Notes From The Margin

March 28, 2008

David, We will have to disagree on the 100 days point!

We are great fans of Barbados Underground, we find their articles though provoking and well reasoned. We don’t always agree with them, but that’s what makes the blogosphere interesting. David served up an interesting article this week:Barbados Needs National Energy Policy, NOW we agree with the headline and the main point of the article, that in a global economic environment we need a realistic energy policy with a strong emphasis on renewable resources, however we will have to agree to disagree with his subsidiary point.

The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) pledged to Barbadians that within the first 100 days of assuming the reigns of government, it would roll-out several major initiatives. Our commonsense, which has been honed over the years through observation, tells us that the pledge was part of a gimmick which political parties are expected to engage at election time. It should be obvious that a political party in opposition is not equipped to deliver on promises made, simply because it is not in the obvious position of government to efficiently plan and allocate resources. The BU household continue to be amazed at the frenzy which is demonstrated by our educated public concerning trivial matters, whenever we have elections. Following the script to the letter, the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has reminded the government of its 100 day promise, we listened to Senator Liz Thompson doing so with her usual eloquence in the Senate yesterday.
We commented on the post, to the effect that the “100 Days” was a political gimmick that worked and that it was now fair game for the opposition to use to attack the government. We don’t think it’s the only reason why the DLP won (or even the main reason), but it was a central plank in their platform.
However our real reason goes deeper than that……
The “100 days” was a political gimmick that was packaged for consumption by the electorate. However read more deeply it was the DLP’s statement of “THIS IS WHERE OUR PRIORITIES ARE” and even if you did not believe they were capable of delivering it in the 100 days, (as we think most people with common sense felt) the idea of a time frame communicated that there was a real plan behind the statement.
An opposition party is not in the position of a ruling government in terms of access to information and allocation of resources, however they have a luxury that the Government does not:
Time.
An opposition has time to consult with stakeholders, time to sound out opinions, time to float ideas in informed circles, to create and construct a plan. They also have the unmitigated luxury of doing this in an environment where there is absolutely no pressure to implement. These two things, a sitting government does not have (As Dr. Estwick has found out with Greenland). In this case the DLP had 14 years to craft its agenda for governance.
We think that the Thompson administration should be accountable for its 100 day agenda. If it can’t be done in 100 days, when can we expect it? A year? two years? If the first orders of business are delayed what about the elements of your manifesto that were not in the first 100 days? We should not let it fall quietly by the wayside.
We agree that a discerning eye should be cast over the ABC Highway expansion project and it’s conduct, however we think that the level of scrutiny should be applied to this administration, the principle at stake is simply too important.
Until we hold our politicians accountable for their words and actions we will get the government we deserve.
Marginal
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March 20, 2008

Hello? Hello? Police Emergency Hotline Out of Order…

Buried in the middle of the paper today was a story that the Royal Barbados Police Force’s emergency hotline number was out of order…. yes it did ask people to call another number, no I can’t remember what it was, no I don’t think that someone having and emergency and requiring police assistance would be able to find the number.

Does anyone else think there’s something wrong with this?

Perhaps someone should define the meaning of the word “emergency” for the telephone company!

Marginal

March 19, 2008

A Suggestion on BOLT’s

Minister of Tranport, Works and International Transport John Boyce made a comment in the house yesterday about the Government’s potential use of Build Operate Lease Transfer (BOLT) arrangements in the future.

ANY FUTURE BOLT – Build Operate Lease and Transfer – arrangements that Government signs will be designed to bring economic benefits
to the country.

Minister of Transport, Works and International Transport John Boyce told the House of Assembly yesterday during debate on the 2008-2009 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure that BOLT arrangements were supposed to generate savings and not additional costs.

The previous administration made use of several of this type of arrangement. However the nature of the implementations often left questions on the transparency of the deals. This was noted in an IMF  report on Barbados.

The report makes a number of reccomendations with regard to this Public-Private Sector arrangement.

We on the margin would be much more reassured by the implementation of a legal framework to govern the use of BOLT’s and similar arrangements than simply Mr. Boyce’s statement of “Trust us”.
Marginal

March 12, 2008

Consultants – Another One Of Those Silly Games That Politicians Play

“Politicians Mekkin Mock Sport At We…..”
Mighty Gabby

We on the margin have watched with a degree of amusement at first Prime Minister David Thompson’s “House cleaning” followed by Former Prime Minister Arthur’s war path speech. Having listened to them both I can only come to the conclusion that our prime ministers both present and past are playing “mock sport” with us.

Let’s accept a few realities here…

1. Consultants are an accepted part of governance in the Caribbean, always have been and more than likely always will be. When running something as complex as a government, it is understandable that policymakers (whatever party they may belong to) may want to have independant advice to help them shape policy or to advise them politically, to write speeches etc.

2. Let’s also accept the fact that each policy maker is going to want to select their own consultants or advisors. Hence you cannot equate persons who fill this role with public servants. Like the directors of statutory boards etc. They SHOULD resign when the administration changes. It is not victimisation for the incoming administration to say that they want to take someone else’s advice.

So here we have PM Thompson, equating hiring consultants with squandermania, just to have to turn around and defend his appointment of “political advisor” Hartley Henry as being somehow different.

We also have former PM Arthur talking about going “on the warpath” over these people being dismissed. (They should have tendered their resignations already)

While we have serious concerns about Mr. Arthur saying that he “helped out” one of his speech writers who had lost his previous employment, we also recognise that Mr. Henry is unlikely ever to file consultant report that will be filed in the government filing system. The advice given by consultants at this level is more than likely to be held in the PM’s personal files and also likely to leave the office with the individual when he demits office.

So when you cut through all of the sound and fury that has surrounded this issue, there really isn’t that much substance here. Just politicians playing “holier than thou” and mekking mock sport as they play to the gallery.

Marginal

March 2, 2008

Troubling Developments In Grenada

On of the more troubling stories to cross the Margin’s radar recently is this story out of Grenada where from what is being said it would seem that police were caught spying on an opposition party planning meeting.

 Grenada’s opposition party has accused the Keith Mitchell administration of spying on a private meeting of its executive and wants Scotland Yard to investigate the allegation.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) claimed that a police officer was caught secretly recording a closed-door meeting and pointed fingers at the Prime Minister’s New National Party (NNP) as the ones behind the move.

But the NNP has denied the spying allegation.

Of all of the islands of the english speaking Caribbean, Grenada has had one of the most erratic relationships with democracy. Having gone through years of mis rule under Gairy, the Revolution and invasion (or intervention) by the United States military.  In spite of all of the foregoing, Grenada has developed today  into a flourishing and stable democracy.

For the coming election on the Spice Isle the stakes are higher than ever, for the first time in a while it looks as if there may be a real chance of the Government changing.  On the night of the Barbados election we made the statement that the true test of democracy is when the result of the election is accepted by supporters of all parties the winners and the losers.  If anything is allowed to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process in Grenada the consequences may be significant.

On an island with Grenada’s bloody history, democracy is too fragile to take anything for granted.

Marginal

 

 

February 25, 2008

Do We Need A Caribbean FBI?

Faced with rising crime rates, Caribbean governments have struggled to keep pace. However at a time of challenging economic conditions and soaring levels of indebtedness, many Caribbean police forces are overwhelmed, underpaid, and under-equipped. This is particularly the case in the smaller economies of the OECS (you will note that I did not say “smaller islands”) The Caribbean with it’s inadquately equipped security forces, and many islands with inlets and coves make the chain attractive as a route for drug traffickers to move narcotics to the metropolitan markets.

The wealthier economies in the region have attempted to strengthen their security apparatus however, they are often faced with criminals who have more sophisticated equipment than they do.  The problem is compounded by the lack of financial assistance for security ( a mindset that is slowly changing).

It is against this background that Trinidad Prime Minister Patrick Manning recently proposed the development of a Pan Caribbean law enforcement agency.

Patrick Manning said a well-trained, equipped regional force with the power to legally operate in any CARICOM country would be part of the answer to combating the crime situation – one which he insists is being driven by the illegal drug trade.

“Many of us in the Caribbean today are challenged by the unacceptable levels of criminal activity in our country, most of which are now spurred by the global traffic in illegal drugs. The trade in illegal arms and gang warfare lead to an unacceptable level of homicide in our main urban centres,” he said, while delivering the keynote address at the recent University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus Commemoration Dinner in Jamaica….

…..Mr Manning said his country had sought to stem the flow of illegal drugs and arms into the country through initiatives which he believes will eventually rid the country of the drug trade, such as round the clock surveillance of the twin island republic’s largely unprotected coastline. But he also noted that the pattern in the past demonstrated that when the operations of drug lords are interrupted in one country they move to another.

“(That) pattern emphasises the need for multilateral efforts among ourselves and with the wider world. Failure to effectively deal with the issue of crime could stymie the economic and social development of the Caribbean,” he said.

Mr Manning further urged CARICOM heads to spearhead the process of greater cooperation in the sharing of intelligence among police forces to head off migratory drug smugglers.

In theory this sounds like a great idea, and we on the margin support it generally. However would such a “federal” force be allowed to operate? To often in the Caribbean there are rumours (and we  aren’t prepared to say they are only rumours) of “certain people” in certain countries being untouchable, would a CFBI be allowed to go after them?If they were it would open an interesting can of worms.

Would the criminals arrested by this federal force be prosecuted in local or regional courts? For example we have many cases of witnesses in Trinidad being murdered before they can testify, we also have rumours of corrupt judiciaries in some countries, would people arrested by the “Federales” have a likely chance of getting convicted in a local court?

When you look at the implications of a Caribbean Law Enforcement agency, it’s not as simple as it might appear at first blush. For it to be really effective it would have to be part of a Pan Caribbean judicial system.

Marginal

February 23, 2008

Once Again Stn. Sargeant Reid We Disagree!

One of the more disturbing stories in the media this week comes from statements made by Station Sargeant Hartley Reid who is the First Vice President of Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB). We’re sure that Sargeant Reid is a committed individual who is passionate about his job and his Union affilliation, but these comments left us shaking our heads.

“The problem we have in Barbados is that not even half the workforce is unionised . . . . As low as 30 per cent of all workers are unionised, this is true.

“You could understand the struggles which the unions have in this country because they have 70 per cent of the workers who are benefiting from the subscriptions and the work of only 30 per cent,” first vice-president of the 14-member Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), Station Sergeant Hartley Reid, said in an interview.

“I am happy that this issue has come to the fore at this early stage of the new Democratic Labour Party administration because they will now have to take a position on unionisation and the rights of the workers.

“I have long called for legislation which says that every worker should be unionised. There is a reason for it. When a worker is not unionised you have a situation
where the employers take advantage.

“They are offered whatever salary there is and the workers have no recourse. Workers are exploited left, right, and centre; late payment of their salary or
wages; shifting of their employment conditions; sometimes they have no conditions at all,” he said.

The CTUSAB vice-president argued that with “all the anti-worker practices by unscrupulous employers” any legislation enacted by Government regarding mandatory signing up would mean that it would no longer be a requirement that “50 per cent plus one” of a company’s employees for the union to be recognised.

“It would mean that even if one person is unionised in employment that the union of their choice would come in and bargain on their behalf,” Reid said.

He said that this move would also strengthen the ombudsman’s role because he would be responsible for overseeing the operations of the trade unions.

“That can easily be done. Governments must stop hiding behind democracy, by stating every worker has a democratic right to be a member of a union or not. They are perpetuating a system where persons are continuing to live a parasitic life where they would benefit from the contributions and efforts of a few,”
he said.

We on the margin have to admit that we never thought we would see the day that a trade unionist would argue for doing away with Freedom of Association! The question that we would have to ask Sargeant Reid is as follows:

If all employers are as bad as he says in the above quote, why have trade unions not been as successful in attracting more members?

Now we aren’t denying that there are employers out there whose management practices date back to the plantation era, but surely if they were all as bad as this…

“They are offered whatever salary there is and the workers have no recourse. Workers are exploited left, right, and centre; late payment of their salary or
wages; shifting of their employment conditions; sometimes they have no conditions at all,” he said.

Then we would be seeing a much higher proportion of Unionization in the population.
Perhaps what is even more disturbing about the above statement is that it comes not just from a trade unionist but from a police officer. If this is the thinking of someone who is charged with safeguarding our democracy, perhaps we should all be concerned.
Marginal
For our earlier comments on Stn. Sargeant Reid see below:
With Respect Sargeant Reid… We Disagree

February 20, 2008

Strike off – What Happens Now?

Now that the BWU has climbed down from the threat of a National Strike, what has changed? Minister of state in the Ministry of Labour is setting up a mediation panel to review that matter. However we on the Margin hold out little hope for this. Both employers in this issue have been very firm in not wanting to rehire the workers, given the Union’s climbdown from the national strike, it seems unlikely that they are going to budge from their positions at this point. The union may well be forced to seek a deal for the best severance package available.

At the core of the Sandy Lane issue there seems to be a fundamental point on the legitimacy of the use of wildcat strikes. On Brass Tacks today noted HR consultant Elsworth Young seemed to suggest that wildcat strikes are a part of IR practice in Barbados. This would seem to be reflected by Sir Leroy Trottman’s views given earlier

The employers on their part seem to be taking the view that a collective agreement spells out procedures for handling grievances, and is binding on both parties, hence why should they accept conduct that is clearly outside of the scope of the agreement?
We on the Margin cannot help but feel that this entire incident is an example of how the system of volunteerism is becoming outdated as the Barbados industrial relations environment becomes more complex. Perhaps it is time to consider other options. One thing is clear… given the entrenched nature of the positions and the peculiarities of the entities involved, it seems that this is unlikely to end well for the workers in question.
Marginal

February 19, 2008

STRIKE OFF – Picking Up The Pieces….

At the eleventh hour the Barbados Workers Union deferred the strike action after taking the country to the brink of a National industrial action. Sir Roy Trottman, indicated that the action (or deferment of action) was taken due to the “newness of the current administration” . This dramatic climbdown came after a week of deadlocked talks, where both sides became more and more entrenched in their respective positions.

We on the Margin always felt that the Union had painted itself into a corner by reaching for the “big gun” prematurely. The lateness of this climb down also has several knock on effects that may be more long lasting.

American Airlines cancelled flights today and tomorrow into Barbados, stranding some Bajans in Puerto Rico. It is not clear how many tourists this has affected.

Cruise ship handlers had indicated that in the event of a strike the cruise ships scheduled for Barbados calls on Wednesday would divert to other nearby ports.  At the time of writing, it is unclear if they have diverted or if they will make their regularly scheduled call.

Certainly in looking at our WordPress data we can see that much of the traffic we have picked up is be people looking for informaition on strikes. We believe that many of these queries originate outside of Barbados and we have to wonder if the uncertainty will result in potential tourism business going elsewhere.

In short, even though the strike action is off, we on the Margin are deeply concerned about the impact the strike will have. We are concerned that this matter was allowed to develop to this stage and was not resolved earlier. Even though we may have dodged the strike we still stand to be affected.

This whole sorry episode will do nothing to enhance the reputation of the Union, or the new administration for that matter, who we think should have intervened in some form far earlier than they did.

We can only hope that this issue (which is still ongoing) will now be resolved in an amicable fashion.

Marginal

February 18, 2008

Down to the wire….

A national strike does seem to be about to happen in Barbados, (barring a last minute settlement by the intervention of the  Prime Minister) In both cases of dispute (Sandy Lane and the Royal Shop) no one seems to be shifting their position. The intervention of the Chief Labour Officer does not seem to have moved the disputes closer to any form of resolution and that leaves only one other arbitrator available the Minister and Prime Minister David Thompson.

 

 

 The entrenched nature of the positions was highlighted by a story in today’s Nation which highlighted comments by Sir Leroy Trottman:

Sir Roy added: “Why could they not have said before, that it is indecent to fire these numbers of people for what is an everyday occurrence in this country, which the BWU helps to resolve in a matter of hours, but always in less than a day.

The Union’s position is an absolute, they are pressing for full reinstatement of all the workers in both cases. The mood in the private sector is considerably at variance with that expressed by Sir Roy. The BHTA has thrown it’s full support behind Sandy Lane, who seems to have taken the position that can be summed up in saying that if the workers do not honour the collective agreement in place there are consequences.
While Sir Roy may consider wildcat strikes to be an “everyday occurrence” to an employer a wildcat strike is incredibly disruptive and costly. One of the reasons for entering into a collective relationship is to ensure the incidence of strikes is minimised.
In the case of the Royal Shop, there appears to be a hardened resolve NOT to rehire the workers. The company is offering full severance, but is not budging on its position.
To us here on the margin, it appears that the Union may have erred tactically in going for a general strike. The Royal Shop and Sandy Lane may both take the position that the Union will suffer more loss of good will than they will if the strike goes ahead. Indeed, for Royal Shop a national strike will hardly make a difference to their current situation.
To stretch a metaphor we used in an earlier post; national strikes are like atom bombs, they are great weapons to threaten with, but actually using them makes both combatants losers.
It is unfortunate, but it would seem that we are about to see that played out before us.
Marginal

 

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