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Just a front!

In many ways Barbados is a paradox — or perhaps better put, a series of paradoxes. One does not have to scratch too deeply below the surface to arrive at a conclusion that in many ways when you are speaking about Barbados what you see is NOT what you get.

We have developed a society that has grown accustomed to hiding its true feeling; we have become a people adept at camouflaging critical components of who we really are; at projecting to the world a picture of “perfect peace” when behind the veil what exists is anything but.

Anyone who makes the evening cocktail circuit, who sits across the room from some of our movers and shakers in business and politics will tell stories about business decisions and practices that would leave you shocked.

We have all heard stories of entrepreneurs and how they struggled to capitalise their businesses rather than seek conventional financing out of fear that their business plans would fall into the wrong hands if they ever took them to regular lenders.

Then add to that the often told stories of how many foreigners are met with very subtle suggestions about how the wheels must be greased if they want to travel at their accustomed pace — or even if they are to travel at all — with their ventures.

We have used the term “stories” deliberately because often when we hear these things they are second or third hand versions, often devoid of proof but laced with emotion. But we also are familiar with the saying “Sixty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong”.

Which brings us to our point — the page 1 story in our Monday’s edition of Barbados TODAY in which a number of professionals complained that some of the island’s leading businesses were using dishonest practices to bolster their profits in the current tough economic times.

Essentially the charge is this: A corporation will ask professionals such as engineers and experts in specialised and fledgling sectors such as alternative energy to provide detailed proposals for some major task they want undertaken.

The individual or company spends a considerable amount of hours preparing the proposals, in the process incurring thousands of dollars in costs from employing other professionals such as architects, electrical contractors etc, only to have the company use their documentation to undertake the work internally or to give the job to a family member or business associate who has the benefit of the use of the proposal.

In each instance the persons we spoke to had no challenge with the concept of competitive bidding, clearly understanding that submitting a bid was no guarantee of being awarded the contract. However, they expressed profound disgust when the companies show through their action that they never had any intention of awarding the work to those who bid.

Worse, they complain, is when a single professional or firm is approached directly and asked to undertake the proposal with the clear impression being given that the job will be theirs.

We clearly understand that no business person should count his chickens before they hatch, but we still operate in a society where we take fellow business persons to be “gentlemen” and “ladies” — perhaps wrongly, as we seem now to be learning. And while it appears to many in the business community that our laws are very limited in their ability to stop such practices, especially where those who eventually execute the work are sensible enough to vary a few aspects of the job from what was contained in the original proposal, we cannot build a reputation as a place to do business if such is allowed to become the norm.

We have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of those who spoke to us. We did not get the stories second or third hand — in every case they came straight from the horse’s mouth and we can point out the projects of which we spoke. But these are the kinds of reports our society has grown accustomed to sweeping under the carpet so we can maintain our facade as unblemished virgins while thumbing our noses at Antiguans and Trinidadians, as examples of people whose business approaches ought to be taken with a tablespoon of salt. Really?

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