THE HOYOS FILE: We sure could use a little good news, Mr AG
Trying to evade the language police, I must admit that sometimes a little touch of cynicism gets the better of me, and I am unable to see the glass half-full.
Not being able to speak the legal linguistic jargon like the professionals in the offshore sector, I find my eyes starting to glaze over when the conversation gets too technical. Like when they start talking about the relative merits of DTAs and BITs. Not to mention Companies Limited by Guarantee, LLPs, IBCs and SRLs.
I am still stuck trying to figure out why both the CIA and the NSA (at the very least) are reading my emails. Talk about eyes glazing over. I hope they get hazard pay for boredom.
But the language cops in the offshore sector are now stepping up the pressure on us lay journalists to cease calling what they do “offshore” business and instead refer to it as “international” business.
I may have to apologize, but for me it will always be offshore business. Once upon a time we heard talk of being in the “nearshore” business. That was when PRT, under the brilliant management of Doug Mellinger, brought in a lot of tech-savvy Indian code-geeks to write custom software for the big United States banks. The company used to refer to us as a nearshore domicile, as opposed to, well, India, relative to the US.
It didn’t much help PRT, which disappeared off both the near and offshore maps after a few years. The lingo patrol was at work last Wednesday at BIBA’s first luncheon for the year (the acronym is, as you would expect, politically correct, standing for Barbados International Business Association).
However, to replace the second word with “offshore” might lead to a new acronym that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. (BOBA, anyone?)
At the luncheon, I was told twice, from both the Government and private sector sides, with a slightly disapproving glance – the sort given to a person wearing distinctly out-of-fashion clothes – that I really should not use the word offshore anymore.
But no amount of jargon retrofitting could relieve me of the headache I got from the tension underlying the cordial atmosphere. Dear readers, you do want me to tell it as I see it, don’t you? This is not a PR column.
Without getting bogged down in all that jargon jazz, and without fear of getting it from both sides (like that would be something new) I can tell you that the Government and the offshore sector are not happy campers.
They might both reside on the same island, but they live on two different planets. The Government sees the offshore sector glass as being more than half-full, and the sector’s professionals see it as stuck in the mud.
I used two different commonplace metaphors to illustrate that they are really as different as night and day on moving the industry forward.
The featured speaker at the BIBA lunch was Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, whose office has to draft legislation to achieve any new policies the Government wants to pursue. The AG took an upbeat approach, saying he was going to accentuate the positive and not dwell on the negative.
He reminded me of the Anne Murray classic song lyric “We sure could use a little good news today” when he told his audience that he had decided that “some good news was merited”.
He added: “I will not speak about the slow pace of legislation, I will not cry down the corporate affairs department, I will not bemoan the lack of international law firms, I will not complain about the judicial system.”
Instead, said Mr Brathwaite, “the good news is that Government’s vision for Barbados as a leading international business and financial services centre in this hemisphere remains”. The Cabinet, he said, had just approved a new “five-year strategic plan”, and it was from there that his good news came.
Over the next five years, he said, Government intended to “achieve” a 40 per cent increase in foreign exchange earnings from the offshore sector plus a related and similar size increase in corporation and personal tax revenues. Also, it intended to “create 2 000 new jobs” in the sector, and register 2 000 new corporate entities.
In fact, he said, at the current rate of new incorporations, that number should be higher, so presumably he was being conservative.
My question is this (remember, my eyes glaze over at too much info): If you are basing all this at a rate of growth lower than what you are currently achieving, are you saying that even your usual do-nothing policies will achieve this growth?
In other words, even if we did absolutely nothing, the sector would grow by that much. Therefore, that is what our five-year plan is based on.
At the end of the speech, I got the impression that some in the room may have been privately wondering why Mr Brathwaite had made the speech at all, as he said nothing new. Oh, sorry, here was the breaking news part: Both the Foundations and the Private Trust Company legislation will be ready for proclamation by the end of this quarter.
And you say this Government is not doing anything? Of course, there was a whole lot of “pursuing”, “looking at”, “moving towards” and “active consideration” going on, which is, of course, the modus operandi of the Freundel Stuart administration.
One case in point: “The High Net Worth Individuals” initiative, which translates into layman’s terms as the “So Rich They’re Embarrassing” initiative, is stuck in a quagmire, months after being proclaimed in a recent budget speech.
This hasn’t stopped these super rich from coming here, but maybe it has slowed them down from arriving in their expected droves. The offshore side doesn’t know exactly what to tell their clients, because they don’t want to say something that may not be so.
Apparently the Government agencies involved can’t finalise exactly how to process these people more quickly and efficiently than is the case at present, leading to frustration no doubt, and probably loss of more business.
I personally am not blaming the AG directly for this, and probably not even the Cabinet. Despite their do-as-little-as-possible stance, this has more to do with inter-agency turf wars and power trips which even the most upbeat, good-news-bearing attorney-general would find it difficult to overcome.