FOR THE RECORD – What a turnaround!
Politics is a funny business. It clearly involves options which political parties must make when in office and even moreso when in opposition.
Very often the interests of the country come second to the welfare of the party making the proposal to a public, which is at once sensible and discerning but also vulnerable to powerful persuasion.
A news item in the past two weeks took my mind back to the 1980s, and it amply demonstrates the crass opportunism which is so inherent in the politics of politics and shows how a country’s interests may be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
Minister of Health Donville Inniss announced earlier this month that the Government had been approached by two offshore medical schools to establish colleges of medicine here.
Based on the track record of the Democratic Labour Party on offshore medical schools, I anticipated that the next thing we might have heard was that Government had turned it down.
But the minister announced that Government had given the green light to the two foreign-based schools.
He justified this about-turn in policy this way: “I think we have reached a level of maturity in Barbados where we are prepared to accept that what people call offshore medical schools could have a presence here in Barbados without taking anything from the University of the West Indies.”
Now, sometime in 1983, shortly after the so-called Grenada invasion, the St George’s Medical School, an offshore facility which had been established in Grenada, sought temporary refuge here at the empty St Joseph Hospital building.
Thereafter, general public discussion began about the desirability of having the medical school permanently located here, and a furore broke out about all kinds of trivial matters such as the possible spread of diseases from the dissection of the bodies used in the school for anatomy classes.
Discerning readers will recall the Mighty Gabby capturing the raucous debate in the calypso called Cadavers.
One wonders what could have happened since 1983 to bring about this change?
Is it that our sister islands have shown us there is nothing to lose and much to gain from the establishment of reputable offshore medical schools, or is the need to develop the foreign exchange earning potential of our service sector now a matter of such pivotal importance that our perceived reservations about cadavers or “duppies” have receded?
Whatever the reason, I think sensible Barbadians will support this change in policy. We have already seen how the offshore financial sector has significantly helped our economy, providing some 60 per cent of our corporate tax earnings, and creating good paying jobs for many of our bright university-trained professionals.
It has been reported that some 4 000 jobs have been created by the St George’s Medical School, and that the Grenadian economy has benefited considerably from the school’s location there. We can only hope that our belated launch into this aspect of services bears similar fruit.
Venue for hearing
In a related matter, the new Supreme Court building was put to use as a venue for a hearing of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. This is a significant development, and shows that other similar “court proceedings” in other areas of the law might usefully travel to this island though they will not be held at our Supreme Court.
In this context, I speak of international arbitration proceedings in which major companies hold their arbitration hearings in places where such centres are located.
In mid-2007, then Minister of Economic Affairs and Development Mia Mottley announced that the London Court of International Arbitration had agreed to set up here what would have been its first “offshore” centre by this prestigious organization which was started in 1883.
While I don’t know what happened to that idea, India got such a centre in 2009, and Mauritius got its centre earlier this year.
Barbados was first in line, so was Barbados’ loss India’s gain?
Ezra Alleyne is an attorney at law and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.