Notes From a Native Son: Why a Massive Development Plan could Have Made a Major Difference to Development in Barbados (Pt 1)

Hal Austin

For the last five years governments of Barbados have been trapped like a rabbit in oncoming headlights as to what to do about the cascading economic crisis that has descended on the island and the simmering social breakdown that no one wants to talk about. Many prefer to close their eyes and pretend that global problems beyond local control are the reasons, so all they have to do is sit back and wait and things will magically change.

However, no where has there been a substantive strategic plan, no strategy to rebalance public sector spending, no plan for growth, apart from the rhetoric, and nothing at all to deal with the threat to social order. Nowhere in the many speeches and rebuttals of his critics has finance minister Chris Sinckler talked about the much-needed fiscal discipline, reducing public sector borrowing or spending. He has mentioned growth, but it is all smoke and mirrors, rhetoric without any follow through action.

Here I want to outline some simple policy actions or announcements the DLP government should have taken within the first 100 days of coming to power, and, to my mind, the mistakes it has made. The nearest the government has come to publishing an expressed policy was its “Barbados Short and Medium Term Action Plan” of December 2008. Lots have happened in the last four years, and, apart from the occasional reference to it, that document has not been updated.

Social Priorities:
The greatest social problem facing Barbados is that of social stability; everything else is secondary to this, and the most important part of this is youth unemployment. Government should have moved within days – in fact, the first 48 hours – to announce its intentions on a comprehensive youth policy, ranging from jobs creation, to education, to reducing the age of majority. In 1963, nearly fifty years ago, the Barrow Administration reduced the age of majority from twenty-one to eighteen – years before the UK and most other developed nations. It is hard to imagine that nearly fifty years later the quality of our public education is such that there should be resistance to reducing the age of majority a further two years to sixteen. This would not only empower young people, giving them a sense of taking part in our youthful democracy, to reinvigorate our public conversation and policy-making.

The priority, however, should be to get those school-leavers who are not going on to further or higher education in jobs or training as soon as they leave fulltime education. There should be a multi-pronged approach: turning all entry-level public sector jobs in to job-shares, on the principle that it is better to have a part-time job than to sit at street corners with the risk to descending in to delinquency that that entails.

The second approach would be to get as many as possible in to apprenticeships by offering incentives to employers to take on trainees for a wide range of skills and crafts and for the full duration to completion of that training. One other policy area the government should give serious consideration to is a form of voluntary national service for 16-24 year olds, for which volunteers would be rewarded, either by getting an advantage when they apply for public sector jobs, or having all or part of their university fees paid for by the state. (This implies that the funding of the UWI would move from its current funding to one where students would be responsible for their own fees, tuition and residential). All this will be part of a wide-ranging reform of the educational system, including a gradual increase in the percentage of GDP spent on education.

The next area that is badly in need of urgent reform is the criminal and civil justice systems. A comprehensive computerisation of the public sector, including the Registry and courts, would not only improve the quality of justice, but the overall administration of justice in Barbados. One innovation that is urgently needed is a small claims court, a Judge Judy tribunal, with legal powers to oversee rows between relatives, neighbours, private loans, employees/employers, consumer issued, in other words small matters that not clog up the main courts. Decisions should be binding, only litigants in person should be allowed, so as to keep out costly and pretentious attorneys, and cases should be based on the facts without the admission of case law.

And, there is a need to hire part-time judges from the army of senior lawyers in private practice, use temporary buildings as courts, such as the old court buildings, to reduce the massive pile up of cases which go back years.

Short Term(First Year):
A government in an economic tight spot should act urgently, not only to restore confidence in the population, but to send a message that it is not business as usual. Of course, since the major problem is economic – although as has been pointed out, social stability is equally as import – government should have acted immediately on coming to power to rebalance public spending. It should have frozen public sector pay as an alternative of cutting pay. In stead it gave the public sector a pay rise.

A pay freeze would have had the same effect as a wage cut over a period of time as inflation would have reduced purchasing parity. One reform that should have been implemented within the first hours of the new government was to disband the Defence Force, saving over $30m a year, re-form the volunteer Regiment to provide our internal security needs and RSC obligations, and transfer all the staff, with the exception of officers and a few non—commissioned officers, to the police and Coastguard. This should be accompanied by a shift in security policy from internal policing to a wall of steel round the border, with a better equipped Coastguard, a Special Task forced equivalent to the marines (or Navy Seals), and at the same time make Customs the lead organisation in the fight against drug and gun smuggling. Along with this should go the creation of national traffic police force, removing traffic duties and a national detective agency (without powers of arrest), leaving policing to a well-funded team of uniformed officers.

Rebalancing the Economy:
The need for an urgent rebalancing of the current account deficit as the basis for a wider fiscal discipline is clear. There is also a necessary need to re-educate the public (and some senior financial regulators and academic economists) about the purpose of foreign currency reserves and how these relate to economic shocks, pandemics and volatility and risk.

In simple terms, warehousing Bds$1.3bn in the expectation that some externality may occur, similar to the millennium bomb, which will wipe out Barbados is like believing in Nostradamus. It is this ritual obsession with foreign earnings that led former prime minister Erskine Sandiford to sell locally produced sugar to the then European Economic Community, while Barbadians had to import what appeared to be unhygienic sugar from Guatemala.

What is needed within the central bank and the higher levels of the ministry of finance is an expertise in currency trading and the futures markets and, on the part of the government, a sound food security policy.
But then again, a good food security policy must be integrated in to a land use policy and at present we still have acres of good agricultural land being sold for house building. This is criminal.

Another immediate national need, certainly over the lifetime of this parliament, is a locally-owned retail bank. The money government has pumped in to the white elephant of Four Seasons, or underwritten loans, its investments in LIAT and the Trinidad-owned BNB, should have been poured in to a Post Office Bank for the simple business and economic reason that for financialisation to work there must be credit. And there will not be any economic growth without financialisation. And, as we know, the Trinidad, Canadian and Bermudan-owned banks have no business interest in Barbados other than warehousing savings and selective lending. A retail bank, offering basic services such as savings, residential mortgages, credit cards and protection products could become the vehicle for funding small and medium enterprises, the drivers of any economic growth. With eighteen post offices distributed all around the country, a Post Office Bank – rolled out over an extended period – would be enormous attractive to households and businesses in Barbados.

(Part two next week)

0 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son: Why a Massive Development Plan could Have Made a Major Difference to Development in Barbados (Pt 1)

  1. Here I want to outline some simple policy actions or announcements the DLP government should have taken within the first 100 days of coming to power,

    Immediately after your conclusion in part 2 I would like you to write on a new topic titled.

    What the BLP should do in the first 100 days after the next election if they win.That would truly be relevant.

  2. well put Hants.

    After all these policy documents, and a 25 strategic plan, now what?
    Reality is, this is where we are…. the question is, where are we going?

  3. We all have agendas some are more opaque than others, the pity is that if we wear the coat of a propangandist for a singular party above another, we fall into the trap of the school boy on a sea-saw in the play ground syndrome. I am up you are down. It is this attitude which is the bane of Barbados. Governments make mistakes some more than others, but the idea that one was all righteousness and the other is totally inept is nonsense.

    Good ideas are and should be welcome from any quarter but the inference that the problems of Barbados – and they are many – can be laid at the door of a particular Party is not true.

    • @Yardbroom

      The current economic environment is good for opposition politics. Where the government has failed is to commit to a transparent communications plan so that general public understands what is the strategy of the government. To continue down the old line it has pursued is irrelevant in these times; especially with social media.

      On the flipside it required visionary thinking in the boom times to reposition for the bad times. The same old tired model is failing us, a model bloated by the need to support unrealistic entitlements, a model where productivity in 2012 is not understood by unions which are still operating with a 70s, 80s mindset a model where tourism is our business but the stakeholders running it are clueless..

  4. “Problems can not be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”
    Albert Einstein

    there lies your problem.

  5. @ Hal Austin:

    I await your Part 11 to see your comments and any recommendations for the modernization and greening of our agriculture and strategies to provide for our food security given what is on the horizon internationally.
    But at this stage just food for thought: Do you know that Barbados is importing “filleted” Tilapia from China? What a shame! And this is a country that has been talking for many years now about aquaculture. The current administration promised in its second set of budgetary proposals the setting up of an aquaculture project in the Oistins Bay. Maybe they have been instructed by the Chinese that it would be cheaper to import ‘farmed’ fish and crustaceans like shrimp from their suppliers back home than to rear any local species even if in a joint venture with our Guyanese or Belizean CSME or Caricom partners. Never mind the carbon foot prints incurred in transporting frozen fish thousand of miles across the Globe and the forex leakage in this one-way trade.

    One wonders if Bajans really know how fish is farmed in China? One thing you can say for the Chinese they are a very resourceful people and nothing goes to waste in their ‘input/output’ model of economic activity and production. What might be considered waste for Bajans would be considered fertilizer and food for other commercially profitable species reared for human consumption. Sewage processing plants make excellent symbiotic partners to fish farms. And with an average of 1.3 billion ‘poo’ deliveries a day there is no shortage of raw materials.

    Why not explore the possibility of using the African snails we stupidly consider a pest to work for us as their human equivalent have done in the sugar industry of yore and turn the snails into an important feed source for any aquaculture project in Bim. Now that is what you call “thinking outside the shell”!

  6. @miller

    We do not suffer from a shortage of ideas in Barbados, it is always in the execution.

    Even if the BLP puts your wonderful idea in its Manifesto, what?

    You are correct, there is no reason why we can’t engage in fish farming in Barbados.

  7. @ David Sept, 14, 2012 @ 6:43AM
    David there is not much you have written that I can reasonably make a case against. All Governments should be called to account, and it is the duty of the opposition to put forward workable ideas to solve existing problems as well as others.

    Interested parties can also input new ideas to be considered, but to infer that those now being presented can solve all our problems and they are not being implemented because of a lack of strategic thinking by the present Government, is not even handed in presenting the case.

    Some of the problems in Barbados are endemic and should have been tackled a long time ago but there has been no medium or long term strategy of where we want to position ourselves in say 25 or 50 years, that is a failing.

    This present administration is not the only guilty party and to suggest or infer that is the case, is to be disingenuous. Prudent governance is making plans during the times of plenty for the bad times, for when there is famine your options are limited.

    The cohesive cement that would allow us to pull together in not there, why? Truth is Barbados is a divided society, with various factions and sub-factions representing their own fiefdoms. . . that is a pity, but so it is. We stand in the same space but we are not “one people”.

  8. @Yardbroom | September 14, 2012 at 10:43 AM |
    “Truth is Barbados is a divided society, with various factions and sub-factions representing their own fiefdoms.”

    Do you know of any democratic society (not autocratic or controlled by a dictator) that is not divided? So we are divided, so what? Isn’t the Church itself divided? That is the nature of the beast call mankind.
    We democratically elect a government based on a set of promises and proposals presented by the most persuasive political party. We expect them to keep the promises and implement the proposals they presented to us as the quid pro quo for our vote of confidence in their ability or potential. That is why the majority of the electorate of Barbados went to the polls in January 2008 and elected the DLP. If they have not or cannot fulfil their commitments why not? A reasonable explanation for failure or incompletion would persuade the average informed and educated voter to accept a well communicated message and who would be prepared to extend the time or appreciate the change of circumstances beyond the party’s control.
    Can we really argue that the present administration cannot be held totally responsible for the implementation of many of the promises and proposals made in their 2008 manifesto? For examples, the enactment of Integrity & FoI legislation; the cessation of sale of land to the highest foreign bidders; the further concretization of the East Coast; the revitalization of agriculture especially the sugar industry.
    Now there were many promises made which depended heavily on external factors e.g. lowering of the COL that can be evaluated in light of the on going economic recession. But it is during these “hard times” that looking after the ‘basics’ becomes paramount. Never allow your roads or agricultural fields to deteriorate to the extent they have done in Barbados- recession or no recession.
    That is why we elected the DLP to make the promised difference and to lead us up a pathway to progress and not as the BLP allegedly did in its 14 years down a dead end of socio-economic decline as per what has been trumpeted on this blog by the likes of ac, CCC and !

    We, the fickle electorate, will judge the BLP when they present their promises and proposals at election time in the same way we will judge the DLP’s new or revised promises and proposals against their performance and ability to explain themselves. We will be looking in our vulnerable and fledgling democratic governance system for a team who has the potential to do and implement instead of casting blame on the other side as has been witnessed over the last 4 ½ years.

  9. Yes to all of you but there is no money, the “golden goose” has stopped laying. Spending time is over, coats need to be cut according to means.

  10. In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.

  11. Miller

    You seem not to appreciate what is happening in the world. You are living in a fantasy world with one intention which is to get your hands on taxpayer’s money through contracts. Barbados can sink or swim it matters not to you. The DLP tried it in 2008 and you are now using it against them.
    Well go read this story in the Jamaica Gleaner where Portia Simpson PNP won a landslide victory and is now under severe pressure and a year has not gone yet.
    You and Austin know that there is no magic wand this time around

  12. @ Clone | September 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM |
    “Miller: You seem not to appreciate what is happening in the world. You are living in a fantasy world with one intention which is to get your hands on taxpayer’s money through contracts.”
    You are right. I am living in a fantasy world. A world that has been shaped by expectations born out of high hopes for change and the DLP making a difference to the governance system of our fragile and vulnerable economy. A country lacking in material resources can only survive and provide a decent standard of living through frugality, good management and honest hard working leaders to set good examples for the common man to follow.
    Unfortunately this fantasy is what the likes of me bought into in January 2008. And what have we been given in return? A dose of reality check that says the DLP have learnt so well from 14 years of studious observation and have now exceeded their teachers in the art of graft and the modern form of ‘instant-coffee-like’ corruption.
    It is a reality check to be confronted with a pristine pure innocent DLP involved so quickly in a quagmire of filth and garbage of low(e)down proportions weighed down by Darcy’s Pierhead marina, Arni’s BWA mains replacement fraud, Georgie son of Hut entrapment in the Cruise Terminal by Bannister the Fly and the CLICO Ponzi scheme turn of events to sully the name of Mr. Clean of “I will not Lie, Cheat or Steal” infamy. To top it all off is Lashes living large and in charge of the house of jada.
    Keep on doing what you are doing, DLP. On the present path there certainly will be no more contracts for both you and the BLP to award. How can you award something that is owned and controlled by someone else? You will just be the Secretary to the IMF Tenders Committee.
    It’s just a matter of time! So sings Brook Benton with his song book placed next to us. Think twice, my friend before accusing the miller of living in a fantasy world of corruption and lies.

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