We can once again be a crossroads for the world
by Baba Elombe Mottley
I have been following with fascination a debate on the internet about what direction Barbados’ budget should take. I am taken by the wide range of people who are involved in the debate passively as adjunct recipients and actively (like myself) as commentators. What comes across are the various traditional alternatives on how government should divide up a shrinking pie in what appears to be crisis oriented with no consensus as to where we are going. I am not an economist but I would like to raise one or two points which I think should be considered, valued and included in a budget to start the process of change.
WiFi-ing Bridgetown is one, but here is the problem – the level of awareness of politicians and civil servants and their unwillingness to seek advice on suggestions etc. The developer of the London Eye visited Barbados about ten years ago and when he found out that Barbados did not have Wi-Fi, he offered to construct the system. The Barbados government – the politicians and their civil servants – refused.
Reassessing who, where and what we are… and can be
About a hundred years ago, Barbados was at the crossroads between Europe and South America and as a result it was able to develop its nascent tourism with stop-over visitors from both of those continents. The Panama Canal construction relieved us of a large portion of our population and in turn pumped considerable funds into the economy to raise the standard of living of thousands of Bajans. The sugar industry was still able to generate most of our foreign exchange.
In the mid-fifties, migration again played a major role, the sugar industry persisted and English and American big-wigs discovered our West Coast and established the up-market tourism that still presently exist.
The building of the deep water harbor and the expansion of Seawell Airport led to the flirtation with “industrial development” in the form of screw-driver industries where we built massive factory spaces to employ Bajans that totally disemboweled our skilled trades – tailoring, dress-making, joinery, etc. I am aware that there were areas where technological changes made other skills obsolete.
Make the egret our National bird
By the end of the 20th Century we were absorbing lessons from the migratory and now ubiquitous egret. This bird although not indigenous to our countryside established a symbiotic relationship with cows and other domestic animals gaining sustenance from their waste and from the worms and other vermin that their hooves dug up and exposed from the rich soil on which they grazed. Stand on the bridge in Holetown and observe their numbers and roostings especially at sunset.
I want to argue that this symbiosis is a major lesson we should learn and implement with respect to our dealings with the rest of the world. It is not just a question of a budget that no doubt will create hardship one way or another, but how we as Bajans see our future and what we are prepared to do in order that we can increase the size of the pie to benefit all of us.
But what is it that we have that will make people willing to come to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to give us their money in exchange for what we offer them? Remember Mr Rice from the BTA is reported to have said that British travel agents find Barbados too costly to get to and too far.
So what are Barbados’ strengths?
Public Secondary School?
Private Secondary Schools?
What are those things that are unique to Barbados? We tend to toy with this heritage. Those who can, benefit from it while others in their ignorance, ignore it.
What factors would make people want to visit Barbados, invest in Barbados, and protect that investment in Barbados unlike the parasitic industrialists of the sixties?
Finally, what is Brand Barbados?
Is Crop Over a Bajan brand or is it a Carnival?
I am interested in all Bajan people. If we are going to exhibit entrepreneurship, what are the areas of this entrepreneurship? Are we going to be making a living off other Bajans or are we going to gear up to do so off the rest of the world? If so how do we do it, and what are the areas most likely that we can undertake to do it?
One of the major blocks in determining where we go is a lack of understanding and acceptance of our culture and heritage. This sounds simple but it is not. Most of the decision makers – politicians, businessmen, bankers, investors, and corporations – have no idea of our unique heritage nor how we can make it work for us as a nation. A few people know different aspects of it but our people as a whole do not know it and those in decision-making positions definitely do not or only pay lip service to it.
A couple of examples. There are hundreds of Bajans interested in the film/video industry. This involves 20-25 different disciplines. There is no access to television to show their work because of government’s phobia about opening the airwaves. So there is a great dependency on the amorphous internet. Yet there is in the EPA agreement with the European Union a provision for reciprocity in television ownership. Entry into the EU market thru music already exist but none of the capital owning class is willing to invest in these creative industries. Whether it is Barbados or the Caribbean as a whole, it is totally off the radar of the decision making class and the policy makers and yet it is through our music and sports that we are best known.
What is important about this? Here are some of the reasons.
· The music
· The promotion of the Caribbean festivals and sporting events
· The imbedding of Caribbean products to go with the lifestyle found in the videos
· The promotion of Caribbean Fashion
· The creation of opportunities for Bajan and Caribbean artists to tour Europe
· The promotion of Caribbean sports
· The promotion of Caribbean Heritage.
Education as an Foreign Exchange Earning Industry
There is a general feeling across the Caribbean that Barbados has the best educational system. True or not what do we do about it? There are some that feel it is failing but do we try to make it indubitably so? Do we offer others in the Caribbean the opportunity to come to Barbados and benefit from this education? Do we encourage investors to open more private schools to attract children from across the world using the IB (International Baccalaureate) program?
Example. Several executives from US, Europe and far afield who work in Trinidad and the OECS are uncomfortable with the situation there, wanted to have their wives and children live and schooled in Barbados. They were refused permission by immigration even though they were going to pay rent, school fees and other living expenses out of their own income. Why? As a Nation, have we developed the self confidence of knowing who we are and use it to generate the income necessary to pay us generously? If not how do we do it? It is the same issue about developing excellence of service. Service does not exist in a vacuum.
Let me go further, should we make education an industry? Should we encourage foreign universities to set up shop here because we have a highly educated class of persons that can service such institutions? Barbados in the seventies and eighties turn down St Georges University twice when they wanted to move to Barbados. Why? Poor greatness! – the same reason that we are currently looking down our noses at medical graduates from Cuba. Ignorance is a curse. Bajans must be given the information so that they can make intelligent decisions. Is such a plan in the budget?
What sort of shortsightedness that Barbados Invest has indulged in when they talk about the former St Joseph Hospital facility? We got away with murder for the last 50 years because of the embargo against Cuba. Have we considered the impact on Barbados when the embargo is lifted and Americans start to benefit from the low cost of excellent medical services available in Cuba? Why could we not offer it to a university to set up a medical school here? The same applies to Codrington College with its 790 acres of land. Why can it not be leased for 100 years for a Spiritual University? The Anglican Church can barely maintain the churches in its possession far less stop squatters from taking over its idle lands. This is one of the reasons I support Sir Hilary’s move to make Cave Hill an international university that can eventually pay its way.
If anyone is interested I will submit details on how we can use other aspects of our heritage to build Barbados as an attractive crossroads for the rest of the world. We have it and we must flaunt it.
Baba Elombe Mottley
(Some titles, formatting and punctuation changes by Clive)