Sunday, April 14, 2024

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Déjà Vu

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THIS WEEK I RETURN to the “treasures of antiquity” I discovered while tidying my office. One was a Rotary Club of Barbados South souvenir brochure featuring a public lecture series entitled The Economy of Barbados 1989 and Beyond. I had to reread the date on the document a few times to convince myself that it was in fact compiled 25 years ago. Today’s public discussion is so similar it seems  as if time has stood still.

We were told then by Dr DeLisle Worrell that “Bajan must become a synonym for timeliness and reliability, the Barbadian a paragon of courteous, prompt service. This country is so far from these ideals that one must seriously wonder about the prospects . . . We may most certainly stop the rot, but only if all sections of our community and the representatives of business, government and official interests accept the urgency of this competitive challenge . . . Government officials know that Government services must improve; we must have efficient transport, courteous customs service, swift exchange control administration, timely and reliable statistical information . . . Private firms understand that they must become more creative. We cannot take business much further on the basis of supermarkets, shopping malls, taxis and mini-marts . . . There really is no alternative to improved worker productivity. . . The changes we need to institute will not be smooth or painless but they are inescapable.”

“. . . Agriculture in Barbados is in decline and we must take urgent action to arrest and reverse that decline. The potential for foreign exchange earning per Barbados dollar spent is still very high in agriculture, compared with any other activity. Moreover, sound commercial agriculture is essential to the preservation of the environment . . . Barbados has accumulated tremendous expertise in agriculture and we would be squandering that investment in ourselves if we were not to put it to productive use . . .” Interesting that we’re still debating these points in 2015.

The now deceased Dr (later Sir) Richard Haynes noted that “. . . We are at a point of decision crucial to the achievement of a positive solution to our present problems. It is important that the steps we take are correct since we are unable to afford any further mistakes and disruption in confidence. We succeed in attracting the tourists but either they leave without expending their money on goods in our country or what money is spent finds its way out in the import content of what is consumed. Barbados 1989 and beyond will have to reverse this situation so that the tourist dollar is available to purchase those things which we are unable to produce ourselves. . .” Does the famous memorandum of understanding recently signed actually mean that the tourism industry has finally accepted that there should be an agro-tourism linkage? I await tangible proof.

Dr Haynes also posited that “. . . The Barbadian investor is no more conservative than investors throughout the world. All he needs is sufficient confidence that the rules will not be arbitrarily changed, that the climate will not be ambivalent, so that he can plan meaningfully. Without a predictable atmosphere, investment will wither and the money will simply sit in the banks and be eroded by inflation or worse yet we may see a perverse flight of capital.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Mr Owen Arthur noted that “Barbados quite evidently needs to move to a higher and sustainable growth path along which the economy can expand at an annual average rate of between 4 and 5 per cent in real terms . . . . I do feel that there is a national consensus that this country can profit by deliberately fostering an environment in which private sector activity in all its aspects acts as the engine of growth.”

Dr (now Sir) Frank Alleyne would do well to give the present administration the same reminder he gave in 1989, that is, if you run up a substantial deficit on current account, that debt has to be financed . . . and “remember when you borrow you have to pay back”.

Mr (now Sir) David Seale gave his vision of Barbados for the 1990s . . . “A government and society willing to accept new ideas; a parliament and a people with a renewed capacity to work hard and honestly; a mixed community of persons respecting each other; a fair and just nation; and a really free enterprise system.”

He agreed it was a dream, but felt that it wasn’t an impossibility. Today we’re still wondering.

Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email fchandler@caribsurf.com

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