please forward to your friends and colleagues.
For interest, Ingrid's blog is called Notes from a small rock, and is found at http://notesfromasmallrock.blogspot.com

Green Paper On Immigration Policy

The Government has put out for public comment its latest proposals for immigration policy. It can be found on several official websites, including that of Parliament (www.barbadosparliament.com). The document, 'Comprehensive Review of Immigration Policy and Proposals for Legislative Reform', is a so-called 'green paper', can be found at http://barbadosparliament.com/htmlarea/uploaded/File/Info/Green%20Paper%20On%20Comprehensive%20Review%20of%20Immigration%20Policy%20and%20Proposals%20for%20Legislative%20Reform.pdf. I have not read it yet, but will aim to over coming days. I urge you to do likewise. Comments may be sent by emailing gapplewhaite@barbados.gov.bb.

I have commented before about the Government's approach of putting the cart before the horse by announcing in May a revision to an amnesty for non-Caricom undocumented immigrants but without any context of the overall policy framework within which that was operating or could be seen. Now, a mere 6 months later, we get the policy framework. A lot of confusion and animosity has been generated by doing things this way, and the damage that caused may be hard to repair. I would like to give the Government credit for getting its act together, but I have to hold back as I wonder how supposedly smart people can act as if they are just arriving in the world for the first time. Maybe it's a result of being out of power for a long time, but I think that would be unduly generous an interpretation.

The debates on immigration now have more meat on which to bite and hungry mouths should be well satisfied.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It Pays To Collaborate

I spent the better part of yesterday at Novel Teas, poring over the text of an MBA dissertation, while someone poured me hot sweet tea and latte.

Why? I had offered to do so.

For whom? Funnily, for a fellow blogger, Amit Uttamchandani, who needed some help in completing his studies.

For what? No reason, other than it was possible, and if one can help one should do so. But, I did get my lunch bought for me, and he offered me free lunches for life.

What next? He submitted his documents, bound, to the university, earlier in the day, and invited me to join him for a drink with friends in a nice watering hole in Maxwell, called Pablo Dontes. I had often driven past and thought the place looked super cool and relaxed. I was not wrong.

Having met just so very recently it was odd to be sharing beer and food as if we were old friends.

The soon-to-graduate-while-working student says that he wants to do more study; maybe philosophy, maybe economics. I urged him to make practical use of his study of perceptitons of tourism. He had already had a door opened for him by getting to talk about his survey results on Brass Tacks, during 'Tourism Week', so he should run with that. But for now, he can savour the end of his studies. Well done, Amit.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Rung Down The Ladder: Barbados' Debt Rating Cut Again

Barbados' debt woes continue to weigh on its international credit rating. Today, Moody's lowered its government bond rating by one notch to Baa3 (from BBB, given in June), or just one notch into investment grade (i.e., one notch above 'junk' status; see Wall Street Journal report). The ratings outlook is stable.

In a succinct assessment, Moody's analyst, Alessandra Alecci, said "Barbados' key debt indicators have been on a deteriorating path over the past decade, and are now at levels that compare poorly with other countries in the same rating category." Moody's cited the steep rise in the country's government debt, which Moody's expects to exceed 100% of GDP, compared with 65% in 1999.This is consistent with the views in the IMF's recent assessment of Barbados. Moody's noted that the recession has reduced business and leisure travel, on which Barbados relies heavily. Despite those concerns, Moody's isn't worried about the government's ability to finance its short-term needs or about a balance-of-payments crisis.