“Barbados Light & Power: 30 pieces of Silver?” – 26 January, 2011 By Hal Austin: Courtesy FT.com
Mara Thompson has scored a remarkable victory in a straight fight with a BLP candidate, Hudson Griffith, that underperformed badly. It is the 53rd straight victory for the DLP. But it raises questions about the independents. Where were they?
Nevertheless, the hysteria that has accompanied Ms Thompson’s outstanding, some may even say historic, victory should not be allowed to mask the serious flaws that the unnecessary bye-election has exposed and the absence of a proper post-election analysis.
As she took her seat, a number of obviously irrational supporters crowded the streets surrounding parliament screaming ‘Queen.’ It was a moment of madness.
But more important matters: first, the bye-election was unnecessary in that it did not advance the ruling DLP’s electoral appeal, nor did it stamp the authority of the prime minister, Freundel Stuart’s authority on policymaking or in the nation’s affections.
Mr Stuart missed an open goal. He should have called a snap general election, the infighting that had neutralised the BLP, it would have given him an opportunity to offer voters a manifesto he had constructed and which would have buried the ghost of the late David Thompson.
As things stand, there are one important document and two speeches which still represent the DLP blueprint for rescuing the Barbados economy out of the deep structural mess it is in.
The medium-term strategy document, Mr Stuart’s speech to the annual meeting of the DLP and the Budget speech are the three weapons in the ruling party’s armoury. As they stand, they are gutter perks when what are needed are sub-machines guns.
The economy should have been the battle grounds for the vacant St John seat, yet none of the major campaigners, at least as reflected in press reports, saw it fit to even raise the issue – apart from a futile attempt by deposed BLP leader Mia Mottley to pump some sense in to the discussion.
By then, of course, all the press were interested in was that Ms Mottley had come back on board in support of the party.
The losers in this sad state of affairs were not only the constituents in St John , but Barbados as a nation.
In a remarkable sense of timing, Barbadians, including the government controlled national insurance scheme, have once again decided to sell the family silver, this time the Barbados Light & Power.
The price of oil is now more or less hitting the $100 per barrel and with continuing increases in demand from China and the other emerging economies, looks certain to increase over the coming years.
This growing demand, combined with changing weather patterns, blamed on global warming and el Nina, the Pacific weather phenomenon, nations importing their oil demands look likely to be squeeze more and more in this struggle for supply.
Yet, at a time when the world is on a energy precipice and researchers and scientists are searching hard for alternative forms of energy, Barbadians are being encouraged to sell the Barbados Light and Power to Canadians.
The Biblical story of thirty pieces of silver seems to have been tailored made for Barbadians. First we have sold the best real estate in the country for the foreign dollar and pound, then we sold our national bank to Trinidadians who now milk us for profits, now we want to sell our energy supplier. Not only that, some are calling for the sale of CBC and every other physical and intellectual property owned by the state.
I am all in favour of reducing state ownership, but in to the hands of Barbadians, not money-grabbing foreigners.
What is astonishing about all this is that the governor of the central bank is reported as saying that the Bds$280m sale of BL&P to the Canadians would be good for Barbados foreign exchange earnings.
I hope this report in Barbados Today is incorrect, for if it is not to my mind then the governor has demonstrated a remarkable ignorance of the struggle small economies have in this big, bad economic world.
In simple terms, it is like a workman selling his tools to get money to buy rum, preferring the short-term pleasure of drink than the long-term satisfaction of providing for his family.
The governor should be asked to explain this before a parliamentary committee or one of an informed public. It is the short-termism that has us where we are now.
Fortunately the governor went on to raise doubts about any rush to sell to the Canadians.
We should have said no to the Canadians and create a medium to long-term energy strategy as part of a long-term development plan.
On the question of government support for industrial, agricultural and business sectors hit by natural disasters or simple trading catastrophes, let them get business insurance. Businesses in Barbados have a mindset that any set back must be compensated for by taxpayers. This leads to poor business models, shoddy workmanship and inadequate business protection.
Government should closed down the funds which now act as a kind of corporate dole handout: the Agricultural Development Fund, the Enterprise Growth Fund, the Catastrophe Fund and the numerous others.
Fold them all in to a Sovereign Wealth Fund and, instead oaf handouts or cheap loans, troubled businesses will sell an equity share in return for funds.
Once again the so-called Task Force, dressed in their paramilitary uniforms have been intimidating traditional working class areas in a bogus crack down on crime when in reality the people who are the big drug importers, under the guise of business containers and through the ports, and are heavily armed are the West Coast new Barbadians.
Instead of concentrating on the gunmen who shoot, or scare, ordinary young people (sometimes even short their own relatives) police now try to intimidate the very communities from which they come.
The bottom line is that crime is a problem in Barbados. The way to resolve the problem is to get some of those overweight police sitting in the head office (which is a further burden on taxpayers since they old Main Guard was more than adequate) get them back on the streets in conventional uniforms; reorganise divisions, with police stations based on constituencies, and under the policy control of the constituency councils, with a superintendent having operational responsibility, answering to the commissioner.
The reorganisation would be coupled with a public policy of putting every school leaver not going on to further education in a job or training, rather than the nonsense of every home a graduate, which is a non-policy objective.
Idle young people are the main victims of crime, either as participants or unwilling actors. Non-Barbadians involved in any form of crime, from speeding to murder, should either be deported forthwith, or on release from prison.
For those unfortunate to be sent to prison, those serving six months or less will be in full-time education, whatever their age, those serving longer will undergo training in a craft or skill, including the basics of self-employment.
Police and prison staff also need better and more professional training, the sooner the better, but whatever reforms are introduced, going down America’s FBI route is dangerous.
I would create a new three month basic course for police, prison officers, customs and immigration, with a generic first six weeks, then a specialist course according to which discipline they will be going to.
I will give immigration officers powers of arrest for all immigration offences, customs for all import and export offences, including drugs, leaving uniformed police to look after communities.
By the way, I can see an urgent need for a Caricom-wide detective agency, backed with first-rate forensic support.