The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was kind enough to invite me and a large number of representatives from both the private and public sector to a half day discussion forum last week.
To quote their own documentation the objective was to ‘Maximise Bridgetown’s economic and cultural activity’ by leveraging ‘existing institutions (tangible and intangible) and infrastructure (historic buildings and public spaces)’ by garnering ‘support from the local business sector to diversity night-time (after 6 pm) economic and cultural activities’.
Creative suggestions from the attending group flowed like flood water but towards the end of the main session there was one sobering observation by a member of the assembly. He mentioned that he had not heard more than one new idea over the last twenty years.
And that is where the reality kicks in. As a country we do not lack the vision or identifying practical projects. Where we seem to fail dismally is the implementation.
The same person suggested that we needed a fulfillment ‘Czar’ and that comment is probably the one which will stay with me for the longest time out of the entire four hour duration. Whether any administration has the ‘intestinal fortitude’ to make this happen without giving the job to yet another political crony, I seriously doubt, but we can perhaps live in hope.
Frankly I came away from the meeting thinking “Was this just another talk shop?”
I sincerely hope not, because I cannot imagine there was a single attendee who does not want a more attractive and viable capital.
My own thoughts are that in the current economic malaise that it would be almost impossible to tackle all the areas highlighted at the gathering and that ‘we’ should shortlist maybe ten projects and attempt to ensure they are fully completed before tackling the next ten.
One revelation that I found almost impossible to comprehend was that a representative of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce stated the trade body had persuaded one of their members, a leading local paint supplier, to donate product and services to enhance a ‘block’ of buildings in Bridgetown. Sadly it never happened because they could not secure the owner’s consent and this seems incredibly selfish in the national interest.
Perhaps even more remarkable was when questioned about the availability of loan funds, the local representative of the IDB openly stated that up to US$400 million was available, at interest rates as low as 2 ½ per cent annually, of course subject to certain criteria. Compound this with corporate tax relief available to companies contributing and possibly a land tax reduction for properties upgrading their building’s surely ‘we’ can make this work?
Government must surely understand that increased trade in Bridgetown will generate more taxes and employment and that any short term loss will be more than made up over the following years.