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**

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gave Instead Of Lent 9

February 28: Gave a tired airline pilot some much needed energy food he requested--two bananas. Bananas are a great energy source (see http://www.tummyfluff.co.uk/news/bananas.htm) and since boyhood I was encouraged to eat at least one in the morning. Jamaicans often eat green ones cooked for breakfast.

Spice Alive Again

I've known that Barbados had a drive-in movie theatre but never yet had the chance to go there to see a film. So, it was ironic that I went there last night, but to see a pop music concert, when Spice & Company went live again. Whatever its merits for films, the Globe is a great venue for live music. Would it be a place to use for that more often? When Barbadians think about ways to boost their brand of tourism it's not always clear that they know how to value the good assets. But, leave that for now. Let's get into the Irie feeling from last night.

No sooner had we negotiated the parking (with at least five people pointing us in different directions) and entered, than I had a microphone pressed into my face to offer comments on the upcoming concert. The reporter wanted the view of a non-Bajan, so I was a fitting choice. I admitted that I had not listened to Spice that much in their hey day as they did not penetrate England very much. Funny then that one of their songs, 'Rebel in London', recounted their unfortunate experiences at Heathrow (including a strip search) when they visited London to try to secure a recording contract.

Emile Straker's Merrymen had made their brand of Barbadian Calypso popular, for four decades since the early 1960s. Spice & Company, led by Emile's son, Dean, made popular a certain brand of Barbadian reggae-inspired music. Spice & Company came alive again to present their well-known songs and take many back into the 1980s.

It was an eerie feeling to watch Allan Shepphard, with streaked hair, flashing back his locks, waving his arms, high stepping across the stage and singing "Irie feeling". Make no bones about it, Barbadians were out in full force to support a group that truly reflected them: the group's appeal clearly crossed the racial line. Older white poppers were winding better than many younger white poppers. Black Soca fans rubbed up against some white neighbours. Spice allowed everyone to put as much salt and pepper together to suit all tastes.

Reggae fanatics did not worry that Dean Straker did not have locks and looked dressed for a spell of military duty. The band brought on Gospel singers and found a place for the ubiquitous Defence Force marching band. All was fair in the dark of the night.

The music was what it needed to be: fresh, lively, organized, clean lyrics, involved the crowd, filled with energy. The crowd got the encore they wanted. The VIPs looked to have been well treated. Food, from the famous Snackette or elsewhere,was not too expensive and fresh tasting. The tail gaters had a ball as they pulled drink and food from their ample coolers. The rockers got going early and conger liners had to wait awhile before they hear their song and reeled off in a snaking line through the area up to the Snackette. Friends greeted each other and forget the years.

The concert finished with a great flourish. With the band gone from the stage, the parting onlookers were treated to a spectacular fireworks show. I loved it but could not wonder with the recent spate of cane fires if this was going to leave a nasty taste if we saw smouldering fields the next day. Gladly it did not. So, I have tunes rocking in my head now and still a good Irie feeling.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Water: Not A Drop To Waste

The following piece was offered by Kammie Holder. He will start new column, "Swimming Up Stream", in the Saturday Nation from next Saturday March 5. He writes that 'It will offer serious critique, humor and obviously mobilization of your thinking'.
Something is fundamentally wrong with our decision-makers’ brains: there seems to be a fault in their logic and reasoning area. It`s Tuesday morning, 1:30am, yet sleep eludes me, because something is bothering me. I took my usual trip to the bathroom and and without much thought depressed the tank lever and the toilet was flushed; a function we take for granted and other Caribbean countries, even those with rivers cannot, because of drought caused by climate change. Jamaica, Trinidad and even Guyana with their rivers have being experiencing dry taps and saw it fit to ration their water supply.

People, thanks to global warming, droughts in one area and flooding in others will be the norm so get used to it. A growing population, urbanisation, deforestation, global climatic changes and pollution are some reasons for the increased pressure on the existing water bodies. Population expansion is the single biggest reason behind the increased pressure on fresh water resources. Water consumption has almost doubled in the last fifty years and naturally, per capita availability of water has steadily decreased.

I have heard lots of talk on Barbados not being a water scarce country so I will inform the uninformed that water is a finite commodity. If a country has less than a thousand (1,000) cubic metres (m3) per capita per year it is designated a Water Scarce Country. Barbados’ available water resources are currently rated by the FAO at (390) cubic metres per person. One cubic metre is equivalent to 220 gallons. We are adjudged to be the fifteenth water scarce country in the world.

Though approximately 70 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only 2.5 per cent of it is fit for drinking. The rest is all salt water, which fills up the vast expanse of the oceans and seas — unfit for human consumption. Why then in 2010 are we still flushing expensive potable water down our toilets and using it for agriculture?

Common sense also tells me that the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) should have long ago been encouraging persons to conserve water and start water rationing. Logic suggests to me that the BWA is leading the Minister responsible for the BWA rather than the Minister leading the BWA. This modus operandi can only lead to poor judgment and chaos, as well as poor decision-making. Thus it’s like a case of a private leading a troop into battle, rather than the Commanding Officer. Will it take our taps in hotels, schools and restaurants to run dry before we act?

Mr Lowe, this is an issue of national security. Please show some leadership and stamp your authority. Our inability to imagine what we may be faced with and be proactive is because we have never experienced the stench from unflushed toilets. Can someone tell me if the BWA management has employed an obeah man or some seer, thus the delay of a water caution decision until March? Or is this another case of poor advice from technocrats to ministers who are afraid to manage their ministers for fear of been accused of micro-managing.

Mr Lowe can you please pilot legislation as your legacy, so that all homes can be encouraged through a tax rebate to install water tanks for water harvesting?

Finally, I genuinely recommend the reading of the Biblical parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) to those responsible for the managing of our water supply.

Gave Instead Of Lent 7 & 8

February 25: Gave a fellow parent enough time to eventually exchange personal details: we see each other at least twice and week and now are no longer 'someone's Daddy or Mommy' to each other.

February 26: Gave my divided attention to a friend who decided to visit me, instead of my visiting him. He was in good form, after hearing good news from his doctor, and had driven himself for the first time since he fell ill.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Statement by an IMF Mission to Barbados

Marcello Estevão, the new International Monetary Fund mission chief for Barbados, following a five day familiarisation visit, issued the following statement today in Bridgetown, following a five-day staff visit (see link).

Press Release No. 10/66
February 26, 2010

Marcello Estevão, chief of an International Monetary Fund Mission to Barbados, issued the following statement today in Bridgetown, following a five-day staff visit:

“Barbados has been severely affected by the global economic crisis. In particular, the deep global recession has curbed tourism, affecting related activities such as construction and trade which, in turn, depressed aggregate demand and raised unemployment. As a result, economic activity contracted significantly in 2009 after remaining broadly stagnant in 2008.

“Despite these hardships, policy moves and other developments have limited the adverse effects of the crisis. International reserves are at comfortable levels, among other things thanks to a successful foreign debt placement last year and the SDR allocation. In addition, authorities implemented measures to alleviate the impact of the crisis on the population. However, as a result of these measures and, more importantly, of the economic cycle, the fiscal deficit surged, and the public debt now stands above 100 percent of GDP.

“Looking forward, while economic activity in Barbados will improve as the world economy gradually expands, the recovery’s timing is quite uncertain. In particular, significant improvements in labor market conditions in major developed countries will likely lag the rebound in economic activity and curb international travel. Despite this uncertain outlook, the high level of public debt limits the room for further government spending. Moreover, the high degree of openness of the Barbadian economy limits the impact of changes in government spending on domestic economic activity.

“Against this backdrop, fiscal consolidation seems to be the appropriate strategy. Reducing government spending, increasing tax collection efficiency, and broadening the tax base would support the exchange rate regime and improve the government’s balance sheet. Moreover, credible and sustainable measures can actually raise medium-term growth, as better debt dynamics and lower pressure on external reserves would raise the private sector’s willingness to invest in Barbados. Thus, the authorities’ intention to push forward a medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy is very welcome.”

Transforming The Economy In The Age Of Liberalisation: Mr. Owen Arthur Spoke

Former PM, Owen Arthur, has not let his time not being party leader and PM dull his appreciation of matters affecting the Barbadian economy, of which he is seen by many as the current master, position notwithstanding. He has also not lost his wit and ability to find the raw nerve, as the current PM and some journalists who asked questions would have found. But, all's fair in love and politics, and his kiss to Miss Mottley should not be ignored. [Photo from the lecture, courtesy of Bajan Reporter, http://bajanreporter.com/.)

Mr. Arthur had ample opportunities last night to strut his stuff as he gave a lecture entitled 'Transforming The Economy In The Age Of Liberalisation', at the Errol Barrow Centre For Creative Imagination at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus. Clearly, Mr. Arthur is a draw, as the full car park signalled that the centre would be 'standing room only'. He was eagerly listened to by a set of local dignitaries, who included Opposition Leader, Mia Mottley, as well as Cuban ambassador Pedro Garcia Roque. The auditorium had the feeling of a political rally as people cheered each dig at the current administration or hissed their teeth as figures how the economy had turned for the worse were listed. Groans were very loud when Mr. Arthur mentioned that the government plans to increase licences and fees.

The core of his lecture was to point out that current PM David Thompson's policies and his government's new medium term fiscal strategy were not "proportionate to the circumstances surrounding the crisis". He likened them to a vegetarian-turned-meat eater, who felt he had to revert to cannibalism. In looking at the crisis, its causes, effects, and possible solutions, he was especially concerned that little had been done by the government to take account of changes in world trade and business legislation that are already in train and would impact on Barbados over the next five year. They were especially the EPA with the EU, bilateral trade arrangements with Canada, and the need to bring national investment incentives into line with WTO guidelines. While the recession was wreaking a certain havoc, these other factors would also wreak damage when and if the recession is past.

In fairly clear language, Mr. Arthur, stressed that the current government was leading Barbados on a catastrophic path, economically, socially, and in terms of regional integration. The country needed immediate and urgent fiscal solutions because the private productive sectors and households of Barbados are facing catastrophic failure. To support that he gave an array of financial and economic statistics, including that which showed that the private sector is getting strapped for cash (reflected in its falling domestic bank deposits). That, while the public sector looks set to contract sharply: as evidence, he cited the medium term objective of an overall budget surplus by 2015. All of this would "bear heavily and adversely on the structure and performance of our economy."

He criticised the current government's apparent fetish with economic indicators and for what appeared to be taking moves from the IMF's play book, which he characterised as austerity based. Mr. Arthur noted that policies intended to correct fiscal problems could easily, and inadvertently, lead to more vulnerabilities like a deeper recession and rising unemployment. "The trade-offs, therefore, have to be carefully measured and calibrated," Arthur said.Overall, he felt that a counter cyclical approach to crisis was needed to ensure future development.

He gave a stunning array of data and I'm sure that no one could follow it all, but it showed his mastery of the finance portfolio. But his vision for Barbados came through without numbers. He was ready to pay a levy to ensure that future generations had access to tertiary education: one graduate per household was too conservative in his view. That said, he argued that Barbados needed to educate better for the next step up the development ladder: he saw that as being more 'knowledge based', so that the country could produce more competitive people on an international stage.

He talked passionately about regional integration. Barbadians who went to Panama to help dig the canal gave the country a big boost to help develop a middle class. In like fashion, it was churlish for the current government to ignore the role Barbados played in giving other countries in the region the chance to pull themselves up by taking in its workers and the same time keep its own economy thriving--a win-win situation, in his eyes. Citing the current PM, he wondered what would have happened if Guyana had taken an anti-Barbadian attitude in years past. In addition, he saw moves such as that by OECS countries to build common governance structures as the way to go, and Barbados not being part of that could later come to haunt the country. Linking to structures such as ALBA would not bring about a solid regional presence for Caribbean countries. On trade, he pointed out why CSME was important to Barbados, who exported over 50% of its goods and services to the Caricom region.

Mr. Arthur stressed the need for measures to bring industry up to the best international standards and cited how that had already been done by Mount Gay, much to his great personal satisfaction. He also stressed how Barbadian companies needed to gain regional strength before they could tackle a wider international field, citing how the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Company had developed to being eventually quoted on the London Stock Exchange as Sagicor.

He dealt well with questions and questioners, however, one wants to interpret dealt. One journalist who was criticised for always having it in for the BLP, got short shrift when asking about the legacy of debt left by the BLP. Mr. Arthur listed the developmental assets that had been left by taking on that debt, and asked what could the current government show for the "mind-boggling" increase in debt over the past two years.

One questioner tried to sweet up Mr. Arthur by asking if legislation should insist on future PM's being trained economists, and certainly not mere accountants. Citing George Bernard Shaw, he remarked "If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." I must say that I snickered: people seem to think that having an economist in charge of a nation's financial affairs will bring success, yet the world is littered with economic catastrophes in countries that have been led for years by economists. As Mr. Arthur said, it's important to have good advisers. To put it another way, an economist-leader can often be his or her own worst advisor.

There will be much to take from the speech. It should not be lost on many that this economic tour de force was made by a former finance minister, but not by his party's current Parliamentary spokesperson on economic affairs, Miss Mottley. It was clear that Mr. Arthur has no intention of disappearing from the current political scene and it was manifestly clear that this speech had elements of an economic manifesto. For what purpose? There, dear Watson, we will have to think hard if not long.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Transforming The Economy In The Age Of Liberalisation: Lecture By The Right Honourable Owen Arthur, MP

Former PM, the Right Honourable Owen Arthur, MP, is due to speak this evening at the Errol Barrow Centre, UWI Cave Hill Campus from 7pm (see notice alongside). It should be an interesting presentation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gave Instead Of Lent 5 & 6

February 23: Gave honest answers to questions, that did not find favour. Honesty and popularity are not always good friends.

February 24: Gave a home to a straying puppy for the afternoon. "Daddy, can we keep him?" He decided to go home when he was good and ready.

All Eyes On The Economy

Eyes have been on economic issues a bit more keenly in recent days, as politicians and technicians have spoken openly about some of the harsh choices that face Barbados at the current time.

It is encouraging, therefore, that on March 1, the government's economic programme 'will be set out in detail' when the Minister of Finance hosts a Public/Private Sector Consultation on Economic and Related Issues, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, from 9am till 5pm. This will also be broadcast live on CBC TV8. The addresses will be from the Minister, the Central Bank Governor, on Economic Policy and Development, and Geoffrey Bell, an international consultant, on The World Economy: What Next? There will be presentations on The Response to Government's Strategy by the President of Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (Sir Roy Trotman) and by the Private Sector Association (Ben Arrindell).

I was heartened to read this morning a piece by Hal Austin, Managing Editor of the Financial Times, and a Barbadian, under the heading 'Public sector overhaul' (see Nation, page 8A). He makes the bold statement that 'Recessions are a period when good governments look microscopically at the way public services are delivered and seek innovative ways of improving productivity and efficiency'. My caveat to that would be to stress good, and to add should look. He talks about the efficiency of VAT as a sales tax and highlights shortcomings in tax collection and in tax payments, both of which reflect incompetence, but could also reflect malfeasance: my own working experience has unearthed many creative ways of not paying VAT and/or getting VAT refunds that were not really due. It's ironic that the same edition of the paper highlights how a 'glitch' has meant that the Department of Inland Revenue has just mailed out incorrect income tax refund cheques (see Nation report, page 5A): things like that have also been known to be shady, and a funky way of managing a cash shortage. Incompetence?

Finally, Dr. David Estwick, the Minister of Economic Affairs (and too much else to list), clearly feels that once the matter of wage freeze had been broached, he might as well tack on another thorn, and has stated to Parliament that the remaining properties within the 'controversial GEMS hotel chain' should be sold (see Nation report, page 3A). He noted yesterday that the GEMS parent, Hotel & Resorts Ltd. (HRL), which has benefited from Government loans totalling B$145 million, now had accumulated debt of B$229 million, while the book value of the properties was only B$74 million. That debt, he added, comprised a principal of B$160 million and accumulated interest of B$69 million, while it also owed the Barbados National Bank another B$2.3 million. A sad litany, indeed. In addition, Dr. Estwick disclosed that HRL had requested B$6 million in support from Government for this year because of the dire financial situation of what he termed "an ill-conceived project". In a time of crisis, he noted, this administration has to look for B$6 million - B$3 million in this supplementary resolution and another B$3 million in the next financial year starting April 1.The doctor recalled that it was the Barbados Labour Party, which, during a time when there was no crisis, started to sell off the GEMS properties, including Silver Rock, Worthing Court and Eastry House in 2005, and was looking for a buyer for the Savannah Hotel, Time Out and the Hilton Hotel. Time for some much needed surgery, dear doctor, is what I would say.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Broad Street Journal Business Breakfast, March 1: Speaker--Paul Altman

Real estate executive Paul Altman, one of Barbados’ most prominent realtors and developers, has agreed to speak at the second BSJ Breakfast Club meeting, which will be held at the Palm Room at Tamarind Cove Hotel from 7:30am to 9:30am on Monday, March 1, 2010. Mr. Altman will discuss in further detail his idea of creating Dubai-style man-made islands off Barbados’ west coast, provide an update on the progress of his current project, Limegrove, which will transform the look and public spaces of Holetown, and take a look at Barbados’ future prospects in the high-end international real estate market.

Among Mr. Altman’s many accomplishments in the real estate sector, apart from his present role as lead developer of Limegrove, was the conception and execution of Sugar Hill, the residential tennis resort which is home to many wealthy expatriates, including Sir Cliff Richard. Editor of The Broad Street Journal, Patrick Hoyos said, “The Club is most fortunate to have as respected and dynamic a person as Paul Altman agree to address its second meeting, following an excellent presentation by Prof. Avinash Persaud, who launched the 2010 series last Monday."

The price for the full breakfast event is Bds$46 if paid by Friday, Feb. 26 and $57.50 at the door, if space is available. make checks payable to Hoyos Publishing Inc. Contact Pat Hoyos via email at bsj@caribsurf.com or mobile 230-5687 to make your reservations.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Barbados Business Monday Commentaries: Uneven Economic Conditions And Getting More Out Of Education

The Advocate's business journalist, Jewel Brathwaite, asked me for some comments on a range of economic issues last week, while I was attending a lunchtime lecture on fiscal deficit issues. His basic question was whether Barbados could be insulated from the impact of the global recession. My basic answer was no it could not, but it could do some things to make its impact less and prepare to benefit better from the recovery. My other point was that people seemed to have a tendency to want pain, but not too much, or be prepared to hold strain, but not for too long. Recessions do not come as one size fits all, so people may be distressed and disappointed but seeing an end to recession in 2010 may be too optimistic, and recovery in 2011 and 2012 was more likely.

Another idea was about the unevenness of economic activity, where my point was that it's good that the whole economy is not tied tightly to tourism, so that when it rises or falls, everything else in the economy does not automatically rise or fall (see Barbados Business Monday report). That said, other than international business activity, Barbados' non-tourism-related economic activities are not strong enough to counteract against developments in tourism.

On the adequacy of international reserves, an idea that was not not well captured was that the real test of adequacy is not the level of reserves when there is no crisis but how that level can withstand an actual crisis. Only time would tell if reserves equivalent to 21 weeks of imports or any other level is enough.

I also gave Mr. Brathwaite a link with the current debate about how to deal with the fiscal deficit as it impinges on tertiary education. Education can be a foreign exchange earner, and now is as good a time as any to look to see if ways exist to leverage the higher education establishments in that direction. I noted how Ross University (located in Dominica and The Bahamas, see http://www.rossu.edu/) and St. George's University, Grenada, (see http://www.sgu.edu/) were doing this and filling needs for medical training in the US. This is not a new idea, and can be seen as part of notions of medical tourism, with a logical step being that foreign medical staff could also be trained in the Caribbean region, which has a good record in areas such as nursing training. This could help in our region keep more of its trained staff while still being a good source of trained staff for north America, for example.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gave Instead Of Lent: 4

February 21: Gave my brain the whole day off on Sunday.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

VAT are you saying?

Dr. Justin Robinson is one of UWI's economists at Cave Hill who takes opportunities to share his understanding of policy issues with a general public. He was one of three headlined presenters at the weekly Unity Bar lectures at the HQ of the Democratic Labour Party, which took place yesterday. He was due to be part of a panel made up of:
Dr. the Hon. David Estwick, Minister of Economic Affairs & Empowerment, Innovation, Trade, Industry and Commerce,
Dr. Justin Robinson, Head of Management Studies Programme, Faculty Of Social Science, and
Mr. Wilberne Persaud, Coordinator, Banking and Finance Programme, Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Cave Hill.

They were due to discuss "Barbados' Fiscal Deficit; Causes and Possible Solutions", as noted on this blog a few days ago. Well, the audience was told that the Minister was caught in a meeting with the PM and would arrive later, which became later, which became not at all. That could be a subject all in itself, but it's Lent so let me be tolerant.

The Press were out in force and the three main dailies had pens poised, as did CBC have their camera lens trained. I'm sure that Dr. Robinson woke this morning in a state of shock that one of his answers would find him on the front pages with headlines such as 'VAT hike the way' (see Nation report). Other papers were a bit more balanced with 'VAT increase an option' (see Advocate report), or 'VAT only as last resort' (see report from Barbados Today, alongside; click to enlarge image).

In the absence of a responsible Minister, it was natural that the media would latch on to any policy proposal that was uttered. This may be an interesting blessing for the government. While some other UWI luminaries are arguing about whether they are engaged in "financial cannibalism", or whether it is only a trained economist who can "understand the gravity and implications of a fiscal crisis" (see Nation report), we have Dr. Robinson wishing that someone had read him the press equivalent of his Miranda rights: that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person. Tax increases are always disliked. Barbados introduced VAT in 1997, and it has gradually replaced most other indirect taxes has a special dislike as it was introduced and deemed to be temporary and was supposed to usher in a lower tax bill after replacing other taxes. As with most taxes, any talk of increasing it is likely to have someone hurled into a burning cane field. Though it may be no consolation to Dr, Robinson, the IMF already had this in its stack of possible measures: 'Raise the VAT rate by 1-2 percentage points', which could reduce the fiscal deficit by ¾-1½ percent of GDP in their estimation (see 2009 Article IV consultation report).

But, now the cat is out of the bag: a trained economist in Barbados thinks that the current situation warrants some increase in taxation. I would be surprised if Clyde Mascoll does not get on to this issue, as a former Minister of State in the previous administration, who believes that raising taxes in a recession is not the thing to do, and who recently wrote 'The only way to begin a turnaround is through selective cuts in current expenditure and the major areas are wages and salaries and transfers and subsidies (see Nation report). There is never a dull moment in Barbados someone said to me, and the coming weeks promise to fulfill that sentiment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gave Instead Of Lent: 3

February 20: Gave a poor early morning imitation of "Driving Miss Daisy". My dawn passenger will be back in Canada in 3 weeks time.

Gave Instead Of Lent: 2

February 19: Today, I gave to friends packages sent by their relatives who they'd asked to meet me in Manhattan: wallet, Kindle, bike shorts, tennis gear. I also gave to my family little gifts picked up during the last week: a silver pen to my lady; Genga & iPod speakers for my little daughter--she enjoyed letting me hear how they worked while I was trying to take a rest; hats & pens to our helper--she's worn the cap all day. Each item has a story of a meeting that I may later share.

I gave an explanation of national debt problems to an audience over lunch.

I was also asked to give an interview to the Advocate on national economic and financial issues.

Gave Instead Of Lent: 1

February 18: Today I 'gave' to a American lady (Linda) who was stuck with me in a security line that had a broken X-ray machine, and we'd talked as we waited patiently. She and her husband became my guests in the Admirals Club. They were headed to St. Thomas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Barbados' Fiscal Deficit; Causes and Possible Solutions: Lunch Time Lecture, February 19

The next session in the Unity Bar lunch time lecture series will be on Friday 19, 2010. It will be devoted to a panel discussion in the Auditorium, George Street, Belleville, St. Michael. The topic will be "Barbados' Fiscal Deficit; Causes and Possible Solutions", and the panel will comprise:
Dr. the Hon. David Estwick, Minister of Economic Affairs & Empowerment, Innovation, Trade, Industry and Commerce,
Dr. Justin Robinson, Head of Management Studies Programme, Faculty Of Social Science, and
Mr. Wilberne Persaud, Coordinator, Banking and Finance Programme, Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, UWI, Cave Hill.

As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.

It promises to be a spirited discussion.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hold strain? Come again...

I read in today's Nation (page 6) that the Governor General is to get a new car, costing B$190,000, a spanking new Audi A4 sedan, reported to be the first of its kind on the island. I wont hide the fact that I find that report distressing as an indication of the wrong message to send to a nation at this time. As an indication of essential spending in a recession this passes no test that I could devise. If someone wants to tell me about prestige and image, I would say that when you are supposedly down to your shoes bottom those things should not be your concern.

I read in the same paper (page 3) that the Barbados Tourism Authority has had to pull out of promoting Crop Over during Trinidad's Carnival 'because of financial cuts': last year, they and the National Cultural Foundation spent B$80,000 on the same promotion, which was instrumental in bringing about 5,000 people from Trinidad for Crop Over.

Just three nights ago, the PM was discussing economic issues and talking about 'moratorium' as his angle, not wage freeze (see Nation report). I'm not going to get into semantics and what will make a moratorium (a delay or suspension) different from a freeze. All will be made clear soon when the PM meets the social partners. During the press conference, the PM is reported to have 'again pleaded with Barbadians to hold strain as Government attempted to battle the current worldwide recession by finding a mid-term solution'. He defended free bus fares for schoolchildren, and will continue the roll-out of the "controversial" Constituency Councils. He said that Barbados’ main challenge now was to repair the fiscal deficit, not deplete foreign reserves. The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to thank the private sector for holding back from lay-offs across the board, saying it had “pulled its weight.”

Today I also see a report citing the PM saying that 'Government will seek to protect taxpayers’ interests at all costs' (see Advocate report). The report stated 'Thompson stressed the need for such action, noting that it was the Government’s responsibility to maximise taxpayers’ returns, while also ensuring that their money was also well spent.'

I read about the plight of the QEH and junior doctors' complaints about the poor conditions and lack of facilities for them.

I recall just a week ago how the country did not have the resources to offer even one bed space to Haitians affected by the earthquake.

I am wondering how all of that sits together. If someone were asked to describe the government's attitude to holding strain in its affairs what conclusions would they draw? If asked what were the nation's priorities, what would they say? If asked if government were truly standing shoulder to shoulder with the private sector in carrying the burden of the recession would they agree?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bob Marley Birthday Celebration Party: Redux

Word reaching me about the weekend's party was that "Truthfully, you miss a rass session"; that's Jamaican vernacular for a spiffing good time. After running around for music and tennis lessons and a neighbourhood BBQ, I had little energy left, and had woefully fallen asleep on my sofa to not rise again till near 11 pm.

But, I'm told it was a super event with a diverse and energetic crowd; about about 250 people passed through--I don't know if they all passed out in one way or other. So, the Jamaican Association of Barbados will make a reasonable return for the various causes.

The crowd was diverse, in terms of gender, age and social background: so 'big ups' were ready to small up themselves with the 'likkle peeple dem'.

But, what about the food, man? Again, I heard that the servings were a super tasting array of Jamaican food including "manish" water, which was all consumed by 10:30 PM. So, if I had gone I would have found all the food done.

Oh, wait! The music kept the crowd on a full dance floor to the wee hours: called that for when parents like me get up in the dead of night to make sure their little ones have not done their wee-wee.

So, a great time for all. I have to send a shout out for the hard working Jambar team. I also say thanks to all the patrons who helped make it successful.

Look out for more events.

I await to hear the joke about joke about the man and the donkey.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rhian's Visitors: A Whimsical Tale

Rhian (pronounced Rih-an, not Rai-yanne) is six years old and she was born in Washington DC. She had some American visitors come to her house. Her mummy was all clappy wappy, and told them that they could sleep downstairs in the cottage. They put their bags into the room and came back upstairs to have a glass of wine and some snacks, which Tanti had prepared. Rhian was playing with one of her toys. It was nearly her bedtime and she played on instead of going to sleep. She hoped that her mummy or daddy would not come in and find her not asleep.

Then, Rhian told her daddy to write a story about the visitors. This is it. Her next story will be about an adventure.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Eating Frozen Custard: Government Minister Uses the F- Word

When Dr. David Estwick broached the idea this week that a wage freeze was something to consider (see Nation report) everyone should have known that life would never be the same again. When I read the headlines, they took me by surprise because earlier in the day when they made front page news, a local business journalist had asked me what advice I would give the government to deal with its economic and financial plight. My view was that the government needed to grapple seriously with its spending--which it had not shown a willingness to do so far. That meant looking hard at what it did and justifying every single dollar. That process should point out where savings could be made now or very soon and where savings could be made over a longer period. I said that the PM should ask every spending Minister to do that and come back with proposals for savings. Those who were not capable or willing to do that would have it done for them by the Finance Minister--the PM wearing another hat. Those spending curbs were not necessarily to be immediate, because the recession gives the government the excuse to keep spending high to cushion the tendency for the economy to fall as the private sector is struggling. But, government spending has to be high quality and should not be protected if it is wanton and wasteful.

Government's options were narrowing so not dealing with the spending issue as a medium term consideration was merely postponing the inevitable: the debt burden was rising and would show no tendency to do otherwise. Government would also in the process of reviewing spending have to stiffen itself to take some very unpleasant decisions. It was not necessarily that people would need to lose their jobs or take pay cuts or see no pay increases. It was also that some of the privileges public servants enjoy would need to be things of the past. Sure, you may not be able to make the needed changes without some negotiation but that process needed to be engaged.

Ordinary people have commented publicly about luxury vehicles for public servants. Why should any public servant be driven in, or drive, a BMW? When chips were down in Guinea during my term there, the government took back all the four wheel drive vehicles from Ministers and officials and gave them small saloons--Toyota Corollas; that in a country with terrible roads and real mountains to traverse. It showed in some way a sharing of the burden. Now, Toyota's current safety issues may suggest that they would not get the contract, but the principle is clear. Government does not generally create much of the national wealth, so why should it have free reign to spend it? Do public officials need to fly in a class other than coach? Does expanding overseas representation make real sense now? What is the bang for the buck that is expected? If you cannot show any, don't do it.

The government on several occasions has seemed hell bent on manufacturing the worst public relations situation for itself. To me, this is yet another attempt. Why would you want to broach the notion of freezing people's spending power when you have touted curbing the cost of living, but done little to make that a reality. Then why do it just days after a public agency has granted what many would see as another swingeing increase in a basic utility? The justification for the increase by Barbados Light and Power (BL&P) has been poorly made. After the increase was agreed, BL&P's officers tried to talk to the matter in the mainstream media. What was wrong with an attempt to explain ahead of the decision? The arguments were the same. All that most people will see is that water rates went up 60%: government did that. Now electricity rates will rise 10%: government allowed them to do that. LIME was close behind, proposing increases in land line rates: government has no means to stop them doing that. So, costs of living for most people were set to rise by substantial amounts, all due to government action or complicity. Then, the government says, "Santa forgot to give you a gift. Here, take a freeze in pay." Ordinary people will see this as callous disregard for their problems. How can they try to make ends meet? They cannot default on their utility bills without perhaps suffering worse by getting disconnected. I go back to the matter of arrears, where no real efforts seemed to have been made to try to get back a sou owed to BWA before imposing a rate increase.

When Dr. Estwick described the freeze as "something we have to do...We don't have a choice. We don't have the fiscal space" he may be right, but that is not a situation that came about last weekend. So, his uttering the f- word should not have been last week but many months ago. Was it political courage that was lacking why it was not even mentioned. Those who read the IMF Article IV consultation report say there that amongst the options the government had to consider was wage 'moderation'. So, why not prepare the ground? Blurting it out, without first referring to the social partners smacks of 'stick it'. It's not designed to 'get to yes' easily.

The economist in me can see the sense in what the government appears to want to do, but it is such an unhitched wagon they are driving that I have to wonder if I am just being too understanding. Government has done a poor job in putting in front of people a vision of the economic future that is not about waiting for the recession to end to get back to normal. They have not suggested that the 'new normal' will be a prolonged lowering of living standards in Barbados, even though that message has been aired abroad for some time. By taking that approach, it seems alright to not address any deep seated problems in the economy--and in society, more broadly. As I commented about the 2009 Budget, an opportunity was missed to deal radically with structural issues. Barbados' problems are not getting solved by holding breath. Issues of productivity, competitiveness, value for money, service delivery, straight forward inefficiency, and more have been there for anyone to see for a long time. But, when times are good one can paper over those cracks, and pretend that the bad smell is coming from next door's yard. Like Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, one can pretend in those good times that there are real gains to share, when it was really spinning a wheel. As they say, when the tide goes out you can see who was swimming naked.

The Nation On The Information Super Highway?

I noted that the Nation (Barbados) reported in its print version today (page 31A, see link) that it now has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. It's good to find the paper on Facebook (The Nation Barbados) and now on Twitter (http://twitter.com/NationBarbados), and at last seeming to harness some of the new media with a bit more vigor. But, looking at the two sites, I see that this presence is not so new. So, now I am surprised that the announcement in the printed paper on February 7 is some weeks stale. It would have seemed to have been newsworthy from the outset. They get it, but they don't get it.

Not slow to drive traffic, the press report flags: 'To mark the occasion, once our fan base reaches 3 000, one lucky fan will win BDS$500 in cash and when it doubles to 6 000, fans will have the chance to win another BDS$1 000. To be eligible to win this promotion individuals must be a fan of both the newspaper and corporate Facebook pages.' They know that people love a chance for some freeness, and with hard time lickin' we, every little helps, darling.

I wont be too churlish, but just say "Welcome to the world".

Monday, February 01, 2010

Broad Street Journal Breakfast Club Resumes

Pat Hoyos, publisher of 'Who's Who in Barbados Business' and sometime moderator of VOB's 'Down to Brass Tacks', has restarted his monthly Broad Street Journal Breakfast Club. Today, he had Prof. Avinash Persaud speaking on the topic 'The ins and outs of the Four Seasons rescue and its role in upgrading of our tourism sector'.

Just over 30 persons, mainly business executives, and a few journalists, were present at Accra Beach Hotel, from 7.30 am, to hear Prof. Persaud go over some of the background to the recent rescue and his role in that; he spiced things up a little with some look behind the scenes. I wont rehearse the topic here as it has been well covered here and elsewhere over recent weeks.

I welcome opportunities being offered to discuss pertinent topics, so it will be nice if this forum takes off again, albeit with its relatively narrow basis of participants. But, I will try to flag upcoming breakfasts and I am sure that the more interest the better.