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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Friends indeed in tough times


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Friends indeed in tough times

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STUDENTS OF HARRISON COLLEGE who studied Greek in the 1950s often invoked the wisdom of Euripides to underscore the difference between their alma mater and other secondary schools in Barbados.

Euripides was a favourite author, they often explained, because of the simple language used in his plays written between 460-406 BC. Invariably, the Harrisonians recalled a classic idiom of the Greek writer: “One loyal friend is worth 10 000 relatives.

In these tough economic times when unemployment in Barbados is sky high and when uncertainty about jobs in North America is a hard fact of life, it would be a fascinating exercise to measure the value of a friend who also happens to be a relative and is sending money to the family to tide them over.

If Sean Mason, vice-president and general manager of Western Union’s Caribbean operation, is right, Barbadians in the United States (US), Canada, Britain and elsewhere, who use his company to send money from their homes away from home to families in their birthplace, are worth their weight in gold.

As their country’s economy remains in the doldrums, remittances from the members of the Bajan diaspora are also increasing, Mason told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY in New York. It’s a classic case of a friend in need showing he or she is a friend indeed.

“Barbadians do send quite a bit of money home and they are a significant part of our portfolio in the Caribbean,” said Mason. “Especially now that Barbados is challenged from an economic perspective. The country is really challenged. There is no hiding the fact that there is a linkage between performance of local economies and remittance flows. When an economy is challenged like Barbados’ there is more [financial] support sent to family members.”

He added: “But we have seen a corresponding increase in the remittance flows to Barbados. In other words, more Barbadians now are sending money back home to aid their relatives. There is always that dynamic.”

Barbadians aren’t alone in that respect. At the height of Jamaica’s financial woes, remittances rose to help meet the needs of relatives in the home country. A similar thing happened in Haiti after the creole-speaking nation was hit by a massive earthquake that left more than 200 000 people dead, hundreds of thousands injured, and more than 1.5 million homeless. The Haitian diaspora responded quickly and effectively.

Interestingly, Trinidad and Tobago paints a different picture from Barbados and most of CARICOM. While Jamaica and other island nations and coastal states are remittance-receiving lands, quite a lot of money flows out of the twin-island republic.

“Technically, Trinidad and Tobago is the wealthiest country in the Caribbean because of oil and so on. We have seen a shift in financial transactions over time to the point at which Trinidad is more weighted now to being an outflow country as opposed to an inflow nation,” said Mason.

Data compiled by the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, United Nations and Inter-American Development Bank, put Jamaica at the top of the CARICOM list of remittance receiving states. It has an annual inflow of funds amounting to about US$2 billion from its diaspora. Haiti, on average, received about US$1.1 billion annually in the years before the earthquake struck, but that amount rose sharply after the tremor. Guyana is next on the list followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and Barbados.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Barbados has received more than US$1 billion in remittances from its diaspora, according to the World Bank. Interestingly, the economic importance of remittances to the Caribbean was pinpointed in Brooklyn last week when P.J. Patterson, who served as Jamaica’s Prime Minister, spoke at a town hall meeting.

In an address to hundreds of Jamaicans and other Caribbean immigrants assembled at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York for the event hosted by GraceKennedy, Patterson said that some remittances should be channelled into investments and savings in the region. It should not be seen simply to put food on the table or a roof over the family’s head, he said. That makes eminent sense.

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