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WILD COOT: When will it end?

HARRY RUSSELL, [email protected]

WILD COOT: When will it end?

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THE OPINIONS OF Dr Justin Robinson do not always resonate with those of the Wild Coot. Of course, the coot is a bird of dubious pedigree and station. To tell the truth, Dr Robinson’s article in last Thursday’s DAILY NATION (Page 11) should be a wake-up call, if it is not too late, to all Barbadians that those fields and hill are not our very own. This time he has hit the bullseye dead centre.

Dr Robinson asks the question: “Are companies listed on the Barbados Stock Exchange seriously undervalued and vulnerable to cheap takeover?” A question that answers itself. However, the Wild Coot goes further. Are companies and private entities in Barbados ripe for cheap takeover? In spite of economic difficulties, is there the perception that one could feed off the bones of the carcass and at some time a phoenix will arise?

Shortly after Independence, Barbados sought to consolidate its gains by constructing a solid foundation of growth. Both black entrepreneurs and the established Whites dug in to make Barbados a beacon of solidarity and the envy of the Caribbean.

This could be seen too in the Government’s establishment of the Barbados Mortgage Finance Corporation to promote housing for the poor and middle class; in the establishment of the Barbados National Bank, the Barbados Development Bank, the Board of Tourism and a score of pivotal Government corporations to carry the country forward.

In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, black businesses prospered alongside the white businesses. As a matter of fact, banks were beginning to reach out to black businesses more so than in the past. Barbados stuck out in the Caribbean and, like a peacock, displayed its feathers.

An obvious display to the outer world was the placing of the outstanding players in the business market as they joined the Barbados Stock Exchange in the mid-1980s. This was a display to be proud of, although on a stage it was like the adage of the fox and the crow. (Le renard et le corbeau), How pretty are you (Comme vous être jolie).

The warning that we must take seriously, if it isn’t too late, was issued by one of our heroes, that we shall soon be bringers of water and hewers of wood.

It seems that Banks Holdings Barbados Ltd, owner of Pine Hill Dairy, Barbados Bottlers, essentially Barbadian supported industries, has been caught napping. Or has it? Surely if it entertained help in constructing its extensions, it must have anticipated that the piper somewhere in the future would call the tune. The full-page advertisement on Friday, October 2, seems a tad too late and calls for an explanation. To whom is the appeal directed and why?

Another Barbadian company bites the dust as far as the export of dividends is concerned, even if bigger markets may be on the horizon because of an international anticipation. But we wonder if it bites the dust at a song.

Dr Robinson asks a question. The Wild Coot puts the question a different way. “Are our cherries ripe for picking?” If so, can they be had for a pocket full of rye? Did we make noise when we lost Barbados Light & Power? And did we make noise when we genuflected to Sandals? So we see the exporting of our once “the idea of Barbados” slipping slowly away both from the grasp of our Government and our private sector. Do those people who are calling for the privatisation of our airport and seaport have a hidden agenda? Who will be the ones to benefit from the dissemination of the Barbados stock in trade?

The Wild Coot in his youth, like Nebuchadnezzar, saw the writing on the wall early. Although the Adams administration was forward thinking in establishing things like the Barbados National Bank and the ABC Highway, when confronted with roadblocks, the Wild Coot unceremoniously decided to make his living elsewhere than Barbados. But Barbados is my home and I weep for the present state.

While we anticipate the outcome of the eventual ownership of Banks Holdings Ltd, we must spare a thought for another peculiarity of Barbados. Barbados sets up a stock exchange but trading on it is at a minimum. However, there is such a penchant for savings accounts in the commercial banks and the credit unions that the Central Bank is vibrant in the market for placing these savings into the hands of the Government. Oh what a calamity! A true commercial bank could make a difference to the future of Barbados with proper use of these savings.

Harry Russell is a banker. Email [email protected]