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Don’t Agonize! Organize! 5

fighting goliathI continue to repudiate Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s often repeated admonition that Barbados is a weak and vulnerable society/economy that is caught up in an international recession and can do little or nothing about its predicament.

 On the contrary, I believe that Barbados can and must bestir itself and develop its way out of its current condition of stasis, and I am proposing 20 concrete developmental initiatives for our country.

 The first seven initiatives were outlined in last week’s column. Here is the second tranche of proposals:

 (8) A national employee share ownership programme

 The people of Barbados should totally reject the notion that is sedulously being foisted upon them by agents of the elite class, that Barbadian ownership of the major businesses of Barbados is not important once Barbadians are being employed by the foreign owners.

 Indeed, not only should Barbadians set out to own the major businesses operating in their country, but the workers of Barbados should be facilitated to acquire a stake in the business enterprises that they work for and help to develop, through a Government and trade union constructed national Employee Share Ownership Programme (ESOP).

 The Barbados Government should establish a programme of tax incentives and corporation tax deductions that is designed to persuade business enterprises to devote a sizeable portion of their annual profits to conferring shares in the business on their employees, thereby giving employees an ownership stake in the business. And the trade unions should complement such a governmental initiative by making demands for worker participation in ownership a central feature of their industrial relations practice.

 Take the case of Chefette Restaurants Ltd. as an example. How could it be fair that the employees help Chefette to expand from one restaurant to 16 restaurants, and yet those employees do not own even one of those restaurants?

 Not only will a national ESOP bring greater social fairness, but it will also lead to enhanced worker commitment and productivity.

 (9) Public/private sector partnership re: national assets

 The “national assets” of Barbados include our sugar, rum, Sea Island Cotton, Blackbelly sheep, solar technology, classic Bajan furniture, Bajan pepper sauce, pottery, cricket heritage, music heritage, literary heritage, processed flying fish, and the list goes on. And – sad to say – all of these assets are under-developed and under-exploited commercially.

 What is required to properly develop and market these assets internationally is a systematic and coordinated programme based on the Government and private sector working together as partners and collaborators.

 Our Government possesses the unique power and capacity to literally invent “comparative advantages” for our Barbadian manufacturers and other relevant business people by extending to them a wide range of incentives, privileges, assistance and support; and it must use this power to assist genuine Barbadian enterprises that are developing authentic national products.

 There should therefore be such a close public/private partnership where these assets are concerned, and such collaborative private/public planning and coordination of efforts, that no longer should we witness the head of – let’s say – the Rum Producers Association having to resort to a public forum to complain about lack of governmental support for critical measures required to preserve the rum industry.

 All of the newly industrialized countries that have successfully made the transition from Third World to First World status have done so on the basis of a close collaboration and partnership between the Government and relevant private sector entities. Please note, however, that I am not making a case for governmental assistance for the usual private sector parasites that tend to be favoured in Barbados! Rather, I am advocating for truly productive enterprises that are attempting to manufacture and commercialize products that are authentic components of our Barbadian heritage.

 (10) A cooperative or people’s sector

 The trade unions of Singapore possess a chain of supermarkets, retail stores, a telecommunications company, insurance companies, a major public transportation company, hotels, a country club and condominiums for workers. This is but one example of how trade unions, credit unions, churches and other community-based organizations could collaborate in establishing a much larger and more developed cooperative or people’s sector of the economy.

 What is required, however, is that Government works with these institutions and consciously facilitate such a process of development.

 There is not a single indigenous bank in Barbados; so why shouldn’t the Barbados Government facilitate the credit unions in their quest to establish a bank, or grant our credit unions the right to issue cheques so that they can expand their services and markets? Why shouldn’t the trade unions of Barbados possess supermarkets, medical clinics, hotels, or a new Bajan-owned brewery for that matter?

 There is a whole new complex of cooperative enterprises waiting to be established through the joint, collaborative effort of Barbados’ trade unions, credit unions and other community-based organizations.

 (11) A CARICOM–based project

 The major Japanese trading companies all have representatives stationed in virtually every major city of the world, and the job of such representatives is to investigate the trade and commercial needs of these cities and to send the information back to Tokyo. This intelligence-gathering programme is the basis of much of the success of the export-oriented corporations of Japan.

 There is no reason why Barbados’ public and private sector authorities could not collaborate on putting in place a similar intelligence gathering mechanism focused initially on the nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

 I am therefore proposing that Barbados should conceive of the Caribbean Community of nations as its most immediate economic hinterland, and that we should organize ourselves – on a commercial basis – to provide the technical, administrative and trade-related needs of our Caribbean neighbours. And I am further proposing that this should be facilitated by a public/private sector intelligence-gathering initiative utilizing the services of some of our young university graduates.

 (12) Entrepreneurial engagement with the Diaspora

 For many years now, veteran Barbadian businessman Hal Martin has been suggesting that Barbados would gain tremendously if our country would only seek to meaningfully engage with Caribbean nationals who reside in North America and Europe, and who would jump at the opportunity of investing in Barbados and other Caribbean countries.

 Of course Mr. Martin is right, but that still hasn’t stopped the governmental authorities of Barbados from turning their backs on him and frustrating virtually every initiative he has proposed.

 Well, it is time that we stop merely paying lip service to this idea of reaching out to our Barbadian and other Caribbean kith and kin in our northern Diaspora.

 The Barbados Government and the Barbadian people in general should distinguish themselves from the rest of the Caribbean by stepping forward and seriously inviting the members of the Caribbean Diaspora to bring their entrepreneurial ideas, talent and financial resources to our country. Let us do ourselves a big favour by setting up a serious national programme to communicate and partner with these resource rich brothers and sisters.

 (13) Small business facilitation & development

 A few months ago, I made the point that Barbados is being gradually destroyed by our Government engaging in the practice of awarding outrageous and unnecessary contracts to white elite businesspeople – contracts that saddle the Barbadian taxpayers with having to pay millions of dollars to these already wealthy persons, over extended periods of time. And, to make matters worse, the awarding of these contracts is quite often shrouded in secrecy.

 We, the citizens of Barbados, need to assert ourselves and bring this destructive and traitorous practice to an end!

 The general public policy rule in Barbados should be that Government contracts and spending should – as far as possible – be reserved for small or medium sized businesses that are struggling to develop themselves, rather than being given to already large and wealthy businesses! Indeed, the latter, if they are worth their salt, should be seeking to forge ahead on their own initiative, rather than continuing to seek the “helping hand” of a Government contract.

 Let us therefore set out in a systematic way to help small and medium sized Barbadian businesses to survive and grow by directing a majority of Government contracts and Government spending their way.

 And we should do so even if it means that, in some instances, Government has to break down a contract into several parts and allocate the different parts to different small businesses or, alternatively, if Government has to bring together several small or medium sized entities to collaboratively service a particular contract.

 (To be continued.)

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