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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More double standards

Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More double standards

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I was asked some time ago to meet a Sandals executive to discuss supplying local fresh produce to their soon to be opened South Coast hotel. Although I’ve had less than satisfactory experiences with trying to interest the hotel sector in supporting our farmers by purchasing local produce where appropriate, my undying enthusiasm for import substitution and my loyalty to country got the better of me and I approached the meeting with some degree of positivity.
I first explained the proposal which I had contributed to some four years ago regarding setting up a public/private sector trading entity to coordinate production and marketing of local produce so as to ensure that the correct quantity and quality of produce would be available to all the food sectors ­– supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, agro-processors and so on. Since this had been ignored by Government, I had been trying, voluntarily, to collaborate with individual hotel groups so as to partially achieve this.
I was asked by Sandals to supply the sources, contact information and prices for poultry products and was promised a full product list so that I could indicate which items could be supplied locally. I dutifully sent the information requested, but have never received even an acknowledgement, nor have I received the information Sandals promised. Now I understand why!
If our Government signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) allowing Sandals to import “everything under the sun” without duty, VAT or any other taxes or levies for 25 years and another 15 years at 50 per cent, why would they even consider supporting local producers? It‘s ironic, though, that while Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler was busy putting nails in the coffins of local farmers and manufacturers and ploughing up the playing field for local hoteliers, fellow Government member Mr James Paul’s valiant efforts to encourage Sandals to purchase produce from local farmers were being reported in the Press. Good luck, Mr Paul!
Even a blind man on a trotting horse sitting backwards would see that this is unfair. I don’t blame the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association and the Intimate Group of Hotels for forcefully voicing their displeasure, noting of course that I wouldn’t agree with their being allowed duty-free fresh produce either. Government seems to have a new policy – “buy one, get one free”. Sandals buys Casuarina, is handed the St Peter Almond on a platter and, to add insult to injury, is showered with concessions. All this for a company which purchased some of our prime real estate and left it idle for years. In my opinion, prime commercial property, like agricultural land, left idle, should be taxed to the maximum.
In spite of Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy’s lofty defence, it’s blatantly obvious that the concessions give an unfair advantage to Sandals. The fact that Sandals’ executive stated that they wouldn’t have been able to achieve the excellence of their brand without the concessions – and that “they allow you to put a product out . . . that can compete with anybody worldwide” – confirms this.
It’s also obvious that, had these concessions been offered to other prospective buyers, they might have had a fair chance of succeeding in their bids. Also disturbing is the unusual alacrity with which this MOU came into being, especially when it’s known that the few measures included in the Budget, supposedly to help local hoteliers, are still not clear three months later.
Amidst all these inconsistencies and contradictions, no wonder “scores of concerned citizens and some members of Government sang and prayed to God for a miracle in the island” at the recent  National Day of Prayer. They also prayed for a transformation in Barbados and declared “we are taking back Barbados”.
You could’ve fooled me! Rather than taking it back, we seem to be giving more and more of it away. Furthermore, most things the Trinidadians touch seem to “turn to mud”, so hopefully what the Jamaicans touch will “turn to gold” and more importantly, Barbados will share in it.
And as for the miracle, God helps those who help themselves. Our leaders need to heed the Antigua opposition leader and stop being “overawed and paralysed by the global economic crisis”, act decisively and wisely, and lead by example so that the public will have confidence to support them.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.