ON REFLECTION – Light, food no more ‘we’ own
THE FLYERS, almanacs and large labels on its main office building and power plants boast of reaching 100 years. And it’s no idle boast, because it has provided an essential service for a century; but, sadly, after so many moons Barbados still does not own the source of its light.
I’m not playing down the milestones and yeoman service of Barbados Light & Power and many others in this country over the last century; nor am I so cynical as to say that little has been achieved in this land which I’m proud to call home; but when we realistically look at business in Barbados, what do we as a people have to call ours?
Can we call private, family-owned businesses – black and white – truly national entities, when the ones we considered “national” such as the Barbados National Bank, Barbados Shipping & Trading, and now BL&P are owned – lock, stock and barrel – by entrepreneurs beyond these shores?
The 79.9 per cent majority share ownership in BL&P by Canadian company Emera – announced last Tuesday – was yet another chapter in the running saga of local business wheeling and dealing, takeovers, enticing share prices, and partnerships that always end with Barbados being on the losing end; and which not even a defiant stand by some Barbadians and the National Insurance Board’s decision to maintain enough shares to stay on the board of Light & Power Holdings could stop.
Such a major acquisition proves that after hundreds of years, including 44 years of Independence, the majority of Barbadians continue to be mainly hewers of wood and drawers of water – not for lack of business acumen and talent.
Several companies which started as fully-owned Barbadian businesses and became successful have, in the name of expansion, given large stakes to foreign companies, with the result being nearly always the same: majority ownership by foreign entities and loud laments on the home front.
I can still hear the groaning over the sale of BNB to Republic Bank Limited of neighbouring oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, the various acquisitions by Ansa McAL and Neal & Massey; but what are we doing about it besides griping?
After 100 years, a quasi-colonial power controls my light.
If Emera decides to suddenly shut down its local subsidiary – that’s what BL&P now is – and sells off or moves its equipment to some other jurisdiction, will our children go back to doing homework by kerosene lamps?
And since foreigners own my light, most of my food through Barbados’ main food import/distribution entity BS&T, my clothes since the garment and manufacturing industry has been virtually crippled for years, will it soon own my water too? Ridiculous, some may scoff.
But less than a year ago, the Barbados Water Authority complained of wastage in overtime payments and millions owed in bills, and the water rates soared. Even a Government minister was removed to take up the post of the BWA’s executive chairman.
So what next?
If I may make a suggestion, let’s look to the cultural industries to which a lot of lip service has been paid.
In the current climate where the buzzword is “entrepreneurship”, it is not accidental that Chris Harper, a musician and music business entrepreneur, is the new programme manager of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation.
But the cultural industries have long been victim to an inability to access finance, a downright disdain for intellectual property rights, and a culture that has little time for a youngster who shuns the traditional “good jobs” to go into art or the music business.
At the same time, hope remains for economic revival and diversification with plans to provide incentives in the yet to be debated Cultural Industries Bill. And with its wide girth – encompassing visual art, music, film, craft and the literary arts – local culture should open a new avenue to a homegrown and home-nourished industry that is ready for the international market.
After they have taken our food and light – and maybe soon our water – don’t let them take our music too.
Haitian wealth in art And speaking of culture, I was overwhelmed at the volume of art and craft on display when I visited Haiti late last year. In the midst of turmoil, rubble and depressing evidence of the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the beauty of Haiti’s people still shone through in paintings and craft lining the guard walls of schools and dotting parts of the capital Port-au-Prince.
The bright, bold colours were a lesson in contrast amid the squalor, while paintings portrayed their liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture and biblical images – testament to unwavering faith and the belief that Haiti will rise.
An exhibition of such art is on show in the Caribbean Gallery Of Art in Speightstown, St Peter, and support of such an endeavour can be yet another way of helping these less fortunate souls.