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THE BIG PICTURE: Perceptions: Positive, negative


THE BIG PICTURE: Perceptions: Positive, negative

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Nobody announced the end of Rome. St Augustine talked seriously about it, but by then Rome had already fallen. – Andre Malraux

BRASS TACKS OF THURSDAY, JANUARY 15, raised the question of positive or negative perception of the current state of Barbados and its immediate prospects.

This was apparently prompted by a statement from Sue Springer, executive vice-president of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association. Springer observed that on the occasions on which she listened to the programme, comment mostly “feeds on negativity, on what cannot be done, what will not happen”. Richard Nixon once described such persons as “nattering nabobs of negativism”.

Host David Ellis noted that fellow moderator Corey Lane had commented that he, Corey, was an optimist while Ellis was a pessimist. Ellis countered that he, Ellis, was a realist. Of course, we see reality differently. Young people tend to be more optimistic, older people who have suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” may be more pessimistic.    

Too often the perception of Barbados’ condition is framed by political partisanship rather than observable, objective realities. However, it is the reality with which we will ultimately have to deal. The seeming negativity is felt not only by partisan oppositionists, but reflects a genuine angst about where Barbados is headed.

The economic prospects of Barbados cannot incline towards optimism. I suspect that Ms Springer was speaking more specifically to the tourism outlook, which admittedly may be the one bright spot in a generally dark economic climate.

The prospect of improved airlift, greater hotel room capacity, including the restructuring of Sam Lord’s Castle, building of a Hyatt Regency in Bridgetown, the Sandals expansion and current high occupancy rates, augur well for that sector. It is unlikely, however, that improved tourism in 2014-2015 and even beyond can by itself effect a quick turnaround in our overall economic fortunes.

Many factors rouse the dismaying instinct in ordinary Barbadians concerned about the future of a country witnessing the demise of much of the old certainties.

Firstly, the level of deficit and debt, foreign and local, that we have incurred. An apparently cash-strapped if not insolvent Government that cannot fully pay its creditors, be it Al Barrack or the taxpayers owed income and VAT refunds. How can one be optimistic hearing that some 600 CLICO traditional policyholders will no longer be receiving their monthly pensions because the company is insolvent? What’s more, the protracted CLICO issue seems no closer to solution.

Then there is the Sagicor domicile issue. In a fit of puerile political hubris, the Government belittled the downgrades of the international rating agencies. Now successive downgrades to junk bond status have inclined a major company to relocate away from Barbados. The big question is, will other businesses similarly affected, follow suit?

A while ago, hopes were expressed for a revival of our sugar industry in a bold initiative rolled out by Minister of Agriculture David Estwick. Now for lack of finances or whatever, the plan seemed for some time to have stalled. The disheartening thing about this, if Mr Patrick Bethell is to be believed, and there are no reasons to question his facts, is that private sugar planters are in the dark and out of pocket. Objectively, these things cannot conduce to optimism and confidence-building.

Then there is the suspicion that on both sides of the political divide, those entrusted with our governance are not quite up to the challenge. Add to that the political turbulence within the BLP and DLP and a national leadership so painfully uncommunicative as to appear almost unhinged.

The local economists, captive to their own certainty and hubris at a time when the theoretical foundations of their discipline are being challenged, postulate, but have no evident solutions.  

On many levels, too much around us appears to be unravelling. The question of accommodation is one thing but how can there be an arrangement made for 90 foreign students on a nine-month education programme at a tertiary institution with so little governmental oversight?

Our judicial system is at the heart of our national probity, it has been described as “a mess” and is in need of urgent remedial attention. Given recent events our collective sense of morality has atrophied as spiritual wickedness invades the sanctuaries of our high places.

It is possible that readers share many of the negative, pessimistic perceptions of this analysis. One hopes that it is out of an objective view of our collective reality and not out of any reflexive partisan reaction one way or the other.

Many of the issues that bother Barbadians today did not begin in 2008 with the DLP ascendancy, even though they might have been aggravated by bad policy and worse execution following the crash of 2007-2008.

A writer in the magazine Prospect notes that in an age of scarcity, with the decline of expansion, affluence and optimism, “politics has become the management of disappointments”.  

Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator. Email [email protected]