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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Perception vs reality


Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Perception vs reality

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A?colleague made this observation: “Having lived the Barbados experience close up for all my adult working life, the one observation I can make is that Bajans, despite their reputation for being wise and prudent, like to put a face on things and pretend they are better than they really are. Perhaps the only thing we are #1 at is talk and indecision. Wukking up runs a close #2 . . . .”
I could add that Bajans are selective in accepting rankings by international rating agencies. We boast when we’re ranked 33rd out of 111 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index 2005; 38th in the world in the UN Human Development Index 2013; the 39th freest economy in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom 2013; the 3rd most stable banking system in the Western Hemisphere by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013; 15th among 176 countries by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2012.
Looking at the Crop Over bands, we also seem proud of our rating as the 14th fattest nation in the world! Yet, we object strongly when we’re downgraded by agencies like Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investment Services.
For instance, Minister Chris Sinckler is reported to have called the Moody’s report a “speculative and unnecessary rush to judgment” (June 16, 2011) to have deemed the two agencies’ reports contradictory and described as “inflammatory” what he termed “the loose talk about junk status” (NATION June 15, 2011).
The Central Bank Governor allegedly joined the chorus, saying that Standard and Poor’s didn’t know what it was talking about, while Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is quoted as saying that S&P’s opinion was, like the Opposition’s, only one of several on the economy, and that he remained unperturbed.
As far as corruption is concerned, though, remember that Transparency International uses a Corruption Perception Index which measures perception and not “reality”. This Index has received criticisms over the years, mainly because of the difficulty in measuring corruption, which by definition happens behind the scenes (www.wikipedia.com). Furthermore, as Ralph Jemmott states in his column, “here we don’t speak of corruption, we prefer to talk euphemistically of ‘infelicities’ to imply some ‘petty misdemeanours’. . . . Barbadians do not speak out loud concerning corruption, but they like to whisper about it.”
After a big hullabaloo which makes headlines for a day or two, nothing more is said and no one is prosecuted.
I suppose our favourable rating could be based on perceived efforts to curb corruption, that is, introduction of anti-money laundering legislation, production of Auditor General’s reports and the fact that there is a Public Accounts Committee. An Anti-Corruption Bill was taken to Parliament recently but as far as I know the act was never proclaimed.
Meanwhile, the alleged election fraud and other “infelicities” seem to have been swept under the carpet and businessmen complain that at every turn in their operations, there’s a hand held out to be greased if a smooth passage is to be had. It’s becoming accepted as a way of life. Is that what we want? I don’t think so, so we must all work to stamp it out.
We, the people, must have free access to information, allowing us to track public spending, we must be assured of elections decided by votes and not money (perhaps by limiting election spending to equal budgeted sums from the Treasury for the parties), politicians accountable to the public, not to powerful friends, we want to be sure that public contracts are awarded to those most qualified, not those with the best connections.
In short, we want actions motivated by the public good, not by private gain.
We know how damaging corruption is to an economy whether in the form of bribery, extortion, croneyism, nepotism, patronage, graft or embezzlement. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund now view corruption as one of the main obstacles to development. It increases government’s costs and undermines public confidence in the political institution.
We need positive action from the public and private sectors and civil society to ensure that this nation does not fall into a state of kleptocracy (rule by thieves).
Now the Crop Over fete is over, let’s return to reality and face the “other music” on August 13 with a firm commitment to work together for a better Barbados.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.

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