WILD COOT: If winter comes?
Fellow columnist Lowdown is bewailing the insidious, imperceptible deterioration of us Barbadians in areas where we once excelled. I could not agree more with him as things slowly fall apart. But it has not just started. Perhaps we were kidding ourselves all along because no one sought to challenge us.
One of the most blatant factors may be the ethnic make-up of the Bajan landscape. There are the black Barbadians, most of whom are busy clawing their way out of poverty primarily with the help of hard work, education, the thrifty savings of parents and the need to own a piece of the rock; and there is the white plantocracy (and poor Whites), most of whom enjoyed ownership of land and agricultural plantations inherited and still providing a comfortable living. In addition, the white class owned most of the import agencies, tracking down some profit to small shop owners, mainly black; also controlling key areas of business (Roebuck Street, for example). Things were comfortable.
The situation has changed. Foreigners who came to enjoy a peaceful existence and soak up sea, sun and relaxation have over the last 30 years seen the relaxation and also the opportunity to capitalise on the laissez-faire approach to business opportunities.
First came English millionaires who took up land on the West Coast and changed land values. Then came the Trinidadians with oil money seeking a refuge from the turmoil in Trinidad and Tobago. They did their business in Trinidad, but kept their families and education opportunities in Barbados. Then the penny dropped. They saw the motorcar and cement industries, for example, somnambulant companies ripe for the taking. Barbados Shipping & Trading, with its wide network, were a bull’s eye on the firing range (one wonders what has Barbados got in exchange). The companies were in existence for ages with below par future aspirations. Trinidadians took them, and like tigers dismantled them and changed the scene for them from creeping insidious, imperceptible to dynamic entities (See Massy Stores (B’dos) Ltd everywhere, see cement retailed cheaper in other islands despite being manufactured in Barbados).
While this was going on, Trinidadians espied the National Bank, then came First Citizens Bank, both of which are part-owned by the government of Trinidad. Look at the insurance companies.
There are a lot of companies that were virtually lying dormant in Barbados that now have Trinidadian ownership, and more will follow. Never mind the proclamation of Minister Donville Inniss (well intended though he might be) – we need to be worried about to whom we are beholden. Look at the situation with Emera. It means that more and more of the profitability of companies vital to Barbados, and which Bajans must support, send their profits over and away. That is, in addition to the traditional exportation of profits by Canadian banks, Emera has joined in the mix.
The debacle of Clico is a stark warning to us. We had no control over the main company, but it has left our citizens with a woogle of problems. So minister, there is a need to be cautious. Even so, we have set up a Financial Services Commission that should be better concerned with what any cross-border mob may be doing. Has it really evaluated our tax position? Do the repercussions of FATCA mean anything to it or the current tax war?
The Wild Coot has been bewailing the lack of a national and a development bank. Why? Banks have the means to be the intermediary in capital and social development. Our Government persists with anorectic and pathetic lending agencies with puny expertise and poo poo resources that only could scratch the surface of our savings potential. What this Government does not seem to realise is that a bank’s bedrock starting point is risk. Something must be done about this that can allow the banks to provide access to our savings. Once security is dealt with, the risk is further considered – that is why credit cards, mortgages and car loans are popular. But a development bank with unique funding sources and a national bank without predatory shareholders are needed to prop up our newly-founded need to get involved.
As a manager in Jamaica, when the Wild Coot interviewed a customer, invariably the customer had four or five sources of income – an entrepreneurial approach that we are now anxious to establish.
• Harry Russell is a banker.