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Spinning top in mud


Ricky Jordan

Spinning top in mud

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WE HAVE TWO major problems which are keeping Barbados from truly progressing: most employees have bad attitudes and chips on their shoulder that are probably larger than Barbados, and our island’s size and population are too small to accommodate the competition that could change the long-standing scourge of bad service.
I was off duty on Thursday and, not for the first time, I was left to wonder whether my off-days are not best suited to leisure and relaxation than to the business transactions which I try to undertake during “free” time.
I find that when I use my days off or even vacations to do some form of banking, paying bills or even buying lunch at some place where I would not normally be able to go during work hours, more often than not I end up strongly regretting the effort.
Those off-days or that extended period of time when I do get to engage in the mentioned priorities also afford me the opportunity, the bird’s eye view and the ringside seat to how absolutely poor service is in Barbados.
Local service is not good generally, and now that the Christmas rush is here, it is worse since most workers are thinking first and foremost about the fun things they will do for the holidays, about dinners, treats, travel and parties – as well they should.
But at the same time there is a clientele out there to be served daily; and all of us are guilty at some point, since the restaurant worker, clerk, journalist or cashier will undoubtedy leave work after giving someone bad service and go to the gas station and get equally bad service. Nobody wins!
However, we sometimes glibly say that if Barbados had competition, in terms of more telephone services, Internet service providers, banks, restaurants, and airlines coming into the country to provide a range of alternatives to the established entities, service would be far better. That argument, while plausible on the surface, will only be a reality if Barbados miraculously increases its physical size; and while size has never been a handicap to this country’s ability to do great things, I submit that in this case it is.
At 166 square miles and with a population of about 280 000 people, we are too limited to accommodate, for example, any more than the two current cellular phone providers. And I well recall the day when Cable & Wireless, after monopolizing and terrorizing the local market for a half-century, finally got some competition around 2001 with the entrance of Digicel and AT&T.
In the twinkling of an eye, AT&T was out because it realized the environment was too limited to absorb so much competition. Since then, we’ve been left with two cellphone service providers and poor service from both.
Furthermore our bandwidth is limited, for while neighbouring territories like St Lucia and Antigua have been using fibre-optic technology for years, if an earth tremor occurs in Barbados – and one did in 2007 – we are propelled kicking and screaming back into the dark ages with our expensive but ineffective handsets.
By the same token in the wider Caribbean, we are too limited in population and infrastructure to make a low-cost airline profitable, since the very small circuit and volume of passengers just would not be enough to keep such an airline running.
Why does the Irish airline Ryanair stay afloat while the Irish REDjet couldn’t? Because this region simply doesn’t have the number of cities and populations comparable to the European circuit; so we can kiss low-cost intra-regional travel goodbye for the next generation.
We are basically left to take what little we get in Barbados because many investors will not venture into this constricted market to make a loss.
Meanwhile, those companies which are already here will continue to make a mint and dish out poor service, unless one can bring some brilliant idea to totally shift the present paradigm.
And as much as this country has come up with ideas like the National Initiative for Service Excellence and incentive strategies, we are proverbially spinning top in mud.
It is all about attitudes which seem to be inherently bad among many Barbadian workers and must be tolerated because there are few options for the consumer; and competition, which is not feasible for most potential investors.
So I say, despite the franchises coming here and offering very little else but high prices for the things we can only afford when we travel to other territories, nothing will get much better for the Barbadian consumer in my beloved Barbados.
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION. Email [email protected]

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