Notes From The Margin

April 13, 2008

Is This Venezuelan Propaganda?

On page 8b of our Sunday Sun paper was a full page ad purporting to be paid for by the Honourable Hamilton Lashley, promoting the Venezuelan PetroCaribe agreement. It’s headlined “Petrocaribe The Way Forward” The ad is extremely well produced in terms of design and writing style, however it just doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that an opposition parliamentarian would produce. Let’s face it when parliamentarians are in opposition they don’t have alot of money to throw around.

Our position on PetroCaribe is well known a quick search of this site will lead to many articles on what we think of Mr. Chavez’s initiative. In a nutshell we think that Petro Caribe will saddle the countries of the english speaking Caribbean with massive debt and make them subject to the whims of a Venezuelan government that historically has shown itself to be hostile to the region’s best interests.

When we read the ad we felt it read like a Venezuelan press release, so we went looking on the net and….

GUESS WHAT!!!!

IT DOES READ LIKE A VENEZUELAN PRESS RELEASE!!!!

The following paragraph comes from “Hamilton Lashley’s” ad.

“What is Petrocaribe?

Petrocaribe is an Energy Cooperation Agreement proposed by the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, in order to resolve the imbalances in access to energy resources through a new system of favourable exchange, equity and fairness among the countries in the Caribbean region. “

Now the following is from Bolivarian News Australia which is released by the Venezuelan Embassy there. We’ve put a copy on our server in case the source document should suddenly disappear 😉

“Petrocaribe is an Energy Cooperation Agreement proposed by the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela in order to solve the world’s asymmetries to have access to energy resources, through a new exchange scheme: favorable, equitable, and fair among the countries of the Caribbean region…”

What are they odds of these two articles being written by different people? Probably about the same odds as winning the lottery five times in a row!

Marginal

For Further Reading:

The folly of Petro Caribe

Venezuela and Bird Island

Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

Details on Aves Island – How Venezuela Controls the Caribbean Sea

Bolivarian News Australia 27th December 2007 (on NFTM Server)

April 4, 2008

Beachfront Development In Barbados, A Look Into The Future…

Now that the dust has had a chance to settle, we on the margin have been reflecting on the sale of Cheffette Holetown. At $40 Million for the site Cheffette would have taken the offer. How many years of profit is that from the Restaurant? Further that’s enough money that they could build a second restaurant nearby and still have money left over. As a business deal this is fairly straight forward, Cheffette got an offer that was simply too good to turn down and that is that.

From an economic point of view, the Holetown site in condos will contribute more to the economy than it would as Cheffete. Certainly it would be part of the foreign exchange earning sector rather than being a user of foreign exchange. Economically this is good for Barbados as well.

However one of the very few remaining windows to the sea will close when condos go up on the site. Locals will have to go in either at the Holetown Police Station (the old Pizza House restaurant) or go all the way up past Sandy Lane to access the beach. Heading south after that we believe the next opportunity for beach accesss is Paynes Bay.

Now we on the Margin can’t argue with Condos, but we do have a specific issue with beach development. The development of a condo project allows the developer to make his money back quickly, with relatively little risk. A hotel means that the developer takes the business risk and all of the headaches that come with running a hotel. So if you are a developer, a condo is lower risk for a higher return and an extremely quick payback period. This is why hotels are closing for condos, we on the margin doubt that anything the new administration does will change this. (Despite what Mr. Loveridge says)

The other factor at work here is that there’s only so much beach front land in Barbados. The simple law of supply and demand means that prices for land on the coast will skyrocket in the face of huge demand fed from outside of the island. Hence we can hear about $40 million being paid for a relatively small piece of land. Remember all of those little chattel houses in the Garden in St. James? Little gold mines each one of them.

Now because the land costs are skyrocketing developers need to do two things 1. increase the value of each condo unit and 2. increase the number of units on the lot. This means that development along the beach is going to be high value, and is going to maximise the land use (so much for beach access for locals) and further is going to go up and up and up. This results in what we are seeing at Paynes Bay in St. James where the people on the land side of highway one stop seeing the sun around 3.00pm in the afternoon each day.

If you watch the BTA advertisement above it talks about

“…an island that hasn’t been homogenised and supersized and commercialised away from even being Caribbean anymore”

While these words are being said images of high rises next to the beach are being shown.

Ironic isn’t it?

We think that there is a need for a policy intervention by Government that puts the brakes on this form of development. Now this will have to be done with a light touch otherwise we run the risk of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. One possibility is restricting future high rise structures to the land side of the road. We are not saying no to development of the coast, we are simply saying if we continue as we are going now we will end up being one of those islands that no one wants to go to. The economics of it are inexorable.

Now is the time for an enlightened policy response.

Marginal

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

March 22, 2008

We are the middle class….

We were having a chat this afternoon about a Laugh it Off skit from this year’s prodution called “We are the middle class…” which while being very funny takes a very sharp aim at those members of the middle class who have “the big ride” but no money to put gas in it, or who have platinum credit cards (which are maxed out) or who drive soooves (SUV’s).

I was thinking that the middle class in Barbados is perhaps the most hated socio economic group in the islands social milieu. They are constantly pilloried by the “working class” for “forgetting where they came from”, by the “upper classes” for being “social climbers”, by Cave Hill academics as being “petite bourgeois”, by politicians as being somehow “not as bajan” as the “working” class. There is constantly the insinuation that somehow they ought to be ashamed of wanting to live in a nice house, in nice neighborhood and to drive a nice car, or that they did something illegal or immoral to achieve whatever they have.

This goes further, the tax structure in Barbados shields the poor (hell it even gives a reverse tax credit to the poor) and those in the “upper classes” have all sorts of advice from accountants on how to avoid (note I did NOT say evade) paying taxes. The result of this is that income tax in Barbados is paid by the poor sod who works as an employee for a salary (given the exemptions usually a supervisors salary or higher) in short income tax is paid by the middle class.

And no politician dares to be caught giving concessions to the middle class! The poor or “working” class are the politician’s stock in trade in getting the media spotlight. Concessions are given for investment by businesses “to promote growth in employment” but when was the last time you heard a politician crowing about how he was going to help out the guys in the middle?

 The thing is…..

when I think about the middle class people that I know, they are almost all diligent people who work damn hard for a living, they pay their taxes and follow the rules. They do without so that they have something to put away for the future. They are likely to live not just for their future but for their children’s future. They (in many cases) went to UWI in Cave Hill although some were fortunate enough to travel overseas to study (even if only to Jamaica or Trinidad).

Despite being most often accused of “forgetting where they come from” I’ve found that most of them are well aware of where they came from, but more often than not their focus is on “where they are going” and if you follow their lives and careers there is a steady progression towards that goal.

So rather than bashing the middle class, perhaps the next time you hear this type of conversation going on try to relate it to people that you know rather than some amorphous group, ask yourself who are the middle class?

You might be surprised to find out that WE are the middle class..

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 18, 2008

Welcome to the 5 year long election campaign!

When the dust settled on January 16th the two parties ended up being quite far apart on number of seats but actually quite close on total number of votes cast. With only an 8% difference in terms of total votes, it means that the current government is vulnerable to a 4% swing. This means that despite a comfortable majority in Parliament, the Thompson administration must politically plan from now with an eye to elections in 2013. It also means that the Mottley opposition is already keeping an eye on that year.

As a result of this we are likely to see Mr. Thompson trying to attack what has long been perceived as the BLP’s strongest point; it’s management of the economy. The BLP for it’s part will pick at every flaw in the government’s actions.

This leads to the  ludicrousness of things such as Government suddenly becoming skeptical about unemployment statistics despite never having said a word about it before or during the campaign. It certainly was not a part of their platform. They are not releasing those figures because it will reinformce the BLP’s perception of good governance.

For the BLP’s part, this whole “We don’t know why the government won’t work with our consultants” is laughable. They damn well know why and they would do the same if they were in office as well.

What it amounts to is that we are in for a five year long election campaign, with the cut and thrust of January continuing at a lower intensity until 2013

Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a wild ride!

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 9, 2008

David Thompson Praises Owen Arthur- BFP Criticises David Thompson….Coincidence?

 

It was bound to happen sooner or later, BFP turned savage on David Thompson. (Just after Mr. Thompson praised his predecessor)  It would seem that BFP is discovering that politicians are politicians. (Particularly in Barbados)

The whole tale in three parts….

Nation News – Well Done!

BFP: Barbados Cabinet Ministers Free To Accept “Gifts” From Persons Wanting Government Approvals Or Contracts

(Note The BFP  article is published same day as the Nation Article)

Our take on the matter…(Published in June LAST YEAR) “Prime Minister Owen Arthur, and the Opposition Democratic Labour Party led by David Thompson, who was once the Minister of Finance, are virtual ideological twins”

What makes Barbados fortunate is that both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Arthur are quite good as politicians go, and while they may both talk left their actions are decidedly centrist. But anyone expecting fundamental change from either party is likely to be disappointed.

Marginal

March 3, 2008

Why We DON’T Want Obama To Win (Or Clinton For That Matter)

This is one of the more difficult posts to write, difficult because we don’t want to be misunderstood, and difficult because it’s a difficult choice to make. As we write this the Primary season of the US presidential election is rolling forward. The Republican front runner John McCain appears to have his hand on the nomination (barring something quite unexpected happening) In the Democrats camp there is a heated battle for the nomination going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the Caribbean the popular sentiment is understandably for Obama, he’s personable, has an agenda for change in Washington and of course, he’s black. For the first time ever it would seem that an African American has a real chance of ending up in the White House. For a region that is mostly African in descent it’s heady stuff.

However….

As cool as it is that the United States has reached the stage of maturity that they could seriously consider a black man for the post of Commander in Chief, we on the Margin have come to the conclusion that Mr. Obama’s race is (or should be) for us in the Caribbean irrelevant.

Why have we reached this conclusion?

We have to recall the Clinton presidency (That’s Bill if you are confused) Bill Clinton was one of the most “human” US Presidents in living memory. Former President Clinton was enormously popular in the Caribbean, mostly on his personal charisma. However when you look at the effects the Clinton presidency had on the Caribbean, Bill Clinton did more damage to us than any hurricane that has struck the island chain. Why do we say this?

1. Dole/Chiquita Bananas and the WTO.  This action destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of Caribbean farmers basically to repay a campaign contributor.

2. The Ship Rider Controversy. Remember the pressure that was brought to bear on Barbados when it resisted?

3. The OECD “Harmful Taxation” initiative.  Despite the BLP’s efforts to say that it fell apart because of Owen Arthur, we really know that it fell apart because when Bush came to power the US was no longer interested in backing the initiative.

This isn’t meant to be a US bashing post, but the fact is the Caribbean has ALWAYS done better under a Republican in the White House than a Democrat. We can see the echoes of similar policies in Mr. Obama’s current political career. With rhetoric against NAFTA (Ironically which was enacted by Clinton) and action in sponsoring the “Tax Haven Abuse Act”.

If we lived in the US we would probably vote for Mr. Obama, but the fact is that we don’t live in the US. Rather than get caught up in the euphoria that surrounds his campaign we are forced to apply the same logic that we do to our local politicians “Judge them not by what they say, but by what they do” and when judged on that scale (from a Caribbean perspective anyway) Mr. Obama is found to be less than an ideal candidate.

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

 

 

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