Dreaming on about Barbados and Jamaica

A few days ago I read an article in the Jamaica Observer, written by Marvin Williams, entitled ‘Politics has stifled the Jamaican dream’. It struck me as largely wrong in the way it positioned Barbados as a yard stick for Jamaica. I feel comfortable in my view, having lived recently in Barbados and also seeing and hearing a range of views and opinions from outside observers, including the main international financial institutions.

What were my concerns?

Political tribalism. It’s alive and kicking in Barbados. The country may not have garrison communities like Jamaica, but diehard DLP and BLP factions exist in clear view.

While living in Barbados, I wrote a blog of the same title. It got me noticed. I was often accused of political partisanship, even though I had no horse in that race. Why? Any view aligned to one party is seen as that of a supporter, even when the person expressing the view shows support for both sides. I was even accused of bring ‘in the pay’ of one side. I knew a few partisans, and a few politicians on both sides. Some impressed me, some didn’t.

The tribalism also got its day with frequent walking out of Parliament by the Opposition.

Saying Barbados doesn’t have political tribalism is wrong and naive: it exists everywhere.

Strong currency. NO! The Barbadian dollar is pegged to the US dollar at 2 to 1. It’s overvalued. The IMF said so: one of its main jobs is to assess exchange rates. However, the government has steadfastly refused to change the rate. The last IMF review suggested the rate was off by about 20 percent. Barbados has a taut relationship with the IMF and the current regime doesn’t welcome a shift in the rate.

But, it’s not doing what’s needed to maintain that fixed rate, either in monetary or fiscal policy. Who says so? Them, again, the IMF. Read the report on the June 2014 staff visit. Words such as ‘urgent’ are used regarding the need for correction of the budget imbalance.

Social partnership. It was good, but now it’s woefully strained. Job cuts and wage freezes tend to do that. Removing national pillars such as free tertiary education do that. Seeing the faltering state of the national public health system tends to do that. The main public hospital, Queen Elizabeth, is short of basic supplies. Who cares about notional universal health care when you can’t get basic treatment?

It’s not that Jamaica is stellar. It’s not. But, what’s hailed as some paragon is far from that.

I happened to arrive in Barbados last night. Ahead of that, I had a chance conversation with a Jamaican working here. She talked about work ethics from the Dark Ages. A friend traveling with me from Jamaica retold a story of a recent encounter with ‘customer service’ in Barbados: abrasive would be a good description. My friend had also lived in Barbados around the time I was there.

Don’t get me wrong: Barbados has done great things. A small island with few natural resources, with political leaders who had good vision, and it’s moved well up the development league, but beg you, please, look at the reality and not the myths, or what some wish to be true.