ALL AH WE IS ONE: CLICO’s lessons
THE CURRENT ISSUES surrounding the collapse of CLICO provide a useful entry point for reflecting upon the underdevelopment of the Caribbean capitalist class. By its underdevelopment is meant its dependence on the state, its links to politics and politicians, its hostility to an environment of objective regulation, its lack of accountability and its old “slave master” notions of being above and beyond the law.
Long before the collapse of CLICO, supervisors of insurance in some Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries found their work frustrated by “don’t-you-know-who-I-am?” attitudes from some powerful sources. These mid-level civil servants were not assisted in their duties by the fact that in some countries there were visible signs of close linkages between the CLICO bosses and the politicians.
Indeed, some of the more naive and green politicians were often seen posing for photo ops, advertising openly who their real bosses were. None of this was conducive to a culture of regulation.
It is this uncomfortably close link between the politicians and CLICO bosses which has made the CLICO saga particularly problematic. The first instinct of the politician is preservation of office. In small countries like Barbados where the entanglements are not only political, but personal, and in which propagandistic heroic legacies may be at stake, and where the saga will be unfolding in an election year, the difficulties in reaching objective, just and dispassionate solutions will be particularly difficult.
The CLICO bosses were no doubt aware that their closeness to the politicians would mean that the latter would have little enthusiasm for dispassionate rules and regulatory mechanisms. It was the responsibility of the intelligent politician to stay as far away as possible.
A larger problem symptomatic of the underdevelopment of Caribbean capitalism is the fact that there is very little historical experience of public censure of business persons. The colonial history of the Caribbean has meant that Caribbean prisons and jails were never meant for the incarceration of business persons.
The demographics of our prisons provide us with the incontrovertible evidence that they were made for the poor black working class – largely young males. There is no sustained history and culture of upper-class businessmen being scrutinised by the judicial authorities, nor is there a culture of the “small policeman” conducting his duties fearlessly and fully backed by the system behind him.
It is these and related issues which will define the next stage of the CLICO saga. The fact of the filing of criminal charges against two of the leading personalities in the CLICO Barbados operations represents an important moment which may signal a qualitative break with the past. History, however, does not provide grounds for optimism that a meaningful transition can take place.
The victims of CLICO will have to enter the public stage. Only their determined organization will bring victory.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in regional affairs.