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