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FIRING LINE: Put heads together on burning issues

Shantal Munro-Knight

FIRING LINE: Put heads together on burning issues

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Too much has happened over the past couple of weeks to stick to one topic this week.
I cannot help but comment on the fact that we have gone completely Massy. The recent move by Neal and Massy to rebrand all of their businesses solidifies the dominance of the Trinidad and Tobago Company in Barbados.
In one fell swoop it has erased the names and perhaps the essential character of companies that were part of the Barbadian landscape for eons. The move by the company not only to rebrand but to expand its market presence in Barbados should send two strong signals to us all and perhaps more so to the private sector.  
First, it suggests that they are perhaps seeing something in the Barbadian economy that we are not. The local private sector should become sufficiently energised and hopefully jealous enough by the confidence of the company and start also looking for opportunities for consolidation and expansion. While clearly scale and capital are important factors, there is also something to be said for the innovative, futuristic and aggressive approach of the company. I do not believe that Massy is investing in the Barbadian economy that we have now; they are investing in its long-term potential to rebound.
Secondly, this is perhaps just the first wave of a changing private sector landscape that we are seeing. The consolidation of Neal and Massy and the entry of Sandals and other large conglomerates are happening alongside the demise of several local companies.
I can foresee a Barbados where we will look up and down and a few companies dominating all the major sectors and, more interestingly, when the large majority of them will be foreign. Of course with the exception of Chefette, which seems determined to dot the island at every point with three or four branches (there should be a law which forces company with the capital and clear potential to expand beyond national shores). The private sector, particularly the small- and medium-sized businesses, should sit up and take note of the coming changes, lest, as usual, we are caught napping.    
Kudos to the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) for showing an inkling of solidarity around the issue of the municipal solid waste tax. The solid waste tax was clearly ill-conceived and as far as I am concerned, hastily designed by someone or a group of persons who, perhaps at the last minute, realised that extra coppers will be needed to meet the deficit. I can imagine someone going aha in the middle of the night with the bad idea.
I do not think that Barbadians understand the tax, what it is for and how it is being applied. This in itself will lead to high non-compliance. I am not sure what will become of the BLP initiative as the party has a history of launching lofty initiatives which peter out with no conclusion. They might, however, be able to claim victory on this one because, with or without their support, the vast majority of the Barbadian public I predict will pay no attention to the tax at least in the immediate future.  
I wonder how many of you have noted the waves which are being caused by the comments of the Hon. Donville Inniss on the state of the region’s leadership. The Minister’s comments as reported in the press were motivated by frustration that other CARICOM leaders were not supporting Barbados in its fight against the United States subsidies for rum producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Interestingly, I wonder if the Minister forgot that this Government was the purveyors of the “ever so welcome, wait for call” mantra which has dominated our stance to the freedom of movement regime within CARICOM and that his Prime Minister has held the portfolio for CSME issues for quite some time with little success to show.
Galvanising support is a function of demonstrated leadership and dependent on the trust of colleagues, the Minister should reflect on the extent to which, in the recent past, Barbados has done much to imbue the level of support which he would not like to see.
At the same time, I do empathise with the minister. I believe that his comments were perhaps motivated by the inability of this current crop of regional leaders to produce anything besides eloquent statements and grandiose plans. We seem to be long past the golden years of the regional integration movement even when with its stops and splutters regional leaders at least convinced us that they were committed to the task.
Today, when we perhaps need it most, with Caribbean economies at their lowest and the region facing immense environmental and social challenges, the record and perception of the regional integration movement and its leadership are at their worst. Individual leaders may wish to put their heads in the sand but the sad reality is that the sentiments of the Minister Donville Inniss is a reflection of what the average Caribbean person feels about their collective leadership.
I remain pessimistic that the outcomes of the just concluded summit in Antigua will make any difference to the regional landscape. I would gladly be proven wrong.
Actually, I beg most fervently to be proven wrong. History, however, is very much on my side.
• Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.