Late Prime Minister David Thompson (l) disgraced former Chairman of CLICO Holdings B’dos Ltd rumoured to be local partners in Cost-U-Less
We do not charge membership fees and believe we can offer low prices to Barbados shoppers, just as we have in our most recent store opening in the Cayman Islands, which was also a partnership with local business people
It has been almost five years from the time of the announcement Cost U Less Maybe Coming To Barbados that it launched in Barbados. However, based on consumer feedback the wait has been in vain. It has been two months since launch and Barbadians continue to wait for the low prices promised. Before the coming of Cost-U-Less the Trinidadians, who now have a vice grip on our food retail and distribution channels, had promised Barbadian consumers the same, that is, we would benefit from economies of scale created by a larger T&T market.
Barbados now finds itself in a situation where we have a new entrant to an already competitive retail food sector. And it has not demonstrated any appreciable price differentiation in its offering. Sad to say the inevitable must follow. We created 200 jobs with the coming of Cost-U-Less but SuperCentre and DacostaMannings, owned by the Trinidadians, continue to send home employees.
The presentation maybe of interest if we consider the importance of the NIS Scheme’s contribution to supplementing retirement income. BU continues to be optimistic that full transparency will engulf the management of the fund to ensure that one day coming soon the audited financials of the NIS Scheme will be made public to encourage the rigour of public scrutiny. It must be part of the checks and balances to encourage resilience and integrity to our most important fund.
A key factor in expanding our international and local business base in these challenge times, is to have attorneys in Barbados that are responsive to the legal needs of our society and nation. Unfortunately there is a “below the radar” systemic problem with many attorneys in Barbados (not all), as it relates to responsiveness and general customer service.
I am not an attorney but as a business man I am very curious about what attorneys are being taught in Law School when it comes to responsiveness and customer service, clearly not enough.
As a Bajan executive working for an international firm who has pitched “Barbados” as an ideal country to expand our company, it is simply embarrassing when a firm like mine cannot get a “return call/email” from any attorney in Barbados; we contacted many over a period of weeks. Our contact efforts have been simply to setup a meeting nothing more.
The following email was received from a customer who shared an interesting experience while shopping at the leading supermarket in Barbados.
Team investigation of pricing in the big stores, today I bought 4 items and 2 were wrong… or at least missleading!!
I visited your store this morning in Warrens for a few small groceries and on the receipt comments were requested from this experience.
Firstly I would like to congratulate you on your fruit and vegetable department, you have the freshest and most inviting selection on the island, today I was drawn to the Idaho potatoes $10.99 for 5 lb bag so I grabbed one…. Upon reaching the till I then noticed I had a 10 lb bag that looked identical to the 5 lb for $24.39!!! Very naughty trick!! Next I grab some coke $10.50 as advertised, then tonic $11.29 even though advertised as $10.50.
So in conclusion I’m a very angry customer are times not tough enough?
Extracted from the Facebook Page of Rosemary Parkinson. This blog was forwarded to Miles Howe, a Canadian journalist at the Halifax Media Group doing some good work to keep EMERA ‘honest’.
New Managing Director, Mark King
Many of you might remember the tirade I did on BARBADOS *NOT REALLY ANYMORE* LIGHT & POWER a few months ago. And how far dat little diatribe went. From Facebook to Barbados Underground to Brass Tacks et al. Remember you sent your CEO to me? Remember I posted what I would still consider to be answers that only Dale Carnegie would have had the balls to write about in his now so very famous book “How to win friends and influence (really meaning fool) people”? Well…after all dat episode our billl went back down to high but hello I understand the cost of living an’ all de ress of it and it still did not make me happy but it was manageable. NOW THIS MONTH WE BACK UP TO WHERE I BELLOWED AND I GINE BELLOW EVEN LOUDER NOW ‘CAUSE NOW I KNOW YOU RIPPING OFF CERTAIN PEOPLE WITHOUT A DOUBT!!!!
This last month’s bill is so raas high I gine have myself a heart attack together with my landlady nexx door….we done both sick already with chess cold. And her mother done spend a week almost in horspital so she was saving electricals at home. But dis’ month’s bill 20th November to 21st. December gone from the usual $600/700 a month now back up to $1200!!!!
LIME’s biggest problem is that they simply do not have the bandwidth available to share among it’s current subscriber base. When they first introduced ADSL their customers actually got what they were paying for. Now, the network is so congested that everyone has to fight for a piece, and this problem is especially bad in heavily populated areas where one or two fibre links have to serve a single exchange from which thousands of phone lines are served.
To their defense however, they have been constantly upgrading and installing mini exchanges all over the island to circumvent this problem, but it’s not enough. And what’s more is that they’ve increased contention ratio which only compounds the problem. I’m speaking subject to correction here but the last I heard is that it’s set at 50:1, which means that if you’re paying for 8Mb/s, then you have to share that between 8Mb/s of bandwidth with 49 other users… I don’t know about you, but that’s unacceptable considering the rates that they’re charging when we see what they’re offering in other islands like Grenada. If they charge the same rates here that do in Grenada, then an 8Mb/s connection would be $120.66 BDS Incl VAT! A 2Mb/s connection would be $59.90 BDS incl VAT!
Haven’t you ever noticed that the internet is slower during the day (business hours) than it is at night? I can’t wait for Digicel to start offering their WiMax service for residential use…
BU’s position regarding Barbados’ heavy reliance on fossil fuel generation has been articulated several times. The fact that successive governments have demonstrated a high level of ignorance by not prioritizing an alternative energy policy belies our boast of being a highly educated nation. If it is one thing we have become good at in recent years is finding reasons not to get up from our tailbones and find solutions to problems. We have become intoxicated by the good life; however such is defined.
One issue which has been raised since this DLP government assumed office is the price mechanism used to determine energy prices. Barbadians have been informed by the government that the policy of the previous BLP government of subsidizing the energy price was unsustainable and that the Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) had become technically insolvent as a result. We have had to take the word of our policymakers because empirical information has never been made public as far as BU is aware.
The wall of silence which has surrounded the issue of how government price energy is compounded by the not insignificant electricity bills which consumers have been receiving from the Barbados Light & Power (BLP) in recent months. The public outcry has forced the reclusive Sir Neville Nicholls, head of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) to defend a recent decision by the FTC to give BLP a 10% return on its rate base. The revelation that BL&P generated 45 million dollars in profit has not helped to placate Barbadians labouring under the prevailing hard economic times.
The question which has piqued the curiosity of many Barbadians is why has the energy price in Barbados been rising when crude oil price on the world market has been decreasing?
I will try to be as brief as possible. I need your assistance.
Back in 2009, you graciously took the time to complete my survey (Resident Perceptions of Tourism Impacts in Barbados). Now, I am asking for your help once again. I have setup a new survey to look at the sentiments of consumers in Barbados (in terms of the economy, income, consumption, etcetera). It is similar to the US Consumer Confidence Index, The Survey of Consumers (by Univ of Michigan), as well as others around the World.
I’m not 100% sure if there is one specifically for Barbados, and even if there was, it doesn’t hurt to have more data to study, analyze and cross-reference. Accordingly, I have created such a survey, 30 questions in total, which should take anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes to complete. When the survey period expires, I will post a summary of the results (as I did with my 2009 survey) and the methodology for all to see (I will send a notification to the blogs when ready).
I believe that the information coming out of studies like this may be useful for decision makers in the public and private sectors because it offers up a glimpse of what/how Barbadians feel when it comes to certain topics that are important to our economy at the micro and macro level.
Please therefore take the time to fill it out (I’ve set the expiry date for June 18, with a max. of 1500 responses), the link is right here:
The issue of high food prices continues to be furiously debated in Barbados. To be expected much of the debate is tainted with partisan political rhetoric. The government ran a political platform during the last general election based on a promise, one of many, to Barbadians to reduce food prices. The reality is Barbados was in the lag period of a looming global recession but it did not deter many Barbadians from believing a magic wand was all that would have been required to right the problem.
Several factors in recent months have had the effect of negatively impacting food prices on the world market. Barbados imports almost all of its food and therefore this makes the business of food security a top priority. BU agrees food prices are controlled by external forces but there is a level of efficiency which must be managed internally to ensure Barbadian consumers benefit from the best price.
Earlier we discussed on another blog Breaking The Stranglehold On High Prices Will Call For A Holistic Strategy. What came out in the discussion, to the surprise of some, was the reason the ministry of commerce discontinued publishing the prices of staple products sold by leading retailers in Barbados. BU has confirmed from a reliable source the ministry has no budget to support the initiative of publishing food prices. It seems paradoxical that a government who has as its number one priory reducing the cost of living cannot not exercise budget ‘cleverness’ by allocating a relatively small sum to support the effort of officers in the ministry of commerce, harsh economic times notwithstanding. Again BU is reliably informed that the ministry of commerce has about 10 officers who are mobilized from time to time to check prices on shelves across Barbados. Unfortunately the output of their activities will remain secreted on the desks of bureaucrats in the various government departments.
Chris Sinckler, Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs
Rookie Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has delivered his first budget and admittedly it was at a difficult time. BU does not have the expertise to apply the required analysis to determine if it was a’ ‘good’ budget or not. Seems oxymoronic for people to be labeling an austere budget as good anyway.
Since delivering the budget Sinckler has had to to clarify or reverse a few of the financial measures which he announced. It is not unprecedented that a Minister of Finance would have to ‘tweak’ his budget but one senses that the impact of this budget has not been adequately assessed or anticipated.
As an example the following note was received from a BU family member.
If you control the oil you control the country; if you control food, you control the population – Henry Kissinger
Who amongst us have not noticed that the cost price of our food at the supermarket checkout till has escalated in the last year? Let’s go back 5 years – or maybe even 10 years! Has there been a systematic pattern of food hikes going back as far as you can remember – notwithstanding the ongoing genetic manipulation of our food? Has your dollar also been buying less and less? Do you have to stretch those “pennies” in the hope of satisfying those hungry mouths which seem intent on eating you out of house and land?
Well, according to our governments’ spin, the latest economic argument for the state of things currently is the dreaded (I) word –“inflation”. First, we were told that we had to fear “deflationary” pressures on the economy and so the rumourmongers quickly tilted the scales with a nouveau concept called “stagflation” to keep up the sinister façade of rule by fear.
So today, the chimes in every quarter are over the issue of “food security” and who ultimately controls this last precious human resource. As the world’s population meanders towards 7 billion souls with a mere 0.005% controlling in total the accumulative wealth and resources of the 90 odd % – watchdog organizations are becoming increasingly concerned about the leverage of certain multinationals and their control over food and its prices.
Sir Neville Nicholls - Chairman of the FTC and SEC
(6) The Commission (FTC) may on its own initiative or on the request of any person carry out any investigation that it considers necessary or desirable in connection with matters falling within the provisions of this Act, the Utilities Regulation Act, and any laws relating to consumer protection and fair competition which the Commission has jurisdiction to administer – Fair Trading Commission Act
When the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) was established in 2001 so much was promised by the previous government of the leadership it was expected to exert on how Utilities were regulated in Barbados. For many years before that it had been the public’s perception that Utilities operated to the beat of their own drums. Since the establishment of the FTC in 2001 nothing has changed to reshape that perception. The Utility which has attracted the greatest ire from Barbadians has been LIME formerly Cable and Wireless. Perhaps what has stung Barbadians the most is the fact jobs have been relocated to St. Lucia and other low cost based islands. This is after decades of Barbados being the cash-cow for Cables & Wireless in the hemisphere. Even if Barbadians were persuaded to finally accept LIME’s, formerly Cable & Wireless restructure, the promise of enhanced customer service as a result of the changes has been elusive.
Barbados Today carried a funny piece last week which poked some fun at the online customer support which kept advising users to visit LIME’s Windsor Lodge Office to seek resolution.
There is a situation which is brewing at Kensington Oval involving craft vendors. Today, an ICC lawyer before he could get a tan made all the craft vendors dismantle their stalls on the grounds that they were not permitted to sell craft items. This is after the Craft Vendors paid a contract fee to ICC some months ago, in order to secure a space to sell their craft and the money was taken, knowing that these people were going to sell craft. The vendors were allocated space by Kensington Oval but this morning as soon as they set up, the ICC lawyer came and ordered them to remove their craft and leave.
Apparently, the craft vendors were given the same contract as the food vendors. This is what happened at CWC 2007 as well, except that a separate negotiation went on for the craft; even though the contracts were the same. All that happened is that the criteria for the craft were inserted into the vendors contract… but all this happened long before the matches started.
This time around, ICC (through their legal representative) waited until the first day to tell the vendors they can’t sell craft. Douglas Trotman, Attorney-at-law, has taken up the case for the vendors. Up to late this evening, the vendors were still awaiting word of negotiations between their lawyer, ICC and Kensington.
The recent appointment of former Senator Arni Walters as Executive Chairman of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has raised more than a few eye-brows. Given his extensive experience working in the labour market, one would have assumed his skills would have been needed in the position he was just removed. After all, the economy is expected to contract over the near term in a global economy which continues to behave sluggish. The other side to the argument some say, the government sees the organizational restructuring and transformation needed at a BWA in shambles as priority number one.
The poor state of the financial and management structure at the BWA which has reached a crisis state in recent months is an embarrassment to the country to say the least. It seems idiotic that during the boom years this most important state enterprise would have been neglected to the point which led it to being insolvent under the current administration. Perhaps Barbadians should have taken note when the BWA was excluded from the oversight of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) when it was established under the former government. The argument given for the exclusion by some at the time was that the government wanted to shield the less well off in the society from water rates driven by purely economic considerations. Given the financial state at the BWA it is conceivable that an FTC imposed rate may have been more burdensome.
The decision by the government at the time to enter into an agreement with Ionics Freshwater Ltd in hindsight was part of an ad hoc water management strategy at best. The Ionics water desalination plant is designed to provide fresh, potable drinking water to one-sixth of the island’s 264,000 people. The 30,000 cubic meter per day (7.9 million gallons per day) plant utilizes reverse osmosis (RO) membrane technology. We learned recently from Minister Lowe who has responsibility for the BWA that the government is contracted to pay Ionics Freshwater Ltd 10 million dollars annually. Minister Lowe expressed the view the price is too high. We all look forward to when the agreement expires originally set for 15 years.
The verdict on the recent application by the Barbados Light & Power Company for a rate hike promised by the Chairman of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) Sir Neville Nicholls passed without any serious notice by the media earlier this month. The media given its responsibility within the Fourth Estate of the Realm has failed the PEOPLE yet again given its responsibility to keep us informed. The blatant renege by the Fourth Estate of its important civil responsibility means that most Barbadians remain ignorant to the important issues affecting them.
The Head of the Barbados Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (BANGO) Roosevelt King when asked by BU the possible reason for the delay gave the following response:
“Through fear tactics, psychological warfare, oppression and violence many people have been forced physically and mentally, [to not exercise] their right to voice their opinions or their desires to fight against the oppression that they experience. The people are forced to believe, and later come to identify with, the idea that the oppressor has supreme power and is working in the favor of the people. As a result a culture of quiet, non resistant, passive if you will, people are born. This Culture of Silence is longstanding and continues because the people continue to allow the destruction and the oppression to occur, not because they want to, but because fighting against the oppressor seems futile. Those that do fight are eradicated and made examples of in the attempt to silence future attempts at reform. – Author unknown – internet posting”
Be reminded Mr. King’s BANGO participated in the just concluded FTC/BL&P rate hike application.
You know David, I share the views of some of your commentators. First, I think I understand what you mean by “reputational management”. I suspect that you are alluding to the good reputation Barbados has on the international scene as a Country with Standard and Poors, WHO, PAHO, major UN bodies etc. We have good governance GENERALLY, a country with good infrastructure, a decent longevity rate, medical and other social, environmental and cultural infrastructures that support the people of the country and its guests.
On some points I have to disagree. I do not agree that Barbados is properly branded. I never did. Indeed, when I lived in New York I have never seen a Bajan product at all. If you are referring to Barbados as a tourist destination, it is “branded” to some extent in England in particular (where I now live) as a tourist destination particularly since we were once a colony BUT, and this is a big but, the budget or the mismanagement or whatever is responsible makes Barbados as a brand , in terms of its marketing, rather inferior. I have never seen a poster in the major train stations ( my station is perfect – Gloucester Road Tube) but I see Jamaica, Majorca, Egypt, St Lucia, Greece, Spain. Barbados products – I shop at Waitrose, just around the corner here in Kensington. I have seen every possible brand of product and never a Bajan except Mount Gay Rum at £17 a bottle and a badly presented box of sugar @ £2 per box. Had Plantation Sugar packaged it like they do in SuperCentre, Holetown, and sell it for Barbados $17, they could sell it in London for £5 at least. That silver boxes sugar is used in the Queen’s box at Ascot yet they put a crappy box in a supermarket. The Brits would gobble up the pewter tin of sugar to just show it off if nothing else. That is good branding.
Earlier this evening BU family member ROK apologized and explained for not providing the video stream of the ongoing FTC/BL&P Hearings. To his credit the head of BANGO and friends had taken the initiative to expose the PUBLIC hearing via a live Internet stream as a public service over recent days. It seems our country has not yet reached that level understanding where such important events are routinely delivered in realtime to the public. Then again it is not Wimbledon, Miss World Pageant or some POPULAR North American event.
The following comments represent part of the discussion which followed by ROK and BAFBFP.
IT IS ESTABLISHED, in this country of ours, that if someone is accused of committing murder, the courts allow the accused murderer to be legally represented, in much the same way that representatives of the dead person are permitted to pursue justice by bringing evidence to show how the innocent may have suffered at the hands of the accused.
With an application for a Rates Review, as is the case with the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P), in 1983 when Objectors were allowed to be awarded costs, and, currently, where there is a state of flux as was with Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Limited in 2003, these are not by any stretch of the imagination to be equated to murder.
This writer is reminded when a former Prime Minister of this country took him aside and suggested there is no need to come across to the public in an aggressive manner in order to make a point. The admonishment was given, as an example, that to kill someone it may be possible to use a feather and a smile rather than a cutlass. To this day, I have remembered this lesson. For what it teaches, there are other ways to achieve a given result.
We have to believe, yet again, the renewed effort underway to recruit members in the Barbados Consumer Watch organization will bear fruit this time around. It seems ludicrous that a country labeled to be in a severe economic recession by the International Monetary Fund and with Barbadians indicating the cost of living to be a big concern, yet they would so easily spurn the opportunity to sign-up to a consumer organization. The politicians who suggest that the cost of living is such a big concern for Barbadians should explain our low level of participation and activism in consumer organizations.
Barbadians welcome the intervention of the intellectuals at Cave Hill who recently went public with some research done on what influences prices of goods in Barbados. Our sense is that they needed to go further. Maybe we are too harsh in our assessment of their effort but until we can understand how a supermarket can report $750,000 in shoplifting and remain in business, we have to continue to ask why.
One of the principals behind the Barbados Consumer Watch organization is BU family member, the indefatigable ROK. The President is well known netball administrator Annette Beckett.
It would really be difficult not to have noticed the various mission statements recently put out in the print and electronic media by Cable and Wireless or LIME, including ‘a better greener business’, ‘go green with us’ or ‘go paperless’.
Yet the latest ‘ads’ placed to get your new Directory today,17th September, (well actually from 19th September), makes absolutely no mention of taking your old directory to the collection point where LIME could have partnered with one of the recycling companies to dramatically reduce the number that will eventually go to the landfill.
While is perhaps too easy to knock the company for its huge declared profits, they could at least effectively implement some of these admirable objectives. I stumbled across one of their media releases dated 31st October 2008, where among many other ‘promises made in this manifesto’ included ‘calls to LIME’s customer service centres will be answered within one minute’ and ‘no LIME customer will be without the ability to communicate, via at least one of LIME’s services, with their friends, family or colleagues, for more than one day’.
It’s been more than a decade that I have stepped into a corporate boardroom to advise, from a public relations perspective, on the way forward for any business entity, be it large or small. I recall working with my dear friend and colleague, Al Gilkes on several very dynamic assignments that went to heart of enhancing the image and safeguarding the well being of corporate entities, many of which had gone astray as a result of il-advised marketing and employment related policies.
It is amazing the extent to which company bosses in Barbados can lose focus and sight of fundamentals of good business practice and end up on the wrong side of public opinion. The irony is that almost always, their il-advised policies result in a lessening of the said profits they are seeking to secure and shore up.
One constantly unfolding case in point is the matter of the so-called corporate telecommunications giant in our midst. One thing we must concede is that they are consistent. They are consistently wrong in how they approach matters of employment and human resource management. In this current episode over the further layoff of more staff, the only thing they have going for them, in the context of avoiding the full wrath of the Barbadian public, is that the workers representative, the Barbados Workers Union, has been incoherent in its summation of the situation and has failed to outline a suitable cause around which the country could rally.
Historically Barbados has been a most profitable market for LIME formerly Cable & Wireless. It should concern Barbadians how LIME has betrayed the willingness of Barbadian consumers to stupidly buy its high priced products and services over the years. It should concern Barbadians how the relevant regulatory agency, the Fair Trading Commission has ruled on policy which facilitates the perpetual raping of Barbadian consumers, namely the Price Cap Mechanism by LIME.
In the current economic downturn which has seen many of the small islands in the Caribbean scurrying to the International Monetary Fund, and despite super profits, LIME continues to send home Barbadians under the guise of a restructure. A company has the right to act in the interest of its shareholder, it is acknowledged most companies recognize it has a social investment obligation. There is no commercial enterprise which can profitably exist in a market which collapses i.e.high unemployment.
It is time for stupid Barbadians to demonstrate that the investment in free education which previous governments have supported was not a wasted effort. The most profitable revenue centre of LIME is the revenues it generates from long distance calling. One way Barbadians can protest the inhumane management practices at LIME is to access the many alternatives available to facilitate long distance calling at super low prices.
Two separate but yet related matters sparked my attention this past week. First, there was the predictable hue and cry from “professional opposers” to the increase in water rates. Second, there was Barrack Jagdeo swiping and getting clean bowled by his fellow countrymen.
It is clear to me that if water rates had been increased by five cents a gallon the reaction of some in our midst would have been the same.
What took the cake for me in the gas station last Sunday afternoon was this known Barbados Labour Party operative and spokesman who approached me, in their usual arrogant and bombastic manner, claiming that “the new water rates will kill poor people”.
My intended response would have been to set forth the argument in favour of the need for an increase in rates, given the magnitude of the capital development programme about to be undertaken by the Authority as well as the ongoing desire to enhance both the quality of and accessibility to the resource. I am sure I could have made a compelling argument, but this gentleman gave me the perfect opening when, in approaching me he armed himself with nothing less than a two litre bottle of water, which, from the label, I became aware was bottled in Trinidad and Tobago.
I deliberately asked him to buy me a similar drink, because quietly I wanted to discover the price he had so willingly paid a few seconds ago for imported drinking water. The price at the register was $3.40.
It is interesting to listen to the current debate triggered by the government’s decision to hike water rates by 60% effective July 1, 2009. In a previous blog we skimmed the subject of some of the challenges facing the BWA.
Barbados has been able to achieve and maintain a relatively high standard of living through what many agree can be attributed to astute planning and leadership. We have also enjoyed a stable social and political climate built on a universally respected education system, good infrastructure to support our tourism product and Barbadians. Those who may want to avoid partisan posturing on the issue would admit that there is a cost to maintaining the Barbados lifestyle. The challenge as we move forward as a country is to ensure the economic and social models underpinning the economy are managed expertly to ensure sustainability.
The failure of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) in 2009, we understand it is close to being insolvent just fourteen months after a change in government is instructive. Bear in mind that the previous government would have governed for the most part of its tenure in an economic boom period. It is noteworthy that as a country and as a people we must accept responsibility for the policies of the previous government, this is true for the third term government of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). Could the BLP have better allocated resources to ensure Barbados’ water supply was better protected? Many may say yes given it was a boom period.
Prime Minister David Thompson announced in his recent Financial Statement 2009 that water rates will be increased to Barbadians, possibly as soon as next month. Although the Prime Minister has given the assurance that any increase will be negligible, the impact must be judged by government on how the increase will affect Barbadians who are below the poverty line and businesses that use water as a significant input to production, we would urge the government to thread with care on this matter.
The revelation by the Prime Minister has triggered a side-debate about the BWA not falling under the oversight of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), an institution which remains pregnant with promise to consumers well passed its gestation period. It is our understanding that the current legislation prohibits the FTC from hearing complaints from government enterprises. Our source confirms that there is a move afoot to change the legislation.
BU understands the thinking and motive of the previous to shielding the BWA and by extension the people of Barbados from a privately run BWA. BU can also understand that oversight of the BWA by the political directorate would more readily feel the pressure to keep water rates down. The experience so far of the FTC and LIME, formerly Cable & Wireless has not been a rewarding one for Barbadian consumers. One shudders to think if the BWA were privatized where would the water rate settle.
There were two disturbing developments recently where the question may be raised about the consideration the Fair Trading Commission has for consumers. CARITEL, my private consultancy, is taking part in the Reference Interconnect Offer (see earlier posts for background). We were given one week to study various documents in detail, conduct additional research and prepare and send a follow-up submission to the FTC as it relates to new arguments.
We protested as we did in the first submission that this was inadequate and a month was requested. A RIO is a highly granular proceeding, requiring regional and international research as well as correspondence with contacts such as regulators elsewhere. The issues are quite wide and therefore require considerable time to investigate and respond to arguments, in this case made by Cable & Wireless. Cable & Wireless has an entire department and regional staff to deal with such matters.
Well, the FTC said you have another week in an email sent minutes before the close of business Friday, the deadline for the actual follow-up submission. I had written the Commission the Wednesday since time was needed to read the documents from Cable & Wireless (LIME), Digicel, TeleBarbados and Blue Communications and study the implications.
Robert Goddard in his article published in 2001 in Agricultural History figures it was an imbalance between factory and field which set the stage for the collapse of the Sugar Industry. He reckons if I understand it right that there were two factors which were the origin of this imbalance:
One factor “intrinsic” to the industry was the change in the industry’s leadership from factory-owners/planters to purely planters.”
The other factor was a pattern of “questionable” land use decisions taken by government agencies which alienated arable land in unpredictable ways, making it impossible for the industry’s leadership to match factory capacity to field supply.
“In one striking case the two came together when the building contractor, C.O. Williams, became simultaneously the island’s largest landowner and an aggressive advocate of non-sugar agriculture”
“Williams played a paradoxical role during this time. Single headedly he stripped the factory division of 50,000 tonnes (metric tons) of cane supply while charged with guiding the industry as a member of the BSIL board.”
A Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) might not mean a whole lot to many people but it can have a significant impact on new services and the extent to which there is competition in communications.
LIME is at the centre of a RIO consultation and a series of documents on services such as overseas calling. Companies have to interconnect so that customers of one company may communicate with those of another, for example Digicel, TeleBarbados, LIME and Blue Communications, which is offering a competitive long distance card to make calls.
In addition, the new charges could also relate to new services, since they also involve interconnection and payments between these companies to terminate calls. Essentially, LIME is trying to get the best deal for itself while other parties want to ensure that the decisions taken by the Fair Trading Commission do not disadvantage them financially and their ability to compete and offer better rates where possible.
At a time when various Caribbean Ministers of Government have recently met and agreed to levy yet another tax on intra Caribbean air travel, its time perhaps for them to contemplate exactly the effective its having on land based tourism. A seven day cruise departing from Barbados was recently advertised with one of the largest companies, taking in St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Dominica and back to Barbados.
With a lead-in price from US$449 per person plus mandatory gratuities, Government fees and taxes, it represented what many might consider outstanding value-for-money. Especially as when you consider most meals, and other features like entertainment are included. Of the overall total cost, an amount of US$55.42 per person is shown as Government fees and taxes.
Now let’s say you were the same person considering visiting our Caribbean neighbours and taking the cheapest published airfares between point to point, what would you pay in Government taxes and add-ons?
Barbados-St. Lucia US$61.87; St. Lucia – Antigua US$82.57; Antigua-St. Kitts US$42.10; St. Kitts – San Juan US$52.70; San Juan – St. Thomas US$34.50; St. Thomas – Dominica US$33.00 and Dominica- Barbados US$25.38! So a massive US$332.12 per person in taxes and add-ons to visit the same number of destinations by air! In fact this figure is even higher, because some governments are not yet including the departure tax in the ticket price.
Barbados Underground is fortunate to have Roosevelt King (ROK) and Chris Halsall as members of the BU family. They are better known in Barbados for the role of Intervenors when the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) meets to rule on applications submitted by the utility companies. Two recent comments posted by the good gentlemen have resonated with the BU household and given us cause to question the effectiveness of the FTC and by extension the government of Barbados as far as its oversight duties are being managed.
In 2001 when the FTC legally subsumed the Public Utilities Board and was given a wider scope to monitor, educate, investigate, and enforce fair competition and consumers’ rights by service providers and consumers, there was high expectation by the Barbadian public. This came against a background where historically there was an acceptance, especially in the absence of a vibrant culture of consumerism, that consumers were being taken to the cleaners by the utilities and merchants in general. We remember well that the then government represented by Arthur, Toppin, Eastmond et al did a good job of selling Barbadians on the FTC concept.
Eight years later the jury is out on whether the FTC has been able to satisfy the expectations of the Barbadian public. Have they been effective and proactive as set out in their core values?
Now that the anticipated rate hike has been submitted by the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P) to the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) it has raised another issue. The issue showed itself during the recent BL&P depreciation hearing. We continue to observe and applaud BU family members Chris Halsall, Roosevelt King et al who display courage and sacrifice required to perform in the role as Intervenor. They are obviously not doing it for the money but consider it a civic duty.
What resonated with the BU household after listening to recordings of the recent BL&P Hearing was the complex nature of the hearings and the significant time which the Intervenors had to spend to prepare. Unlike the BL&P which had access to significant legal resources if we use the recent hearing as an example, the Intervenors were left to leverage the expertise which existed within the team. To access other resources obviously calls for money which they don’t have based on the comments posted to BU during the recent depreciation hearing.
An application for increased electricity rates has been made to the Fair Trading Commission which proposes the highest increase for domestic consumers.
It is proposed that consumers using 50 kilowatts monthly (at the bottom of the scale) would pay an increase of $3.47 and those at the top using 500 kWh would pay an additional $11.04. In between there are proposed rates for citizens using 100 kWh ($3.50), 150 kWh ($8.46), 200 kWh ($8.83), 300 kWh ($9.57) and 400 kWh ($10.30).
The company has contended that businesses have been paying a greater share of the cost of providing electricity and is seeking to adjust this so domestic consumers pay a larger share than they have in the past.
As a result the power company is proposing to increase the Rate of Return it makes from the Domestic side of the market from the current 2.58 per cent to 7.82 per cent, which is the single largest increase of the five categories.
It is company with a long history of association with the Caribbean which reaches to the period when the islands were colonies of the then British Empire. Having operated under the name Cable & Wireless and in recent times the LIME brand, a negative impression if ever there was one when seen in a cultural context, what do we have?
LIME has extracted enormous profits from a region which is still developing and some might say that it is a region which lacks the resources to be ever world class in the global definition of things. At the top of the list of Caribbean countries contributing to the bottom-line of C&W, now LIME, has been Barbados.
It is no secret that successive Barbados governments have placed a heavy importance on developing an efficient telecommunications infrastructure, and relative to our Caribbean neighbours we have to agree we have done so with some success. Perhaps it explains the generosity of the Public Utilities Board now morphed to the Fair Trading Commission to C&W over the years.
We don’t pretend to know how the complicated system of price-cap works but we understand from the experts that given LIME’s continuing monopoly status the results of such a system is skewed in favour of the monopoly. Despite some of our best brains operating as Intervenors the monopoly has been able to make its London-based shareholders smile perennially.
One of the promises advocated by the then opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) during the last election was their intention to break the stranglehold of the monopolies in Barbados. One of the monopolies which has been high on the agenda is that which controls the food sector. So far if the PEOPLE were to judge the effort of the government after 14 months most would probably feedback that the rhetoric of the campaign has not yet translated to any discernible improvement in this area. In the defense of Minister David Estwick who has been recently given responsibility for the matter, he needs more time to tackle what is a very deep-rooted problem.
To break-up monopolies in Barbados will have an economic and social cost for Barbados.
Over one year and the PEOPLE of Barbados continue to be sold-up the river by the merchant class and a government continuing to struggle to fulfill a campaign pledge to break-up monopolistic practices. The naiveté of the government when in opposition to think that this is a task which can be solved using tried methods has been disappointing i.e. suasion, threat of competition, price-controls etc.
Let us pick on the chicken industry in Barbados. We have heard the fact that Barbados is a chicken loving country. There has even been the trivia which has circulated for some time that the KFC restaurant in Barbados consumes more chicken per capita when compared to outlets in their global network. What is a definite fact is that there is a heavy DEMAND for chicken in Barbados.
BU received the following submission from a new family member which places the issue of the monopoly on the chicken sector in perspective:
BU family member Carson C. Cadogan has been strident and unequivocal in his condemnation of the merchant class in Barbados. His criticism of the groups which control the channels of distribution and retail has attracted criticism from other BU family members because he is of the view that the groups which have historically controlled have been White i.e. Hanchell Inniss, R. L. Seale, Bourne, BS&T, Goddards etc.
To say that Barbadians have significant choices to buy low priced food and other commodities would not be fair. Barbadians have witnessed the demise of the Julie N’s and Bugs Buy entities over the years when these entities tried to bring the price of food down. We may not totally agree with how Cadogan frames his contributions but we should not ignore the message, PRICES IN BARBADOS CONTINUE TO INCREASE. This is despite the acknowledgement that freight and other key input costs have been falling on the world market. Additionally, news out of Trinidad and a few other countries confirm prices have started to dip in those countries.
I noticed that the BANGO thread was truncated before I got a chance to say thanks to all those who contributed: General Lee, JC, Adrian Hinds and Anonymous who expressed gratitude and thanks to BANGO for participating in the hearing on behalf of consumers. Thanks to BWWR too for being the first to lend support to BANGO although BWWR dropped out nearing the end.
I think you know by now that if we have it to do again we will do it. We are gaining valuable experience here as Intervenors as our library is increasing in size and information.
The most important thing about our exercise on BU is that it provided an opportunity and a captive audience for sharing the information. Indeed we did get at least two important leads from BU family that made a difference in our presentations.
We have to admit that we came up empty when we tried to do a follow-up on a previous Foreign Eggs Are Coming! which we posted leading up to the Christmas period. From all the feedback received there was no significant downward movement in the price of eggs. It is regrettable that our local media has not done a follow-up story by asking what, why, who, when and where. Maybe we are being harsh on them, they seem to have their hands full trying to defend why journalists in Barbados should not pay professional fees.
In all fairness the local media has kept the issue of high food cost in Barbados as a centre issue. On a related note the Trinidad media has been reporting this week that there is overwhelming evidence the price to the consumer of imported food is starting to trend downwards. The main reason given is the depressed oil price which has impacted freight cost.
The information coming out of Trinidad requires that some explanation from Barbados merchants is required. The immediate would be to question the sourcing of suppliers used by Barbados merchants vis-à-vis those in Trinidad.
Yesterday I walked into the shock of my life, when upon entering the Procedural Conference leading up to this hearing, held at the Accra Beach Hotel at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday 30th December 2008, the only name displayed on the Intervenor’s table was the Barbados Association of Non Governmental Organisations; not even Public Counsel.
On the table for the Barbados Light & Power Company was non other than the most formidable legal luminary one could want in Barbados, Sir Henry Forde. What? How will BANGO fear against him? Immediately, while sitting through the proceedings and trying to recover from the shock, my mind was racing; have to get a team together in the absence of other Intervenors. Continue reading →
Ms Kim Tudor; Nat’l Initiative for Service Excellence/Ms Michelle Hustler-Small; Bds. Coalition of Service Industries/Editor; Daily Nation/Editor; B’dos Advocate & Heat Magazine
Attn: New Year’s Resolution, viz. – Service
Most people at this time of year make a New Year’s resolution; more often than not it usually involves losing weight. My resolution also concerns food, but as it relates to service…
On Saturday 27th December I decided to have a Gourmet Burger at Chefette’s Barbecue Barn for a late lunch or early dinner – much to my regret; I ordered a small salad, burger-platter and a Pepsi.
Before the cashier rang up the sale, I made sure to add I wanted cheese and bacon with the burger and I paid the Chefette employee.
After having the salad my main course appeared and I collected it, while sitting at the table I looked at my meal, it seemed there was no cheese – I even looked at the bottom of the patty and it was dry bread underneath; naturally, I returned to the counter. I asked for an attendant and one who was not the cashier stepped up, so I explained what I thought was my shortcoming. Paraphrasing the rather appropriate Clement C. Moore for this time of year – what to my wondering ears … ?
She wrings up her face and says “LOOK, IT UP UNDER DEY!” hurled in either a snarling shout or shouting snarl (Translation – ‘Look, it’s up under there’ as in; the little bit of cheese was under the slice of bacon)
In a recent newscast we were surprised to hear President of the NUPW Walter Maloney recount that his union has had to postpone the launch of its heralded buyers club. When the idea was originally announced we believed it to be an excellent initiative in self help. The catalyst for the idea was obviously triggered by the escalating cost of living which occurred against the backdrop of the global economic turbulence.
President Maloney explained that while that part of the union membership comprised of retired civil servants have made contributions to the $600,000 project, active civil servants appear to be reluctant to do the same.
Barbados has enjoyed a standard of living which has been the envy of many. We are also aware that the global landscape has created threats for small open economies like Barbados. Our exposure becomes even more acute given our dependence on tourism and offshore banking. As luck would have it these two industries are likely to be impacted by the financial meltdown currently being experienced in the developed economies of the world. Continue reading →
In recent days Prime Minister David Thompson has resorted to using suasion to encourage retailers in Barbados to reduce prices to consumers. His plea has come in the aftermath of two reductions in fuel prices by government last week. Barbadians it seem have become accustomed to living in a high cost country. We have been told by some experts that it is a consequence of the high standard of living we enjoy relative to our neighbours, near and far.
The laid back nature of our consumer organizations, the monopolistic inclinations of the wholesale and retail sectors, the longstanding practice of under-invoicing goods sourced in the USA, the ineffectiveness of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) which we were told would be the watchdog for Barbadian consumers, and last but not least the passivity of Barbadians and their aversion to retaliate to the juck out your eye policy of retailers in Barbados.
Yesterday’s Nation headline NOT SO, PM! may have crystallized the challenge Prime Minister Thompson and Barbadians will face as we attempt to battle retailers to achieve lower prices. Managing Director of SuperCentre David Neilands is quoted in the newspaper as saying ” Our supermarket was not putting up our prices as a consequence of oil increases; our prices have gone up as a consequence of the price of goods coming to us. In the case of the local industries . . . if the prices drop, then our prices will drop accordingly.”Mr. Neilands has been taking some flack because of the position he has taken but isn’t his statement correct? If the SuperCentre suppliers do not reduce their prices how can the Prime Minister reasonable expect SuperCentre to reduce prices? As Mr. Neilands has correctly pointed out they are running a business for profit and not a charity!
What has been made clear from the article is that SuperCentre has a price and supply model which has brought it success for more than a decade, so why should they change it? Continue reading →
The Barbados Consumer’s Watch (BCW) organization is reporting in its latest blog that consumers in Barbados may just have something to shout about after all. For years the passive Barbadian consumer who has been taken advantage of by merchants who have appeared to be impervious to a sense of what is fair and just. Finally there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. It appears that a FEW customers have been availing themselves of the services offered by the Office Of Public Counsel, and Public Counsel Barry Carrington has been rising to the challenge.
Here is a snippet extracted from BCW’s blog which caught our interest:
Consumers, you have something to shout about and a man to thank for his tireless work as Public Counsel. Though Barry has moved on up, he has left a legacy of cases before the Consumer Clansumersims Tribunal, over a four year period of championing the cause of Consumers; a well kept public secret.
Imagine that Barry took Mrs. Ram before the Tribunal ten times between 2004 & 2005 and won all. Not only that, after the tenth time, Mrs. Ram like she decide that she ain’t coming back (brought her to her knees) to the Tribunal because there are no entries with any of her companies since then, so she got to be settling everything before it get there. A serious victory for consumers.
Moreover, just prior to his departure, Barry successfully argued a landmark case fitting for a good send off and for a job well done. This is Case No. 87: Kimone Phillips v Courts (Bdos) Ltd. where the facts of purchase or arrangement are not in dispute since Courts agreed to give a refund. The matter in question is, “What is a refund?”
We recommend that the BU family go over and read about a landmark judgement which has been handed down by our Consumer Claims Tribunal on the Barbados Consumers Watch blog.
Sainsbury’s in the UK currently have a campaign supported by full page colour ‘ads’ in publications like The Times, where they are giving away 1 million Philips Energy Saving light bulbs. You can see some of the media coverage simply by entering Sainsbury’s Make the Difference into GOOGLE news search.
In the current climate of very high electricity costs it just seems like such a simple way to encourage people to save energy. I am still surprised by the number of buildings I see (including Government ones) who have chosen not to purchase or replace traditional light bulbs with lower energy alternatives.
I am not suggesting SuperCentre just distributes free lower energy bubs, but is there a way it could be aligned with a special promotion, where is a customer spends say $100 they get a LEB free? I thought the Sainsbury’s idea was an excellent example of a responsible corporate response to a mounting concern over the cost of living.
I know you and SuperCentre think along the same lines and I hope that you may consider such an initiative.