Saving Barbados From Recession by Hal Austin – Review of Leaders from a UK Perspective
Hi Fellow Barbadians,
I do not want to be seen as a hyper-critic of former prime minister Owen Arthur, we met recently and he was generous to me. But to suggest in anyway that his 14 years of leadership was a resounding success, or even was not that bad, can be disingenuous.
So that there is no misunderstanding, Arthur’s prime ministership was over the greatest global economic boom in modern history. And, judged on this yardstick alone, it was lamentable.
It is true he had to rebuild from the rubble left by Sandiford, which included reducing the salaries of civil servants, importing dust-ridden sugar from Guatamala and worse. But Arthur had 14 YEARS to put that right and build as stronger economy. I think the bulldozing of the old Barbados Foundry and replacing it with a white elephant of a Supreme Court, in which the quality of customer service is worse than what it was in the old building, is a good example (I know, I experienced both within a matter of weeks).
Another good example is the so-called public/private partnership which has led to the deadweight of Dodds as a burden on the Barbadian taxpayer. The failure to diversify the economy away from an over-reliance on tourism, and mainly from one destination only added to the mess.
The issue of being an offshore tax haven is a fair point, but again Arthur’s aggression failed to manager the issue competently. This was embarrassingly so with the AIG scandal. Here we had the biggest insurance company in the world at the time establishing two companies in Barbados for the expressed purpose of shifting money from the US tax authorities and the Barbados government did not even have the audacity to carry out a formal investigation in to the matter.
We know this is true because the former AIG chairman, Hank Greenberg, told the New York attorney general this in a legal settlement. It is all there on the internet.
What’s even worse, the insurance regulator in Barbados made a statement to the effect that Barbados had one of the best insurance regulatory systems in the world. Of course he had no idea of CLICO. You can fool some of the people some of the time; all of the people some of the time; but not all of the people all of the time.
The former Governor of the Central Bank, Dr Marion Williams, was once quoted as saying that Barbados had a growing ‘first world‘ sector, implying that growth was such that we were reaching the standard of living of the developed nations. A reward for economic success. She may say that now she is getting a central bank pension and is off in Zurich being paid by taxpayers for doing what is no doubt a stressful job.
This self-deluding belief has remained part of the romantic economic narrative of the Barbadian professional class. The reality is that it is true in parts – even in the most underdeveloped nation the wealthy have a first-rate lifestyle. It is all smoke and mirrors.
Had Barbados grown on average at 4 per cent (which they claim) compounded over the Arthur years, we would be enjoying a lifestyle comparable to that of New Zealand now. The fact that we are not is proof, no matter what the official figures say, that that growth was not there. Our officials are cooking the books.
What makes Arthur’s management of the economy worse to me is that he is the only trained economist – ignore Sandiford – to be prime minister or premier since the second world war.
Finally, to talk of great prime ministers/premier, why is it that Barbadians, even BLP supporters, continue to ignore Sir Grantley Adams, to the extent of even considering his son Tom to be a greater leader? It was Adams who extended secondary education to the sons and daughters of the working class, Barrow gets the praise for introducing the so-called ‘free’ element; it was Adams who gave us the Deep Water Harbour, on the very eve of the introduction of containers, it was Barrow who got to open it; it was Adams who introduced severance pay etc for agricultural workers.
It is true that the 1961 Barrow government introduced a radical Keynesian programme, including filling in the inner basin, welding the swing bridge preventing it from swinging and turning the Constitution river in to a canal; introduced five-year tax breaks for inward industrial investors such as Texas Instruments, who almost to a man left the country as soon as the tax holidays were up; it was Barrow who introduced the Harp Project, which soon became the Iraqi super gun affair.
There is more. But to answer the substantive question: yes, Arthur failed during the greatest economic boom in modern history and left us in the mess we are in today. To say otherwise is to ignore the reality. Thompson and Stuart have only added to our despair. Now Arthur is back to give us more of the old medicine.
Hal Austin, London