Notes From a Native Son – Are We Facing the Point of No-Return?

Hal Austin

Two recent events should have shaken Barbadian society to the root. The first was the plea by former prime minister Owen Arthur for a truce on the dangerous standoff between the two dominant political parties on what to do about our badly managed economy, and for a cross-party National Commission on the Economic Development of Barbados. He did not put it in such words, but the sentiment is the same: if this generation of political leaders is going to pass on a sustainable economy and tolerant and stable society to future generations we have to call a halt on the political tribalism led by this terrible Ineptocracy (I love the word) and put our heads together in the interest of future generations.

The development, closely linked to the first, came out of the confusing and misleading hysteria about the future of Almond Resorts, was the call by Bjorn Bjerkhamn, the wealthy Norwegian, who now brands himself a ‘Barbadian’ on the basis of over 50 years of residence and, no doubt, a local passport. Mr Bjerkhamn is one of the wealthiest of the so-called New Barbadians, people who have moved from the four corners of the world and have sought to appropriate our lovely island and call it home. Some of them have nothing but contempt for local people, although this may not apply to Mr Bjerkhamn. I think I have some form on this: I have lived in Britain for over twice as long as I have lived in Barbados. Armed with my British passport, I am still reminded almost every day that I am an immigrant and any children or grandchildren those of us who have lived in Britain since the 1960s have, are called second-generation, or third-generation immigrants. It is a burden I am prepared to carry on my shoulders, since I challenge any man or woman to be more Barbadian than I.

In fact, to be brutally honest, not a day goes by without my thinking of the Ivy, that wonderful small town just off Government Hill and Howells X Road, where I was born and where my maternal grandmother, Mama, showed me the real meaning of unconditional love – and good food. My heart belongs to the Ivy and its people, which in its small way, has produced – the author apart – some of the most brilliant people in our national history – including St Giles, the most under-rated school in the country. Those from Carrington Village may challenge this, even though the best of them went to St Giles, but they are minnows. Let no man say he is more Barbadian than I, even Mr Bjerkhamn, who on the basis of my UK experience, is simply a Nordic immigrant.

But this is the elephant in the room: foreigners buying up Barbados as if there is no tomorrow and our inept politicians and senior civil servants standing idly by and allowing this to take place. Barbadians are proud people and it hurts to see the most attractive parts of our landscape being sold to foreigners – traditional Caricom citizens excepted – just because they have fat wallets.

Can’t our politicians understand this? Don’t they have any dignity or national pride? Why should we allow some Irish-Canadian to turn Skeete’s Bay in to part of his version of Xanadu, his fantasy bit of Paradise; or some failed bathroom and kitchen maker to establish an upmarket estate on the West Coast for American hedge fund owners and semi-literate British footballers; or allow an over-ambitious local economist to use taxpayers’ money to buy a white elephant of a hotel to satisfy his own desires?

Barbados belongs to its people, and their children and their children’s children, not to politicians who can see no further than the next election, or civil servants who cannot see past their salaries and pensions. It is interesting that it has taken a foreigner, no matter how long he has lived in Barbados, to raise this important national question of nationality and ownership. That he has (or part owns) Port St Charles, St Peter’s Bay, Sapphire Beach – and the other inappropriate re-naming of traditional and provides jobs for over 3000 people is no excuse. Does that mean when the Russian oligarchs come knocking at our door with their ill-gotten gains that we will curl up and allow them to tickle our bellies? Most of Bjerkhamn’s wealth, or at least a substantial part, came from Barbadian taxpayers for work undertaken on public projects by his constructions firms.

How much new money did he arrive in Barbados with? How much did Paul Doyle bring with him? I will bet my right arm that Doyle’s bank is a local Canadian bank. Nothing wrong with that, but how many local small businesses do these Canadian banks lend to?

Our ever so clever lawyers, accountants, estate agents, politicians, planners and others daily conspire in selling our birthplace for thirty pieces of silver.

This is where Arthur’s call for a national commission comes in. Let us all who really care about the future of Barbados put our heads together in a non-party political way to rescue that poor but wonderful island Barbados from these foreign carpetbaggers.


  • @ David
    Sorry, we don’t have current data on hotel closings in the Caribbean. However, when considering the structure of the hotel industry a major occurence took place when Butch bought aquired a number of hotel that included one in Barbados and a few in St. Lucia. Barbadians should have recieved a wake up call when Butch Stewart (Stuart) afer many years refused to developed the Barbadian property. He left it to be in ruins for nearly a decade. Today, this same property has been able to attract public support. How is it that this could make sense, short term, long term?


  • @Pacha

    With respect the reference was to Jordans’s mouthings rather than any bend down reference to the man. You are correct of course that the tourism model we have is not efficiently aligned to the market. The arcane thinking which has brought us to where we are no doubt reaches to all the other areas of civil society where decisions have to be made.


  • @ David
    Point taken. But if we want to fix this we have to get into the psyche of the Barbadian. For it is there where these problems begin and where the solution must come. We may find that the political establishment or the economic oligarchs are unhelpful in making the different Barbados that we may seek.


  • Everyday the current government remain in office is two days towards the point of no return …


  • @ austin
    Yours assumes that any ‘government’ within the current paradigm can correct our ills. We think you mean an Owen Arthur’s BLP led regime. By definition the current opposition is part of the government right now and there are few ideas for transformation. Was it not this same tired BLP that run out of steam a few years ago? What would really change if the BLP takes the power of the people? These are not 3 or 4 year problems. These problems go back for decades and implicate both ‘leading’ political parties. Yes, we believe that a gullible Barbadian public may opt to exchange Tweedledee for Tweedledum but beside the emotion for vengeance NOTHING fundamentally will change the next day or five years thereafter. Are we to continue firing governments – because we seem to be dealing with the same issues for the last 50 years. If as a people this is our strategic response we may well be deserving of the future that beckons. The problems that Barbados is facing and will continue to face, regardless of who is in government will continue except there is some fundamental transformation. We are not persuaded that a one man cult will make any difference. Regardless to who is the cult leader. Why would thinking people want a return of Owen Arthur when everything he knows, the economic models by which he is guided are collapsing all over the world and the people he looks to for guidance are themselves in a quandary. Come on ‘peoples’ this is not the time to be dependent.


    How come you are not frightened of well trained armed men walking around on Miami Beach (Enterprise Beach) with M16s among ordinary citizens and visitors. My friend the military security state is upon us all? LOL.


  • Ah boy Pacha

    I gun respond to as many things as I can on the things that you mention’.

    High costs in tourism is a relative consideration isn’t it? If the Barbados brand and the people that it attracts is of a low spend nature then of course our cost will be high. But as it stands the hotels are the lowest paying of the various industries in Barbados and workers are expected to work longer hours and with a smile … hmmm. NO. …! The business model that was used, that of being attractive to return visitors (who were the spenders) has died a natural death (along with the patrons). Forty years of repeat visitors is as long as one could expect from that kind of business. Why do you think Peach and Quiet is being sold? Not only is the proprietor aging, but so too are his guests, those that are still alive.

    Export driven manufacturing under a new dispensation will be attained through the out fitting of the overseas agencies with a highly skilled/trained effective results oriented sales force. Weather made up of Barbadians or not is immaterial, just the best available talent is all that the party will seek. These people will seek out opportunities and develop demand and so on.

    And so on …


    In the tourism industry the major costs are labour, water, land taxes, marketing, maintenance etc. It is self-defeating to talk about the relative quality of the Barbados tourism product when we don’t really understand or underestimate the potency of the competitive environment. People like us who travel often see higher quality products in many, many other places. Some not to far from Barbados. Sometimes there is a sense that Barbados does not have too much to offer or that the industry is tired and cannot develop further. So labour cost alone is unlikely to turn an investor away but the combination of the internal factors listed above are lethal. Now the question has to be – what can we do to transform the internally (Barbados) generated cost base of the industry? And if this is possible how would the profitability be impacted? If profitability is then ameliorated – what would be the new competitive conditions? In short, we could start by working backwards, instead of the traditional worker driver approaches we could employ a holistic approach that involves other supportive industries – at least as a thought experiment. This could be very painful. Some of this has been done over the years in a quixotic fashion thus failing to transform the industry.

    The industry should not be dying with any particular group of people. I can’t agree with you on the manufacturing idea. Neither the local, regional or international circumstances suggest this initiative could be successful.


  • If you’re considered ‘a second-generation-immigrant’ after fifty years of living in the UK, (yes FIFTY YEARS!!) then it’s your own fault for not making the contribution which you should have done (not necessarily you, personally) but your people! If, unlike the Indians and other intelligent people, you’re not going to devote your energies to making a worthwhile contribution to this country but instead, are going to be involved in countless crime, mugging, murdering, raping and the rest, what further impression do you expect peopole to have of you!


  • this thing isn’t working properly, WP n other icons getting in the way, Dave!! anyhow, to continue: what further impression do you expect people to have of you! Muggers aren’t usually welcome by any community, therefore can you be surprised that you’re not appreciated! Listen, all the writing for this journal and that newspaper which you did while over here, has all been in vain, when your people aren’t appreciated. That’s where I come in, but I’m getting tired now! I have got the aptitude but not the oppoortunity. this thing’s messing about again – i gone!! 🙂



    Look come back ha ha ha ha.


    Of course Government can do so much in relieving its burden on the trade, maybe just settling with the FX that is gained through salaries and the payment of utility other business bills. The holistic approach toward its development has always been spoken about and yes anyone who can effectively implement this would be deservin’ of national hero status, but I wish I had figures to back up my claim on the repeat guests. I have a hunch that those who know are remaining quiet.

    I see Barbados’ ability to produce and export as a business that is seeking to compete in a shark infested environment and the best possible way to do so as I see it is to outfit yourself with a sales force that is second to none. I think of NCR in the 70’s and 80’s when it succeeded in moving shop owners away from tabulating on pieces of brown paper and so on. It was hard selling. Operatives in the Life insurance business understand this concept very well. Sellers “create” opportunities and that is where the investment in staffing should be made.

    and so on …


  • BAF, i seem to have shut e up!! Looka, he generation uh Bajans come ova hay n write a lot uh *hite in d West Indian papers, week after week, n month after month, trying to song wise n, wha d **** duh achieve!! bugger-all! I daresay he line he pockets wid a house or two up in d Heights but, as for doing anything to help the West Indians in Britain, they’ve been an abysmal failure. In my view, life here for us, is now worse than it was the fifty years ago to which he refers, and how he’s writing again, to youthis time. LOL. I wish wunna all luck. reckon you’ll need it. this thing’s messing about again!!


  • Still relevant six years later.


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