Another Heather Cole Column – Destruction of the Barbados Brand
A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,
and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
Proverbs 22 Vs 1
From way back in the 17th Century when sugar was king, Barbados was a brand. It made the best sugar and the best rum. Even the first President of the USA visited in 1751. In the 1960’s with the filming of Island in the Sun, the brand Barbados was romanticized. It became the most desirable honeymoon spot and was regarded as a place of beauty that prompted many to insert on their list of places to visit. Nowadays, it is known as an exclusive tourist destination for jet set travellers especially from the UK including none other than Simon Cowell. The Merrymen have immortalized the name of our island in song, “Beautiful, beautiful Barbados, gem of Caribbean Sea...” The mixture of all of these; the historical, romanticism, beauty have created an allure to make the island a well-defined brand.
The island also benefited from a reputation of having a stable democratic government. It became a leader in the regional economic grouping CARICOM. Long before Rihanna became a sensation Barbados was a brand having established a good name and reputation for itself abroad. Now this all seems to have changed as the island has gone from being the brightest jewel in the English Crown to a struggling economy with mis-management at its epitome in the last 10 years .
The Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and all of his Ministers are to be squarely blamed for the economic situation that has adversely affected growth on the island. Chris Sinckler, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Donville Inniss, the Minister of Industry and International Business and Stephen Lashley the Minister of Sports and Culture have to date committed serious acts of infringement on the International credibility of Barbados. In addition, on the domestic scene many are now questioning the lack of judgement shown by the Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, the Minister of Health John Boyce and the Minister of the Environment Dennis Lowe which has resulted in serious harm to the tourism product.
Of late the Minister of Finance has also devalued the sale price associated with the brand. Mr. Sinckler has operated for the last 9 years as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Management of the economy during his tenure has not been progressive for the local economy which was burdened with no less than 35 new taxes in this period. Mismanagement and his bad economic policies plunged the island into a home-made recession. Unable to meet any of his fiscal deficits targets, he resorted to continuous borrowing of funds on the international market. Ultimately the economic outlook for the island became one of negative growth amidst high taxation and borrowing. International credit rating agencies started to reduce the credit rating of the island making it more expensive to obtain international loans. Sinckler has been responsible for no less than 21 down-grades in the country’s credit ratings. He has made it difficult for the country to get low interest bearing loans. He has damaged the good name of Barbados. In the defense of Sinckler the Prime Minister provided a false narrative that was not based on any economic principles but that was appealing to the emotions of Barbadians. He said the rating agencies could not devalue Barbadians.
On December 3, 2017, the Nation newspaper reported that the Stephen Lashley Ministry of Sports and Culture had applied for a grant $100,000.00 of this approximately $94,000.00 was to pay contractors. UNESCO denied the application. Being denied a grant is not uncommon however, the newspaper noted that a terse response was sent to the Freundel Stuart Administration ” that it will not get one cent of the financing it applied for.’ If one reads between the lines, the Minister applied for a grant to pay for the services of contractors to prepare a report from which nothing was to be implemented. There being no checks and balances in local government for accessing cash; the Minister appeared to have tested the International waters to fraudulently obtain a grant without supporting evidence that a need was to be implemented. However, the UN agency sniffed a rat from the distance and said “no way jose,” His actions leads one to question how he could have been awarded a national honour, and why the Prime Minister did not break his silence on the matter or if he would be willing to invite the media to be present when he raises this issue with Mr. Lashley. Without a doubt, Mr. Lashley’s action of attempted fraud has hereby put any application from this island to the UN under the microscope and the possibility of Barbados not receiving any grants from the UNESCO in the near future. The UN may be of the opinion that all applications are fraudulent. He has damaged the good name of Barbados.
On December 6th, 2017, About 2 weeks ago it was also publicized that Barbados has been placed on the blacklist of countries conducting international business by the European Union (EU). The Minister of Industry and International Business, Donville Inniss said in a conference that he was shocked by the news that this had occurred. However, it was not the first time that the country was black listed under his watch. It previously occurred in 2015. Shame on him. He had two years to ensure that the requisite legislation had been put in place and enforced. The fact that it has happened again speaks to his incompetence to address the issues facing the Ministry for which he has responsibility. He too is responsible for the destruction of the Barbados Brand.
In addition to the above, the tourism product has been put at risk as a result of leaking sewage on the South Coast. The first response by the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Health was to pull a publicity stunt of jumping in the sea instead of adequately addressing the problem. Recently, there was a description about the sewage on the South Coast on Expedia, accessible to anyone seeking information about Barbados. The judgement and failure on the part of both the Minister of Tourism and Health to adequately correct this problem in a timely matter has had a negative effect on the Barbados brand- enough to threaten the existence of the tourism product.
With the secrecy that surrounds the sale of the Hilton Hotel, one wonders on whose advice and on whose judgement, was the action taken to devalue this piece of real estate that has become synonymous with the Barbados brand. Nike will never devalue its shoes; or Roberto Cavalli devalue the prices of his dresses. One can go on and on regarding the major brands. Therefore, why should the price of the Hilton Hotel be sold way under value when there are even some houses on the West Coast of Barbados that are worth $80 Million? None of the fore mentioned brands are as old as the Barbados Brand and they would certainly not consider selling off a part of their image that was known for performing well for the proverbial “mess of pottage.” It would only be considered self- destruction. To date the Prime Minister has not said a word about the sale of the Hilton Hotel.
It must be noted that the Ministers of Government of the present Administration have not only entered the realm of corruption but they have graduated without consequences to their previous deeds and have now become so brazen that they can test the international bodies as in the case of Stephen Lashley and sell a hotel without following the established rules as in the case of Chris Sinckler, the Minister of Finance. These are the types of Ministers that the Prime Minister has raised. Without admonishing or firing them when they erred instead he has stood in their defense as in the criminal case with the Speaker of the House; trivialized the impact of their actions as he did with the information of the island’s 20th downgrade or; said nothing. He is simply not a leader.
With the fore-mentioned, it is clear that based on their actions that this brazen set of politicians will do anything to win the next general election. All the signs are there and the people have allowed them to perfect their craft. However, like a sick patient taking a combination of pills that will have life threatening effects on the body so too is the current status of Barbados. The cash strapped government is in a serious bind causing it to undertake the selling of the Hilton Hotel. There is a stench of desperation approaching that the island’s economy is on the verge of collapsing and the action of the Ministers are accelerating the collapse. One wonders if the Prime Minister really understands what is at stake?