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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Really, Minister Mcclean?

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Really, Minister Mcclean?

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REALLY, Minister McClean? I would’ve expected you to come up with more convincing explanations for choosing January 6 for the Independence bash. First reason given: “It was in the first week of January”. So what? – not to mention, of course, that it was also the second day of the new school term. And amazingly, there’s an educator on the committee! Then: “It was Epiphany”.

Since I can’t see the connection with the religious meaning of Epiphany – “a Christian festival in honour of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ”, I can only conclude that an alternative meaning of epiphany, “sudden realisation”, was responsible, confirming my original feeling that someone awoke and “suddenly realised” that a bash was urgently needed. And minister, you didn’t tell us under which Head these numerous events were budgeted for in the last Estimates and what the dollar figure was.

But, enough debate on that when there are much more serious issues continuing to plague us. Although I agree with the Nation editorial that it isn’t acceptable for the Central Bank Governor to “dodge” the wider media and only report to the public on his terms, I still found last week’s CBC TV discussion featuring the Governor, two members of the media, a University of the West Indies professor and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) and Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAB) quite interesting.

I’ve long since learned not to pay much attention to the figures and predictions since they “don’t amount to a row of pins” but it was disappointing to hear that age-old problems remain with us. While the politicians claim from time to time that they’ve been solved, those on the ground tell a different story.

How can we expect the cost of living to come down when we hear the same old complaint of delays in clearing goods at the port? Antoinette Connell’s description in her column last week said it all. How many studies and recommendations have we had for improving matters at the port? How much was paid for those studies and how many recommendations have been successfully implemented?

Then there’s business facilitation. In spite of the fuss made of the importance of the international business sector, too many constraints exist. Everything takes too long, and the usual “hinder, don’t help” attitude of public officers persists. As Governor Worrell put it, ”the public sector/bureaucratic processes are a drag on our economic performance/competitiveness”. But why has this been allowed to continue? Is it because correcting it wouldn’t be politically expedient? Now we hear there’s to be a “point person” to assist with speeding up the process. We shall see.

As usual, the emphasis was on tourism, which is said to have grown, although our foreign exchange is still down. Maybe the dollars don’t reach us. Agriculture, its poor relative, hardly got a mention, while sugar didn’t “get a look in” at all, although rum was classified as important. Perhaps we plan to import all the molasses.

Lisa Gale of BCCI saw the need for tourism to boost other sectors and Lisa Padmore of ICAB suggested we should look at each sector to see why it isn’t performing and fix it. Logical thinking!

Of course, the recurring problem of lack of productivity was again highlighted. I agree with Jewel Brathwaite that as soon as we get some growth, we become complacent and also that productivity only comes up when we’re in crisis. There’s lack of productivity in both the public and private sectors, though it’s more blatant in the public sector. Small businesses, especially, seldom honour appointments, telephones aren’t answered, voicemails tell you people aren’t “at their desks” at present, when in fact they are in Panama, and of course the communications companies are another conundrum altogether!

Everything we do takes hours – whether it’s banking (Professor Downes raised this in the discussion), going to the doctor or paying taxes or licenses. Too many hours are lost daily, but nothing’s being done.

On the bright side though, I must congratulate a supervisor at Chefette Charles Rowe Bridge who, on a very busy day, instead of hiding or doing nothing as is often seen in banks, put her hand to the plough and dispatched orders at an amazing rate. This is what we need at all levels – leading by example and motivating those around us.

Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]