The Caswell Franklyn Column – Trade Unions Accepting Bribes/Concessions from Government

While addressing the last annual general conference of her union, the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Toni Moore, complained about what she saw as union busting tactics being employed by Cost-U-Less. She sought to connect the granting of duty free concessions by Government as the reason why that company felt “empowered” to engage in such tactics.

To be honest, that reasoning escaped me but somehow it was sufficient to bring down the ire of the Honourable Chris Sinckler, on her. And in a nonsensical retort, while addressing his party faithful he claimed that it was logical to conclude that since Government has given the General Secretary and the BWU tax concessions on a Mercedes Benz, Ms Moore felt empowered to be bashing Government.

If that is the quality of the reasoning of the person who holds the portfolio of Minister of Finance, it is no wonder that the country is in such dire straits. The General Secretary has raised an issue that impinges on the constitutional rights of workers. Any half decent minister of the Crown would have been grateful for that information and join her in an effort to protect the dignity of the workers of this country, whom he is sworn to serve. What has made this minister so cocky that he can make light and be so disrespectful of the genuine concerns of the people whose votes he would be seeking in the upcoming elections.

Even though his behaviour is below that expected of a senior political figure, he has drawn attention to two issues, tax concessions and union busting. They are too serious to be sidestepped by the dismissive twattle of a government minister, who is more interested in providing comic relief for party members, at a branch meeting, than dealing with fundamental workers’ rights issues.

Union busting has become so pervasive, especially during this prolonged recession and the authorities have failed to adequately deal with the problem for the sake of maintaining jobs. Ms Moore has correctly stated that people are losing jobs because they have committed the cardinal sin of becoming union members.

In accordance with section 40A of the Trade Union Act, it is a crime to dismiss a worker because he has become a member of a trade union. However, in my experience, the police were not aware that it constitutes a criminal offence. Unfortunately, when such a matter is reported to police, they do not take it seriously and no action is taken against the offending employer.

In an attempt to put the General Secretary on the back foot, the minister revealed that BWU had benefited from tax concessions on a Mercedes Benz. However, in my opinion, while trying to embarrass Ms Moore, the minister effectively shot himself in the foot. He must now explain the basis for granting tax concessions on high end vehicles for the two major unions.

Before I go further, I must make it clear that I am not accusing any trade unionists of wrongdoing, by accepting charity from employers. But to me, as the Americans would say, the optics are bad.

If you were to hire a lawyer to represent you in a matter, and thereafter, discover that your representative was taking undisclosed gifts from your opponent. How would you feel? Now pray tell me, how is that different for trade unions to take undisclosed concessions/gifts from the employer, especially when the law requires disclosure.

In accordance with the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) Act, the Minister of Finance may, by order, exempt any person, business or undertaking from the payment of any duty, tax or other money. However, section 4 of that act provides that any such order is subject to negative resolution.

Section 41.(2) of the Interpretation Act explains, when a statutory instrument is subject to negative resolution, it must be laid in Parliament for forty days, and during that period, either house can by resolution vote to annul the instrument. Any such order must also be published in the Official Gazette.

I have made a diligent search and can find no evidence that any such order was ever published. I am therefore asking the honourable minister, when did he comply with the law, in relation to granting tax concessions on motor vehicles for the leaders of major trade unions? And if he had not done so, why the secrecy?

Champagne taste and mauby pockets have brought trade unions into disrepute.

The Caswell Franklyn Column – Concessions to Cost-U-Less Should Raise Hair

Caswell Franklyn, Head of Unity Workers Union

Caswell Franklyn, Head of Unity Workers Union

Over the years, I have been complaining that the system of governance practiced in Barbados is merely a parody of the Westminster System that obtains in England. In a previous article, I wrote that we have all the trappings of a Westminster type democracy but they do not work as designed.

It is not my intention to disparage or in any way pull down an institution that history records as existing for over 376 years. I am concerned that the present occupants are not doing enough to make Parliament a place of which all Barbadians can be proud. To this end, I am calling on Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to do whatever is necessary to halt Parliament’s slide into irrelevance by ensuring that its rules and traditions are observed as intended. But it appears to me as though the Opposition could care less and is just biding its time until this DLP administration crashes and burns. Unfortunately that strategy might fail and it is the people of this country that will continue to suffer.

In my last column, I referred to the Minister of Finance waiving taxes under the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) Act. That act and the Interpretation Act require the minister to lay orders to waive or remit taxes in Parliament, “as soon as may be after they are made”. Only last week, while reading the Official Gazette, I came across one such order that should raise the hair on the back of the necks of all right-thinking members of this society, especially the members of the Opposition.

Official Gazette No. 102 dated December 14, 2015 carried a notice published as S.I. 2015 No. 90. It is an order made by the Minister of Finance designated as the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) (Cost-U-Less (Barbados) Inc.) Order, 2015. By now some of you might be saying that you don’t understand the fuss I’m making since the tax concessions to Cost-U-Less is old news.

Unfortunately, it is not. According to the notice in the Official Gazette, the Minister of Finance only made the order on December 4, 2015. My question therefore is: Under what authority were these tax concessions accessed by that company back in 2011. At best, this whole episode amounts to an insult on the intelligence of Barbadians. Paragraphs 7. (2) and 8 are instructive. They state:

7. (2) The exemptions referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4 are granted on the condition that the project commences on or before June 1st, 2011 and is completed by 30th of November, 2012.

8. This Order shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st day of May, 2011.

By regularising these unnecessary, and so far unexplainable, tax give-aways four years after the fact, Government has ensured that parliamentary oversight of the minister’s actions would be an exercise in futility or rather a veritable mockery on the institution called the Parliament of Barbados.

The people of Barbados, through the Opposition, must demand answers from Government explaining why it was necessary to lavish tax concessions on a company to develop a shopping mall to house a supermarket, restaurants and other related amenities at Warrens. I well remember that a shopping complex was constructed at Carlton, Black Rock and I am yet to see any order giving tax concessions to that project.

Further, it would be interesting to see if Government could give credible explanations for paragraph 5 of the order, which states:

5. The Company is exempt from the payment of withholding tax payable under the Income Tax Act, Cap. 73 for a period of 15 years in respect of

(a) the interest and dividends paid by the Company to resident or non-resident shareholders or individuals who have given loans to the Company; and

(b) fees paid to non-residents who were contracted to provide management services, consultancy or technical skills for the construction of the project.

It would also be interesting to find out the identity of these favoured investors.

Government is proposing that this country become a republic, which basically is a government by the people for the people. Unless more information is forthcoming from Government about this deal, it would appear that we have a government by the people for their friends. That scenario is not a republican form of government; it would be corruption if found to be true.

A Case of Massaging News

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica - photo credit Dominica News

Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica – photo credit: Dominica News

On 27 April 2013 Barbados Underground (BU) posted the blog Who Are the Local Partners in Cost-U-Less?. Although the Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit has denied the word making the rounds that he is a local shareholder, BU defends our right to ask questions of Skerrit or anyone in the interest of providing clarification.

In the interest of providing further clarification it should be noted that the Companies Act Cap 308 places sole responsibility of managing the company in the hands of the Directors. What this means is that unless a shareholder choses to be a Director the public is left to speculate who are the shareholders. The Act is drafted to protect the Shareholder who  – if not a Director – has no say in the conduct of the company.

BU reiterates our position taken in the original blog, in the interest of transparency the other names mentioned (Hartley Henry, the Estate of David Thompson and Leroy Parris) should state publicly whether they have an interest in Cost U Less (CUL).  The government has approved significant concessions to CUL and given the names mentioned the public has a right to know. It should be noted that Pricesmart has since denied receiving similar concessions. Also at the time of launch it was widely reported that David Staples represented local shareholder interest. Perhaps in the interest of protecting its goodwill CUL should make a public statement stating who are the local shareholders.

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Who Are the Local Partners in Cost-U-Less?

Former Prime Minister David Thompson (l) Former Chairman CLICO Holdings B'dos Ltd rumoured to be local partners in Cost-U-Less

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

NorthWest Company trading as Cost-U-Less July 2008

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.

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Cost-U-Less May be Costing-U-More

Submitted by islandgal


Cost-U-Less is baiting and switching at the checkout. For example, honey dew melons and cantaloupes are priced each when you get to the checkout they are weighing them and charging you more. I have had arguments with them on four occasions and each time there were several managers and supervisors checking their computers and telling me that they are sold by the kilo. I pointed out to them that they are priced at each. One of the floor managers came to me and explained that it was priced by the kilo so I told him that they should change the price on the on the shelf.  He went to see the shelf price and agreed that it was priced each. I was so frustrated that I told them to take it off my bill as there were other people in the line waiting to checkout. They removed it and the manager came to me and apologised and he offered it to me on the house. I told him to tell the guard about it so that he wouldn’t think that I stole it.

On my second visit I encountered the same problem they went and took down the each price tag and told me it was the wrong price and I left without purchasing.

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Burger King's Equine Burgers, Non-Communicable Diseases and the Coming of Cost-U-Less

Burger King opened in Sky Mall (Barbados)

Burger King opened in Sky Mall (Barbados)

The news this week that fast food restaurant Burger King had to pull ‘beef burgers’ from its UK outlets which were supplied by an Irish vender has alarmed many Barbadians. Why you ask? Burger King recently opened its doors at Sky Mall formerly Mall Internationale in Barbados. It is a bold move by Bizzy Williams the principal investo given the view that Barbadians are not regarded as burger lovers. Perhaps he is banking on the fact that Bajans have moved on from the McDonalds experience. Nothing wrong with eating horse meat though, the issue like most things nowadays is it is all about the lack of business ethics and public trust. If you say you are selling beef burgers how the hell does it translate to HORSE MEAT? Let us hope that the carcasses of some of those retired horses owned by Bizzy’s brother do not make it into the kitchen of Burger King Barbados.

What has provoked the interest of BU about the coming of Burger King is a statement made by President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce Lalu Vaswani at the renaming of Sky Mall which coincided with the opening of Burger King:

“… Barbados’ food and beverage and agricultural sectors can greatly benefit from the opportunity to secure long-term supply partnerships with franchises. Equally, it is in the economic interest of franchises to ensure a viable local supply chain, since reinvesting in the local economy promotes economic growth and consumer demand,” he said. (Barbados Advocate – 1/28/2013)

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Notes From a Native Son: Beware of Strangers Bringing Bogus Gifts

Hal Austin

Hal Austin

As we enter the new year, already there are signs of desperations from the government, none more so than the rather strange decision to do deals with Cost-U-Less, one of those US-based cheap retail outfits. But, as the old people used to say: ‘every skin teet ain’t a laugh’. Or, more pertinently, all that glistens is not gold.

Let us look at the publicly known concessions the government has granted Cost-U-Less and how this will benefit Barbados as an economy.
First, exemptions from import duties and VAT on fittings, furniture and other construction materials, which in itself exposes the government’s lack of strategic thinking, since although exemptions could form part of strategic thinking, this is only applicable where there are obvious skills and knowledge that are transferable.

In other words, regardless of the commercial success or failure of the enterprise, they will be leaving something behind in their footprint that Barbados as an economy could continue to benefit from. But the concessions go further than this: they also apply to the personal household effects and vehicles of foreign staff, which is beyond belief.
However, the most scandalous of these exemptions is the fifteen-year break the company would have on dividend taxation. In other words, they will be free to grab their profits and run.

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