Notes from a Native Son: The Barbadian Diaspora

Hal Austin


The post-independence experience of Barbados is one of missed opportunity after missed opportunity and nothing demonstrates this more that the Diaspora conference which is now coming to an end in Barbados. Here was a rare opportunity to draw on the collective knowledge, enthusiasms and skills set of the great Barbadian Diaspora to add to the mix of ideas and proposals for the development of this small, but proud island-state, across a number of disciplines, sectors and industries?

Here was an opportunity for overseas-based Barbadians to contribute in a fundamental way – not just through the vulgarity of semi-naked dancing and alcohol-induced unprotected sex – to the short, medium and long-term development of their island home.

Sadly, the notion, first developed under the late David Thompson, has been taken over by a group of people without any idea of how to take forward what was a dynamic and brilliant idea and make it bear fruit. From reports and conversations with people who have attended, the conference was a talking shop, lacking in substance, and acting as a break between the entertainment and recreational shopping.

Intellectual and Cultural Identity:

The concept of Diaspora has its historic roots in the European Jewish tradition but, post the Second World War, is applied to all national, ethnic and religious communities away from their places of origin. This spatial geography of identity has also given rise to interpretative faultlines between these groups. For example, the New York Jewish intellectual movement may have differences of opinion on fundamental issues to those who live in Israel, or Cuban-Americans may have different, at times conflicting, economic outlooks to those who live at home. So too with the Barbadian Diaspora, be they based in North America, Europe, the Caribbean archipelago or Oceania.

Sometimes these differences may be generational: those of use born in the Caribbean may see things differently, and may have different emotions about our island-home, to our children, or their children, or their children’s children. The thing we would like to pretend we have in common are traditional Barbadian values. Only this week two visiting Cubans were talking sentimentally about their love of Barbadian food as a symbol of their connectedness. I know from experience what this feels like every time I meet my New York cousins. Without labouring the point, this raises questions about the organisation of the conference. Few of us want to sit and listen, no matter how polite, to second division politicians talking down to us about development and what we can do for our native home.

The fact is that people of Caribbean cultural heritage have in many cases reached the top of the legal tree in Europe and North America, in education, policing, public administration, business and even journalism. What people are looking for is an exchange of ideas – and here the returnees as a resource are disgracefully underused – of making direct practical contributions to projects, new and existing industries, mentoring and funding. They may, and often do, have experience of community building that they may want to contribute and may be keen to form business and intellectual partnerships with local people. None of these ideas have been developed for this conference, if the programme and reports are correct.

Reaching Out:

The one aspect of this conference that is noticeably absent is the use of digital technology. The entire conference should have been transmitted to every corner of the world through the use of the internet; people should be blogging, tweeting and using other forms of social media; there should have been newsletters, published speeches, participation by the university and the business community. In fact, the university and business people have been noticeable by their absence, or certainly lack of active participation. Building a digital community should be one of the positive outcomes of this conference, and certainly one of the ideas driving this get together. There should have been themes with positional papers running through the meetings. I know of at least one young, bright Barbadian who came down from New York with loads of good ideas who has been left sadly disappointed.

Small Business Office:

Business should be at the centre of the discussions. From experience most of us know that one major problem with forming a limited liability company in Barbados, apart from funding and decent office space, is the bureaucratic muddling involved. First, unless you are an insider you would not even know the first steps to take in registering a company with the relevant authorities In reality this should be a simple one-step process that should not take more than five days from beginning to end: registering the details of the company and the principals, whether digitally or by physical form, the details of which should automatically then be sent electronically to all the relevant authorities.

Establishing a bank account and making contact with frontline advisers – legal, accounts, etc – could be done in a morning and trading should be ready by the following week. As things stand, there is a bureaucratic obstacle course to run, including unnecessary delays, time-consuming meetings, and so on? For those from the Diaspora who want to re-establish links, an archaic and mind-numbing planning system, added to obstreperous and arrogant staff, could sometimes make a difference between going ahead with a plan and abandoning it.

Barbados Diaspora Development Fund:

At a time like this, with pressures on the economy, high unemployment and a business sector partly sitting on its cash or, if not, in dire financial straits, it is clear that government and policymakers are desperately searching for new short-term ideas, if not to rescue a nation in trouble, then to influence the electorate before the forthcoming general election. A Barbados development fund, a closed vehicle, with a target of Bds$500m, to be used exclusively for funding new businesses, excluding the hotel sector, and free of government influence, should be one of the ideas to emerge from this conference.

In simple arithmetic, that would work out at about 50000 people investing Bds$10,000 each, of US$5000 or £3300. That is achievable. On two recent occasions I brought people to Barbados to do business and each time it ended in embarrassing experiences with senior civil servants. Last October I brought a party of people, who were keen to combine attending a wedding with doing business? Meetings were arranged by an influential government department and all the necessary parties were briefed before we arrived in the country. Apart from the chief executive of one agency not going ahead with the meeting, not giving warning and not appointing a junior member of staff to attend in his place, the meetings themselves went very weSo much so, that a time scale for establishing the project was set, beginning in April, and the senior organisers of the new project returned to Britain with great plans to start the business.

However, without explanation, subsequent emails and telephone calls to this most obnoxious of civil servants ended with senior public employees slamming the telephone down on callers, telling them that they were not interested in doing business with them, and other forms of rude behaviour that had they been in any other country they would have been instantly sacked, marched out of the office and given not a single penny in compensation.

I subsequently was told that this person was the former head of another government department notorious for its incompetence, which frequently appears in the Auditor General’s report for its poor management and, frankly, is a waste on public funds. More intriguingly, in a column that I once wrote for a local paper I had cause to refer  to them in an unflattering light and, the assumption was, that he was getting his own back.

But this is Barbados, where incompetents can often be found in positions of influence, and who can often damage the good name of the country because they are members of a powerful union or have influential political or social connections. The other introduction I made, a senior mortgage provider, with over £1bn in lending on his books, came to Barbados after much encouragement from me, liked what he saw, a minister (who must remain nameless) put aside time to see him, a senior retired politician did the same, both with great success, then one of our leading lawyers – a QC to boot – when approached for legal advice, after one of his junior colleagues had delayed providing the necessary documentation, proceeded to talk him out of doing business in Barbados by telling him a story of how knowledgeable he was about business. The man, an expert on mortgage lending, was not seeking financial or business advice, all he wanted was someone locally to tweak his documents and registration, which would in the main be done by his lawyers in Britain.

Analysis and Conclusion

Quite often Barbadians living overseas can make an enormously positive contribution to the development of the country. Contrary to the ignorance that often masquerades as knowledge, having a passport and travelling to some other country does not remove our Barbadianness. On the contrary, sometimes – the majority of times? – it causes it to focus more on what it means to be Barbadian in a way that we would not have had we not left the country.

The return of native Barbadians should usher in a new spirit of collaboration and experimentation, to an exchange of ideas and creative cooperation, to new ways of seeing old problems. After spending two years organising a conference, government has used the opportunity to appropriate what should have been a people’s event. However, we should not let this failure demoralise us; what we must do is use the opportunity to drive government out of this part of our lives. We can organise bigger and better conferences than this.

50 thoughts on “Notes from a Native Son: The Barbadian Diaspora

  1. I wish you had call names, particularly of the lawyer that F#cked things up for your group and the Public Servant that should be fired and not compensated. But have a habit of writing these articles and disappearing until the next one is due.

    As far as I am aware the conference served as an opportunity for Stuart to advance the idea of selling off a portion of the Airport and Seaport to the diaspora. This to me says ONCE AGAIN that “Barbadians are being served up for Exploitation by Overseas based People” at a Foreign Exchange price. This clearly represents a Government Strategy that is tailing out and desperate and unfortunately it is a strategy that is shared by both Political Parties … F#ck that!

  2. Everytime i read these articles i am spellbound at the amount of time spent on highliting the negatives instead of using the power and might of the pen in reinfiorcing the positives and telling barbadon what can be done to ensure better productivity criticism is good but can also destry what positives a country might have achieved after reading the article i am convinced that barbados is a place where one should not do business and the negativity of such articles does not help but deters others.

    • Do you see it as highlighting the negative or painting a picture of the current state of things? We continue to be in denial.

  3. @ ac | August 10, 2012 at 8:20 AM |
    “… after reading the article i am convinced that Barbados is a place where one should not do business and the negativity of such articles does not help but deters others.”

    One can bet that under the BLP with OSA in charge you will have no problem highlighting the negatives. That is what you do daily on this blog cussing OSA for 14 years of misrule, corruption, wastage and blatant disrespect for people and flagrant violation of the country’s laws.
    You have brought not one iota of substantial evidence or has recommended to the Stuart administration to bring formal charges against OSA for 14 years of corruption and abuse of high office. No don’t go mentioning the $75,000 cheque since it was not taxpayers’ money involved.

    People reading your constant putting down of OSA as PM would come to the conclusion that Barbados experienced 14 years of total corrupt governance that would make some banana republic look like a Buddhist monastery or Central African despot look like a rural parish church priest.

    You now see how it feels when the shoe for a small foot is put on a big foot.
    Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at OSA’s hardwood house.

    • All agree that the public service is in need of reform. Both political parties have acknowledged it. The BLP attempted public sector reform. So far this government has done nothing to arrest the lazy culture and irrelevant system designed. BU posted at the time of the E11 that the genesis of concern was the PM’s reluctance to put some fire under the civil service. The irrelevant public service culture remains. What else to do but criticize it. All we are doing is echoing the frustration of the Auditor General. Now ac should read those reports if she wants negative.

  4. @ Hal Austin:

    You ought to name and shame these incompetent arrogant jackasses.
    If you don’t want to mention names at least give enough info for us to have a fairly good idea of who these jokers are. We must try to avoid them and if we can’t when doing business we will be armed with enough info to put them in their place by giving them a good tongue lashing from the cuss book of ‘rassclat’ island gal).

    There are many people in the Diaspora who would like to invest here but find great difficulty dealing with these public workers who have a major chip on their shoulders when interacting with Bajans living abroad or their descendants.
    The often heard complaints from the overseas Bajans are:
    Those who live or lived in England regularly received pointed remarks such as: “You Bajans that live in England mad”. Imagine Bajans talking about mad people. One only has to traverse the streets of Bridgetown and its surroundings and see the amount of madmen out

    “Wunna people from overseas can’t tell we here what to do. We have been doing it this way for long long now and we ain’t plan to change or hear from wunna foreigners whether fresh water yankees or mad-ass Bajan limeys”.

    From the time civil servants hear that you live overseas they are always making innuendos about offering bribes (money does make the mare fly). Lawyers are notorious for swindling Bajan people living overseas.

  5. “remenber folks. we have the best civil service in the caribbean”
    There is no doubt about that. After all, one bad apple does not spoil a whole bunch.

  6. There is a very interesting article on Barbados Free Press regarding the International Planned Parenthood Association racist agenda of encoraging the abortion of Black ugly babies.
    An Indian doctor name Sanger is the chief architect in that project.
    A video on Youtube shows his work and has some very interesting comments he and others have made concerning Black People worth to society.
    David and BU,I believe there might still be some conflict between you and Barbados Free Press,however,that article is of upmost importance to us – Black Barbadians and maybe some aspects of that article should be highlighted over here.
    Afterall we have an arm of the International Planned Parenthood Association in Barbados and there was always suspicion surrounding their work in Barbados
    I think a copy of the video on Youtube and an accompanying article would make great discussion.

    There is a situation at The Roti Hut located in the Lantern Mall Hastings owned by Abdul Pandor brother where Indian employees are paid at a highre rate than Black Barbadian workers.
    I hope the Barbados Workers Union monitors this blog and see this post.
    The Black workers there are afraid to speak out because of victimisation.

    God help Black Barbadians when those Indians take full control of this island.

  7. The current state of many countries are not good world wide however i don,t read repitive articles by citizens telling other countries to stay away this constant lambasting of a small island by one in dispora does more harm than good maybe hal needs to take a page from the jewish media and see how they promote their country all in the meanwhile they killing innocent people

  8. David
    I agree with AC. We have our problems and this five year election cycle makes it worst. But most of the Barbadians who write negative articles about Barbados are not about getting productivity up or getting the public service working, it is about getting rid of the DLP government and getting the BLP back in government even if the country is destroyed in the process.
    I have problem with that because I have to live here whoever is the government

    • @clone

      How do you propose we break the cycle and culture of mendacy which has stymied our productivity and competitivenes?

      It will not happen by highlighting the ‘positive’.

      Also a check of Hal’s articles have made recommendations about improving the Corts, healthcare, transportation, banking, crime situation etc.

      Why is it you guys only recall the negative?

  9. miller @ac
    You now see how it feels when the shoe for a small foot is put on a big foot.
    Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at OSA’s hardwood house.

    look admonishing OSA for his past erroneous and inept way he handle the taxpayers money cannot be compared to articles which undermines corporate investments and gives a dismal view world wide of a country t o potential investors that is almost like treason. tell me how does that in any way similar to criticising an individual as to sending a message which will give a negative impact to a nation and its people> THAT IS WRONG ! WRONG! WRONG and should not be condone byi have no problem with hal taking the govt to task m for mistakes but he should always presented an equal amount of verbiage to the positive as he does the negative people are watching and listening worldwide and his constant bombardments of salacious attacks and ridicule does nothing to help barbados .

  10. David
    You said
    “Also a check of Hal’s articles have made recommendations about improving the Corts, healthcare, transportation, banking, crime situation etc.”
    Yes these areas need improvements but he said that one of the cases involved a leading QC.
    That is our biggest problem in Barbados LAWYERS.

    You did not mentioned that.

    Or is it because they are a privilege group.

    Every problem is placed at the feet of civil servants. But most persons in the Diaspora who want to return home complain about lawyers.

    • @Clone

      Is there a media channel in Barbados which has exposed the deficiency of the legal profession when compared to BU? Some of us are sick and tired of the political partisan bullshit which guides almost any conversation in Barbados. The issue is not Arthur et al, it is WE Bajans on the Rock who have disengaged from participating in our system of government.

  11. I wonder how great a country Barbados would be if the workers were not so terrible.
    When I visit Barbados I spend more on food per day than you pay shop attendants and you expect them to smile and be productive.
    We Diasporians should always compare apples with golden apples.

    “Ontario minimum wage in Canadian dollars
    Students (under age 18, working 28 hours or under per week while school is in session or work when there is a school break): $9.60.
    Liquor servers: $8.90.
    Homeworkers (includes students and overrides the student wage): $11.28.
    The Ontario government for 2012, decided to keep the general minimum wage at $10.25.”

    I have worked in Barbados,done Business in Barbados and dealt with people in various Government offices and have not encountered the behavior described.
    Yes I have encountered a few idiots but for the most part Balans are competent even though sometimes surly.

    You spend so much time denigrating Bajans without looking at the whole picture.
    I will not join the BU Bajan-bashing brigade.

    It is time to stop talking shiite and keep positive ideas flowing like miller an Bushie.
    I have some ideas I will post on BU soon.

  12. Man look Hants
    Nutting aint wrong with the Bajan Govt workers..they just fed up to see that they have to work so hard 247…and they got doctor gone secretary…..getting an arm n leg for pretending she working and enjoying comedy…..How you feel people duz swallow these tings?……DEM gotta B vex.

    • @enuff

      Never disagreed on the need for Bajans to participate more in our democracy where we differ is on methods. You believe we should join the political parties others believe we can go different routes.

    • @Hants

      It is ok for some to label Arthur as leading a corrupt government for 14 years and if you listen to some one can easily believe Barbados is a little Zimbawe. However if you criticize others who form part of our governance system it should be hands off? Such an approach is analogous to a mother playing favorites. We are playing too much politics with the issues Hantsie.

  13. “I agree with AC. We have our problems and this five year election cycle makes it worst. But most of the Barbadians who write negative articles about Barbados are not about getting productivity up or getting the public service working, it is about getting rid of the DLP government and getting the BLP back in government even if the country is destroyed in the process.
    I have problem with that because I have to live here whoever is the government”

    It is ironic that you agree with AC who criticise the BLP and OSA right, left and centre but complain about criticism of the DLP. What a joker you are. I am sure that you were one of those critical of the BLP prior to the last elections and had a problem with living here unless the DLP formed the Government.

  14. @balance i have no oroblem with hal criticising the govt that is how democracy works but in doing so he cast a wider net labelling the people as incompetent and nincompoops.if you view the above video you would realise that barbados is not alone in motivating its workers towards excellence but it is a problem other carribean countries have to deal with and a work in progress

    • ac

      What happens when you ascribe the corruption label to Arthur and the BLP? By doing do don’t you realize you have condemned Barbados as a corrupt country? Before you reply bear in mind Barbadians voted for Arthur and the BLP three consecutive times.

  15. Bearing in mind that i have spoken for or against the polices of the BLP and its leader yes however i have not castigate or ridicule the people or nation for voting their choice unlike hal who in is effort is shamelessy trying to ruin the DLP has gone to the extreme of tarring and feathering the people and that is disguting and distrbuing coming from one who should know better

  16. David wrote “We are playing too much politics with the issues Hantsie”.

    Playing politics is in the dna of Bajans.

    How else do you explain the plethora of political comments on this blog and the paucity of ideas to improve the economy and quality of life.

    Bare political shiiiite rap ad nauseum.

    • Hants

      Suggestions are made on BU daily. You need to wade through all that is posted. BU is a place for all to come and share views. Others reading those views maybe inspired to be galvanized into action. You are correct that our biggest constituent is the political however you know there is sufficient of a variety of blogs to keep everyone happy.

  17. David I love this blog and don’t want it to change.

    I am just trying to provoke the brainiacs on here to come up with ideas to help save Barbados from the continuing downward economic spiral.

    • @Hantsie

      Ideas not the problem, it is the culture of guarding the status quo and establishment which is the problem.

  18. @ David

    “You believe we should join the political parties others believe we can go different routes.”

    There are two ways to influence governance: participation in party politics or lobbying. To shun the former, especially in our political environment, is a sure sign of cowardice.

    • @enuff

      As citizens we can contribute to our governance system in different ways. It does not have to be in the political realm.

  19. @David wrote “Ideas not the problem, it is the culture of guarding the status quo and establishment which is the problem.”

    Well if Ideas not the problem great.The time is coming when you will need them because the” status quo and establishment” is doomed to failure.

    Unless we are all really lucky, the rollercoaster ride we are on will continue.

    Canada just had job losses that surprised everyone and Canada is supposed to be doing better than most.

    Some of the solutions are simple but politicians are eunuchs so they will not make the difficult decisions.

    Import substitution should be a priority in this economy.

    Government should stop the importation of gas guzzling luxury cars.
    Ministers and judges et al can drive in Toyota Camry’s and Honda Accords.
    Hybrids and electric cars should be duty free.

    All Furniture should be manufactured in Barbados

    We need a team of thinkers to brainstorm and come up with solutions to invigorate the economy.
    We can recruit Bushie and Miller as team leaders.

  20. Bushie and Miller as team leaders? You looking to create strife or wuh Hants?
    ..that lotta pretty talk dat Miller got, and the lotta fancy words he does nuse should tell you dat he and bushmen would soon be at one another’s throats….

    ….no bozie, Bushie hands full already trying to keep things stable ’round he little shack up in the hills….

    LOL …however if Islandgal were to pass by one of these days, Bushie would surely set aside a little time to administer some anti- menopausal medication as required….

    But Miller….. Nah bozie, best to let we stick to BU….

  21. “LOL …however if Islandgal were to pass by one of these days, Bushie would surely set aside a little time to administer some anti- menopausal medication as required…. ”

    Bushman why don’t you tek yuh eyes offa muh. I doan need yuh medication, yuh might need somma mine BUT I choose who I give it to!

  22. Well said David!

    @ enuff
    – by insisting on minimum standards of justice, fairness and honesty throughout the society, and beginning at home
    – by standing up for what is right at all times, not only when it suits our personal aims
    – by speaking out against wrong doings and EXPECTING justice and honesty from officials
    – by encouraging, supporting and backing those who stand up for truth and rightness.

    In short, since a society always get exactly what they deserve, if we became a society that cared about justice, we would be blessed with leaders who are too, … and thus with excellent governence.

    It is a joke to think that a pack of thieves, liars, crooks and cheats could expect to have good honest leadership. It is much more likely that the leaders of such a pack will be the biggest liars,thieves and cheats.

  23. @ Hants | August 11, 2012 at 10:17 PM |
    “Government should stop the importation of gas guzzling luxury cars.
    Ministers and judges et al can drive in Toyota Camry’s and Honda Accords.
    Hybrids and electric cars should be duty free.”

    A very interesting proposal that has already been put to this government. I don’t know how much local knowledge you have or how much you see on the ground but the amount of MP & ML registered vehicles would make Hertz Rentals look like a two bit taxi business. The number of high powered luxury vehicles with logos of Mercedes Benz, Audis, BMW, Honda Legends and SUVS packing ‘horsepower’ engines way in excess of 2,000 CC’s is unbelievable for such a small 2×3 place where most of the roads are potholed makeover mule cart roads formerly used to transport canes to the once dominant plantation yards. Now where in Bim can these vehicles operate efficiently when the puny roads are always clogged with traffic both vehicular and human? The East Coast road or the ABC highway at 4.00 in the morning? But then most of the drivers feel the ABC highway could put any autobahn in Germany to shame.

    There is absolutely no need to import motorcars for private use with engine sizes in excess of 2L. For what purpose? To show off that we have champagne taste and soon to be empty pockets? Or is it to insulate themselves from the people to show who is boss like some African dictators and their henchmen?

    This matter of government policy regarding cars purchased and assigned for use by employees and statutory boards leaves a whole lot to be desired and totally puts a lie to the government’s hypocritical policy stance and propaganda regarding saving energy, reducing fossil fuel consumption, greening the economy, fighting climate change and the general drive to cut expenditure and live within the country’s means. Just another big con game as in: “Do as we say but NOT as we do”!

    @ Bush Tea: You see BT (the bare talk messenger of the BBE in the Sky) no big words just pure commonsense and just straightforward proposals to help the economy with very little pain or discomfort to the citizens but with the cost being a reduction in profits for the car importers and a dent in the egos of the big ups with their showoff big rides.

  24. Austin is fishing in a dry pond when he envisages that a majority of people in the Diaspora would invest funds in some “Development Fund”. Not that they don’t have the money but most of the people attending this Conference are north of 50 and I would say that the majority are close to or over 60 years and their focus is on keeping any disposable income or securing their retirement in these Economic times.

    When the idea of this conference was first proposed it was to kill two birds with one stone i.e. Bajans are likely to come for Crop Over so as they are on shore why not have A Conference at the same time?

    I don’t want to comment on the specifics before I get feedback but perhaps it would be better to have the Conference at another date when everyone can be focused and when some local participation could be assured.
    Finally one of the prime features of a Conference like this should be mentorship, where attendees could offer pass on valuable information about career choices and opportunities to young people.

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