Private Sector Disengagement Challenging Development
Submitted by William Skinner
Our private sector has never been the engine of growth. It has never indicated any earnest desire to accept such a role. Since independence, it would be very difficult, to identify, a period where our private sector, both traditional and current, drove the growth engine.
Ever since the decline of the plantocracy, successive governments, have been the true engineers of economic development. A glaring example of the private sector’s deviancy was the housing sector boom of the post-independence period, when the traditional private sector refused, to engage in any broad-based effort, in public housing for lower income groups.
Agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and to some degree construction, were systematically underperforming because the sector, was mainly concerned with maintaining low wages and engaging in protracted battles with the powerful Barbados Workers Union (BWU). It can be safely argued that the sector was also very reluctant to employ and or promote, the new generation of university graduates, who could have brought a new thinking to the sector. This colonialist attitude resulted in very talented blacks being denied prominence in the board rooms.
The strident criticism of the last government’s generous concessions to the Sandals group, were fuelled by the same private sector, that could not develop a product such as Sandals. Successive governments have bent over backwards to please the pathetic assortment of whiners, within our private sector, who act as if they have never made a penny in profit and apparently believe that the public must underwrite their investments.
Our corporate power houses were interested in nothing more than retail operations and enjoyed the luxury of exploiting consumers, when natural disasters such as hurricanes occurred, and they could increase the prices of basic items such as sardines, bread and milk! That was the extent of their thinking and approach to national economic development.
Our prime industry tourism fell victim to a lethargic and incompetent private sector, that refused to invest heavily in marketing the country and left the demanding work to successive governments, that in turn populated overseas agencies with party sycophants, who knew little or nothing about promoting the product. There was no symbiosis between agriculture and the tourism industry. This meant that a considerable portion of the foreign exchange earned usually found its way out of the country, to maintain the industry.
This unpatriotic sector executed its final betrayal, when it sold one of our most powerful corporate entities, Barbados Shipping and Trading (BST) to foreign interests. BST was a powerful entity that acted as its own government. At one time it managed several estates and allowed them to become run down, rather than invest in the agro-industry. The true history of this organization will reveal it was steeped in unpatriotic corporate practices and rather than innovate and move toward new investments, that would have utilized emerging technological tools, it opted to engage in the greatest act of corporate cowardice by selling out.
As the new government rides on tremendous goodwill, it would do well to read the riot act to our private sector and inform it, that the same way it cannot be business as usual for the civil servants and the citizens, as we go through tough economic times, it cannot be the same for the private sector. It is time that it be told in no uncertain terms to step up to the plate.
Former Prime Minister, Owen Arthur once told the sector that it represented a pack of whiners; another Prime Minister, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, once had to remind the sector that he was not elected in a boardroom. Another former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart told them that if they wanted to dictate how the country was managed, they should consider running for office.
In recent times the same sector was in the forefront of marches organized by trade unions against a government. There is an old saying: “He who helps you buy a big guts cow or horse does not always help you feed it.”
A word to the wise.