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EDITORIAL: Public interest paramount

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Public interest paramount

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The corporate sector is on the Front Page again. The debate rages still on the Four Seasons project, and there is the emerging dispute at Lime/Cable & Wireless over which the Barbados Workers’ Union and the company seem headed for a clash.
We heard the BICO Ltd Press conference and were informed of some of the difficult and sensitive decisions management there has taken in the wake of the fire and the recession which severely affected that company’s operations, given its social and corporate responsibilities.
The private sector is one of the most important building blocks in our democracy. Sometimes we call it the corporate sector, but whatever term we use, it is so important that the politicians often speak of greater engagement with it.
The Press frequently highlights corporate decisions because such activities, though private in nature, have important public consequences.
We speak glibly of private capital affected with a public interest, and that is precisely because the use or accumulation of private funds successfully invested in any country is a two-fold blessing. Firstly, the country gets the investment without putting at risk funds from the Consolidated Fund, or taking up or guaranteeing a loan on the capital markets.
Secondly, successful companies often maintain steady levels of employment and also make profits from which the society exacts a tax, which goes into the public coffers to be used for the overall public benefit. It is a win-win situation for both business and the Government, with Government providing the enabling atmosphere on taxation and investment and laws that protect private property.
Now much of the vigorous debate about the Four Seasons revolves around the issue of public or Government-sourced money being put into a project that started life as a totally private sector-funded investment, without any risk to Government. Yet, like all major tourism investments in this small economy, that project always spawned a very important public interest.
Hence the resultant debate carried on in the public sphere about Four Seasons is welcome because the nature of our democracy demands it when the public purse becomes involved. And when such a debate is properly conducted, it breeds accountability and transparency that enure for the public benefit.
Long may it continue!
Other mechanisms may be needed occasionally, because the private sector system may not work as it should, and as the Mighty Sparrow once reminded us, we may become victims of “capitalism gone mad” when the captains of industry are thought to be “price-gouging” us.
And so we may need Fair Trading Commissions!
So that a high degree of social and corporate responsibility is therefore always required of the captains of industry who as corporate directors and managers wield much power in democratic societies.
Unlike the politicians, who also wield much power, they are not required to submit themselves to public re-election or rejection, except that they are accountable to the shareholders of the various entities of which they are directors.
Their decisions can have a beneficial or devastating impact on the lives of the community, their employees, consumers generally, and not least on the shareholders’ investment.
So we applaud the example of BICO and all the other unsung efforts of the entire corporate community to keep going in very difficult conditions.
The stability of this country and its economic progress have been largely credited to the political class.
But there is an equally important story to be told about responsible private sector companies working in tandem with the trade unions to determine a fair return to the worker, even as the companies seek to make profits for their shareholders, especially in times of economic stress.
We urge all companies, whether in the immediate headlines or not, to keep the broad public interest firmly at the top of their agenda as they make decisions in the choppy waters of the local economy. It is their bounden responsibility.