Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Scotland, its referendum and the Caribbean


Forget the movie Brave Heart and the passion and nationalism associated with the long-standing desire by many Scots for independence from the English. On September 18 something real and significant will take place in Scotland that could change the nature of United Kingdom and alter Britain’s place in the world.

That is the date on which there will be a referendum on Scottish independence which, if the Scottish National Party (SNP) and others who are promoting the yes vote were to prevail, could raise some interesting and even difficult questions for the Caribbean.

For example, if the Scots were to vote yes to independence it would also undoubtedly diminish London’s role and influence in Europe, weaken the UK’s relationship with Washington, and by extension in both cases, affect the positive approach to the Caribbean that the UK encourages on both sides of the Atlantic.

While a yes vote would undoubtedly require the Caribbean to assess how it should relate to an Independent Scotland and a smaller United Kingdom, it may also offer new opportunity, given the many Caribbean-relevant small nation aspects of Scotland’s economic approach.

Some of the wider implications of a changed Scotland are only just starting to become apparent. For instance, in the last week the international dimension took on greater prominence when the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, suggested that any new EU state coming out of a current member state will have to apply to accede to the European Union and its entry will have to be approved by all.


Although his remarks appear to be politically driven – the EC and the EU’s interest is in a strong and unadulterated United Kingdom presence in Europe - his remarks pointed to the international uncertainty that a yes vote would bring in relation to issues such as the UK’s national debt, the strength of the pound, and a wide range of cross-border economic, security and political issues that would require negotiation and resolution, not just between London and Edinburgh, but internationally as well.

Media reports suggest that Washington is also starting to wake up to the implications of a yes vote. From its viewpoint an independent Scotland would weaken the UK’s sometimes pivotal international role in relation to security and other issues, on which from time to time the US seeks Britain’s resource and moral support.

In response, the SNP suggest that all of these matters can be resolved and that once the Scots have voted for change, London and Brussels will come to the negotiating table and find pragmatic solutions.

That said a vote for Scottish independence will likely have constitutional, legal, political, economic, judicial, parliamentary, and development implications for the region.

For example, it will alter the future nature of UK politics and policy. If Scotland were to vote for independence it will change the balance of political power in the United Kingdom. According to John Curtice, one of Scotland’s leading pollsters, a yes vote may deprive Britain’s Labour Party of more than 40 members of parliament at Westminster, requiring it to have to engineer challenging future levels of voting swing if it were to ever take power again.

The suggestion is that a vote for independence in Scotland could well cement long-term power for the Conservatives, or leave the Liberal Democrats, the UK’s third main party, in the position of being a permanent partner in any government. It is also suggested that there could be a constitutional crisis if the Scots vote yes this September and then in the UK’s May 2015 general election Labour were to win outright with a majority based on having won Scottish seats.

Other uncertainties include how civil service planning for change might work; what will be required in respect of thousands of overseas treaties and arrangements, or who pays for the associated costs. There may also be a hiatus in government; experts suggest that it will take about two years to negotiate Scotland’s exit from the UK.

That said, for the Caribbean, from a positive perspective, Scotland could represent an interesting future partner. It has a population of around five million and although much wealthier than almost all Caribbean nations it has interesting similarities to the region in that it relies heavily on tourism, financial services and exports of alcohol (whisky) as well as on oil and gas, offshore services and life sciences.

It has an outward looking policy that supports Scottish business seeking to trade abroad, promotes foreign investment and defends its interests in Brussels. As a part of its approach it has established integrated programmes that sell Scotland internationally as a destination for tourism. It is also promoting creative industries in areas such as the design and manufacture of computer games and is encouraging population growth and migration to achieve the skills its needs.

In the area of tourism it recognises that it has to is compete and needs to supports its industry’s marketing efforts not least because it recognises that the impression each visitor gains has an influence on wider views about investment and trade.

It also recognises that the Scottish Diaspora across the world can play a significant part in supporting and promoting its interests and has a ‘Global Scots’ programme in order to harness this latent force for development.

It has identified nations that its sees as it comparators to aspire to. These are the Scandinavian nations of Norway, Finland, and Denmark as well as pre-recession Iceland and Ireland. It has also created an embryonic overseas development programme.

Less positively, a yes vote for Scottish independence raises all sorts of issues no one has yet addressed in a Caribbean context from its murky past in relation to slavery or how independence will diminish the role of ‘Caribbean marginal seats’ and political influence in England.

That said the Scottish National Party has created a close to sovereign identity for Scotland in the world that has resonance with Caribbean thinking; one that suggests an interesting model for nations in a region that seem unclear about where they are seeking to position themselves and their economic interests.

As the year proceeds there will be much more to be written about what will happen should the Scots people vote yes.

(David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at david.jessop@ caribbean-council.org. Previous columns can be found at www. caribbean-council.org)

Petro Caribe: Are Caribbean countries prepared for the worst?


Caribbean governments that are members of the Petro Caribe Agreement with Venezuela would be prudent by beginning to adjust their budgets to take account of the loss of benefits now derived from the oil arrangement. This is especially important for the countries of the Eastern Caribbean that appear to have made little provision for the possibility that the arrangements with Venezuela could end abruptly.

Two events are playing out in Venezuela to which vigilant officials in Ministries of Finance in Caribbean countries should be alert. The first is the problematic state of the Venezuelan government’s finances and the other is the increasing confrontation between dissenting groups and the government that has spurred violence in the streets.

Venezuela’s economic conditions make it tough for President Nicolás Maduro to continue the largesse of Petro Caribe started by his predecessor Hugo Chávez. Inflation is now at 56 per cent; the government’s budget deficit is almost 50 per cent; the rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, have downgraded Venezuelan bonds to junk status; and the bolivar fuerte (the “strong bolivar” so re-named by Chávez) has weakened steeply against the US dollar - on the black market its value dropped from roughly 8 to 1 a year ago to 87 to 1 now; additionally, while in the Chávez years poverty declined and access to health care increased, today there are real food shortages across the country – the food shortages have a worse effect on the poor who, unlike the better-off, cannot afford to pay to circumvent normal food distribution chains.

The declining value of the Venezuelan bolivar and the foreign currency restrictions that the government has imposed have also angered the Venezuelan diaspora who find it difficult to get US dollars out of the country. This led to a demonstration by disgruntled Venezuelans outside the Embassy in Barbados on February 17 when charges of human rights violations by the Maduro government were also made.

Venezuela also has debt obligations it must service. For example, reports indicate that the government and the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) signed loan agreements with China amounting to US$49.5 billion for the period 2007-2013. Of that sum only US$20 billion – or less than half – has been repaid in oil supplies.

These economic conditions make it difficult for Maduro, with the best will in the world, to continue the Petro Caribe arrangements as they are. His government needs to address its crucial fiscal problems as well as the performance issues that confront PDVSA which has been the source of financing not only for the social transformation measures under Chávez, but also for the Petro Caribe arrangements.

There are 17 beneficiary members of PetroCaribe of which 12 are Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries including The Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Suriname. But the most vulnerable are the smaller territories Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts-Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It should be noted that two other CARICOM countries – Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago – are not exposed to change in the Petro Caribe Agreement since neither country joined the arrangement. Under Petro Caribe beneficiary there is no reduction in the price of oil; instead Venezuela converts a portion of the cost into a low-cost loan.

The amount of the debt owed to Venezuela by many Caribbean countries is shrouded in secrecy because the process of dealing with Petro Caribe has not been transparent. A notable exception is Jamaica where, in January, the government publicly put its Petro Caribe debt at US$2.5 billion. For each of the other Caribbean countries, the debt would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars that, in their current situation of very high debt and large fiscal deficits, they would find almost impossible to repay.

Sources within the Venezuelan government have lamented that in many Caribbean countries not only has provision not been made to repay the debt, but the loan component of the oil price has not been used for the social programmes for which Chávez intended it. It has been used in one case to pay the government’s public sector wage bill and in another to meet commercial obligations.

What would be worse for all of the beneficiary governments is either a sudden change in the Petro Caribe arrangements, forced by increasingly difficult economic circumstances in Venezuela, or a collapse of the arrangements altogether triggered by the intensifying confrontation between dissenting groups and the Maduro government in the streets of Caracas.

There is no doubt that Maduro is politically committed to continuing Chávez policies of helping Caribbean countries through the low-cost loan component of oil supplied by Venezuela. But as conflict and confrontation increases and intensifies within Venezuela, and economic conditions worsen for his own supporters, he may be forced to choose between them and his own political fortunes and a political commitment to Chávez’s ideas.

The present turmoil in Venezuela and the clashes in the streets between groups protesting against the government and security forces have resulted in four deaths so far and increased alarm about the stability of the country and its prospects for economic growth. CARICOM as a whole was right to call on all parties in the Venezuelan confrontation “to take the necessary steps to refrain from any further action that would hinder a peaceful resolution of the differences and a return to peace and calm in the country”.

The beneficiary Caribbean governments have much for which to thank Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, but they would be imprudent if they did not now begin to make adjustments to their budgets for a transition from dependence on Petro Caribe to buying oil on the international market. They would be sensible to approach the Caribbean Development Bank for technical advice on how to alter their financial circumstances to make the transition and to propose ways in which such a transition could be accomplished with the least amount of inevitable pain; pain which would be more desirable than calamity.

(Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant, Senior Research Fellow at London University and a former Caribbean diplomat. Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com)

New frontiers


THE story of free video game app Flappy Bird makes for an interesting case study. Created in May 2013, the game rose to sudden and massive global popularity at the beginning of the year, topping the download charts in online app stores and in the process stirring up quite a bit of controversy. For the video game critics and reviewers, the simplicity of the game’s design and aim, as well as its high difficulty level meant the game did not score very highly with them in terms of quality. In fact some actively advised persons not to jump on the Flappy Bird bandwagon.

And yet, they did. More than 50 million times, actually.

With the boom in popularity coming some months after the game’s release, there was speculation that the game’s developer, Vietnamese Dong Nguyen, had used bots to artificially boost downloads and move his app up the charts, thus drawing it to the attention of the millions who access the app store.

His decision to remove the app from online stores only increased the mystery surrounding the success of the game, since he was reportedly earning US$50 000 a day from in-app advertising revenue. Nonetheless, Nguyen insisted that his decision was a response to the massive public scrutiny he was subjected to due to the popularity of the game, and not due to any legal diffculties. He has made and continues to makes other apps which remain available for download, he said.

One lesson that can be drawn from the Flappy Bird story is that despite all the research and trials that often go into product development, sometimes the simplest concepts can achieve great success – it is reported that it took Nguyen just two days to create Flappy Bird. How the app came to prominence among the millions that are available online remains a mystery, but what is a fact is that once it got the public’s attention it got very popular, very fast. It just goes to show that sometimes the appearance and reputation of popularity might be all that is needed to earn real popularity. This is something that all marketers around the world want to have happen to their products. Although very basic in design and concept, the game managed to tap into an instinctual part of the human psyche, making it very addictive. It seems players simply could not stand to be bested by such an apparently simple challenge.

The Flappy Bird story is also an excellent reminder of the opportunities that exist in software development, no matter where you are in the world. Job opportunities in this part of the world for highly skilled individuals have always been at a premium, hence the brain drain which hampers the development of our national economies. However, in a field such as software development, there are no borders.

Of course, not everyone can expect to repeat Nguyen’s success with Flappy Bird – perhaps not even the man himself! In business, the formula for success cannot be bottled and mass produced; timing, luck and a host of other factors must come together in the right combination. But while it is always encouraged to dream big, one should not do so at the risk of overlooking opportunities closer to home. One regional insurance company has had an app developed specifically for its clients and the Barbados Tourism Authority recently launched a downloadable island guide application. The market for these types of products indigenous to the region is yet to be fully explored.

The small island states of the Caribbean are said to have limited resources, but what some of them do have is extensive Internet access and mobile phone saturation. This provides an encouraging environment for the software development sector to flourish and it is hoped that seeds planted thus far in this field will eventually bear fruit in abundance.

IN NEED OF CYBER PLAN – NTRC lobbying for Grenada to establish CSIRT


By Linda Straker

THE National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) said that it is working with the Government of Grenada to become one of the Caribbean territories to adopt a cyber security strategy, which among other things will allow for cyber crimes to be properly investigated.

John Gilchrist, of the NTRC, explained that such a strategy will provide for establishing a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) that will fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of National Security and whose main task will be to provide protection for citizens in the cyber domain.

“At present, we have no formal mechanism to collaborate with international partners with regard to cyber crimes, and if we are to effectively provide the relevant protection for citizens in the cyber domain, then having such a strategy will be very important,” Gilchrist said.

The only territory in the Caribbean with a working CSIRT is Trinidad and Tobago.

Gilchrist, who was at the time addressing a media briefing organised by the NTRC and telecommunications providers as they seek to educate the public about spam attacks, said that in the absence of such a strategy becoming a working regulation for Grenada, it will not be easy to fight electronic crimes.

“Yes, we do have an Electronic Crimes Act, but this legislation that will only guide the court and the police in making its decision for charging and sentencing. What the strategy will allow is for both the law enforcement and the team to work in partnership to identify those who are violating standard practice in cyber space and by doing so, are basically violating users,” he said.

Using an example of spam attacks on mobile phones which tell a user that he/she has won money, he said: “Victims might be in Grenada but culprits will be a territory outside of the region, and the CSIRT team will use investigative practices in collaboration with international partners to identify where these spam attacks are originating and deal with it accordingly.”

Telecommunications providers during the briefing warned customers that they should not return calls to unknown numbers or call numbers that are provided in text messages telling them they have won prizes.

Innovative methods required to boost debt management capacity


There is need for innovative methods and the adoption of emerging debt practices to boost the debt management capacity for Grenada and other member territories of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union.

This is one of the outcomes following a review of the status of debt management in the region, which was the subject of discussion at a recent meeting held in St. Kitts and Nevis involving participants from both the private and public sectors.

A news release from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) said that Debt Managers from the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), along with staff of the ECCB, reviewed the status of debt management in the region and concluded that the challenges of the ongoing financial crisis have underscored the need for innovative methods and the adoption of emerging debt practices to boost the debt management capacity for the member countries.  

The review was conducted during the meetings of the Technical Committee for the Canada Eastern Caribbean Debt Management Advisory Service (CANEC-DMAS) Project from February 12 to 13.

The project, which was established in November 2008 with a scheduled completion date of October 2014, has been extended to June 2017 to allow for further strengthening of debt management capabilities in the region.


The participants deliberated and provided recommendations on the priority areas for the CANEC-DMAS Project in light of its extension to 2017; revisions to the project’s work programme up to the extension period; and developments on the Regional Governments Securities Market (RGSM).

The release said that since the inception of the CANEC-DMAS Project, a number of strides have been made with respect to debt management in the ECCU member countries. These include: capacity building in Debt Sustainability Analyses (DSA), Medium-Term Debt Management Strategies (MTDS) and enhancements in debt recording and monitoring.

Ahead of the meeting of the CANEC-DMAS Project Steering Committee scheduled for the second quarter of 2014, the Technical Committee has formulated a structure for the project’s technical work programme in keeping with the needs of the ECCU member countries.

The CANEC-DMAS Project is funded by the Development Programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) Canada. (LS)

Gov’t reducing concessions this year


Ian Dabreo, President of the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association, said that one hotel received the majority of the EC$28.4 million in concessions which Government provided to the tourism sector in 2013.

A Government release earlier this month said that tourism, in particular hotels, was the second highest entity to receive exemptions at the Customs and Excise Division with the first being the Grenada Electricity Services (GRENLEC).

Under the Home-grown Structural Adjustment Programme, Government in a statement from the Ministry of Finance said it has made the decision to reduce concessions to help improve revenue collection, commencing with the most profitable companies. The latter part of 2013, Parliament approved that GRENLEC, which topped the concessions list when it received EC$31.4 million in 2013, will see its concessions reduced by 50% as of 2014.

“The additional revenue will help close Government’s monthly fiscal gap. Most importantly, closing this gap will trigger the release of approximately EC$90 million per year from development partners that will allow for the provision of vital services as health and education as well as financing of Government’s capital development programme,” said the statement.

Besides GRENLEC and the Hotel sector, the other entities/groups receiving the most exemptions were:

1. Manufacturing – $9.7 million

2. St. George’s University – $5.8 million

3. Statutory Bodies – $4.7 million

4. Religious Bodies – $3.4 million

5. Construction – $3.3 million

6. Returning Nationals – $3.3 million

Excluding Goods of CARICOM Origin ($21.5 million) and Government Imports and Contracts ($14.7 million), total Customs exemptions in 2013 were $99.7 million. (LS)

Grenada to benefit from climate change project


By Linda Straker

Grenada and other member states of the OECS are to benefit from a 10.6 million Euro (approximately EC$40 million) project, which when concluded in 2019, should see improvement in the sub-region’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The funding is provided from the European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance Project on Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainable Land Management, and will be managed by the Social and Sustainable Development Division’s newly commissioned OECS GCCA Project.

The overall development objective(s) to which the project is intended to contribute is the achievement of the provisions enshrined in Article 24 of the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, that each Protocol Member State shall implement the St. George’s Declaration of Principles for Environmental Sustainability, which seeks to, inter alia, achieve the long-term protection and sustained productivity of the region’s natural resource base and the ecosystem services it provides.

Project Manager, Chamberlain Emmanuel, says the initiative is geared at improving the region’s natural resource base resilience to the impacts of climate change through effective and sustainable land management policy, capacity, awareness, and practices; and implementation of specific physical adaptation measures, including soil and land stabilisation, river and sea defence, forest and ecosystem restoration.

Emmanuel explained that in phase one of the project, which began on January 1, 2014 and will last for a period of 18 months, the necessary measures will be undertaken to present the needs and status of the OECS. “It will look at the needs of the region, identify the gaps and best possible solutions to deal with those challenges,” he said.

“Everything will be done in the context of climate change impact as the likely effects of climate change on the small island spaces and economies of the OECS will include increased flooding, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, which threaten vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihoods of communities,” he added.

Phase two of the project will involve physical measures or the implementation of recommendations. “Solutions identified to best deal with the challenges will be implemented in Phase Two, so if for example it is discovered that a sea defence is required to protect from coastal flooding or tree planting is required to reduce land degradation as the way forward for the communities, then this is what will be done,” he said.

A national committee comprising the relevant ministries and other stakeholders will be set up in all of the islands and it will act as the focal point for the implementation of the project for each territory.

Positive outlook for Caribbean tourism


European economies, from which much of this region’s tourism business is drawn, showed glimpses of recovery in 2013.

It was also revealed during the CTO State of the Industry Report 2014 that industrial production is moving up again and unemployment, while still relatively high in some places, is starting to decline.

This is according to Winfield Griffith, Director of Research and Information Technology at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).

“These positive signs only recently occurred and have not yet manifested themselves in greater benefits from that market. In fact, arrivals have declined for two consecutive years. However, the outlook is brightened by reports of proposed increased airlift prompted by more than usual forward bookings,” he indicated.

“The UK has been an important source mar-ket for a number of Caribbean countries, especially those of the Eastern Caribbean. Its continued sluggish economic growth coupled with significant Air Passenger Duty on travel to this region is seen as good reasons for the continued dampening of arrivals out of this market.”

As it relates to intra-regional travel, Mr. Griffith said that it has been picking up. He acknowledged that some Caribbean states, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean have also been heavily dependent on intra-regional travel.

“Air transport challenges notwithstanding, intra-regional travel saw further revival last year as the number travelling continues a slow upward climb (2%) to reach its highest recorded level,” he pointed out.

“The Caribbean has also started to benefit in a significant way from South American arrivals. Countries such as Aruba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Belize have all reported better business from this market. Direct flights from Brazil to destinations like Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago have boosted arrivals from this market.”

He also noted that there is good reason for heightened optimism when anticipating the performance of tourism in the Caribbean this year. However, he added that major challenges still exist making it harder for tourism growth to regain the momentum of the years prior to 2009 when the global meltdown started. (TL)

No easy fix to intra-regional travel


President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr. William Warren Smith, believes regardless of the criticisms of LIAT, this is an essential service for the Caribbean.

Antigua, Bahamas and Barbados, these countries experienced some downturn in their tourism
arrivals due to reduced airlift and extremely high cost in intra-regional travel. This has been the concern for many years that the cost is high and the service needs improvement.

Dr. Smith stated a few weeks ago at the annual press conference to highlight CDB’s activities in 2013 and economic development and prospects for 2014: “There has been much criticism and some of it well deserved of LIAT, but most of us have to utilise the service of LIAT and despite the great need of improvement, I think that we recognise that a Caribbean without a LIAT would be very difficult.

CDB approved loans totalling US$65 million to four shareholder governments (Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica for on lending to LIAT (1974) Ltd. (LIAT). These loans will be used to finance LIAT’s Fleet modernisation Project, including the purchase of new aircraft, the upgrading of maintained facilities and other institutional strengthening activities aimed at improving the airline’s financial performance and operational efficiency.

LIAT serves as an important vehicle for intra-regional trade in goods and services and provides vital airlift for tourist visiting the Eastern Caribbean.

Regional travel continues to be an ongoing challenge and numbers continue to decline in some markets. In Barbados, it is the third-largest market and it has been affected between the cost of travel, and of course the economic situation.

According to President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), Patricia Affonso-Dass, “There is need to have cheaper airfares intra-Caribbean, especially between Trinidad and Barbados. Trinidadians will not travel on LIAT for their leisure breaks and the rates currently in effect on Caribbean Airlines are a deterrent cost-wise. Trinidadians can probably fly to Miami for the same fare.

“Through the Marketing Committee, we are looking at offering an incentive to LIAT passengers from specific islands at strategic periods during 2014 to generate traffic into Barbados.”

There is no easy answer to the issue of intra-regional travel. A few years back discussions about a ferry system arose, even though it can’t replace air travel it was proposed as a cheaper alternative, but the talks seem to have died on that proposal. (NB)

Stamps commemorating Sir Eric almost sold out


By Linda Straker

A representative of the Grenada Postal Corporation (GPC) has confirmed that since placing the stamps to commemorate Sir Eric Matthew Gairy on sale, they have been embraced by the general public to the extent that those in the forty cents denomination are almost to the point of sold out.

Arlington Martin, of the GPC Marketing Department, said that the stamps are available at all branches of the Postal Corporation and are in five different denominations.

“They can be used for regular postage locally, regionally and internationally or persons can choose to buy them as collector’s item,” he explained.

“We have them in forty cents, seventy-five cents, one dollar, EC$1.25 and EC$10. Since they went on sale on 10 February, the forty cents ones are the most purchased, especially for domestic mailing,” he said.

Martin said that there are buyers who specifically request the Sir Eric stamps, while others have to be told about the stamps.

In his 2014 Independence address, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell announced that the stamps were to be unveiled as part of initiatives aimed at remembering Sir Eric, who was the island’s first Prime Minister when the country gained Independence in 1974.

Martin said that besides the Sir Eric stamps, there are also stamps dedicated to Anthony George – the designer of the Grenada Flag.

“It was launched in 2012, but they are not selling as quickly as the Sir Eric stamps. People can, therefore, ask for them when using the services of the post,” he advised.

When he won an Olympic gold medal in 2012, the then Tillman Thomas administration announced that a stamp would be unveiled with Kirani James’ picture, but that initiative ran into some legal challenges. However, it is expected that the issue will be resolved and a stamp will in the future be dedicated to James.

LaRocque: Embrace C’bean Court of Justice


Member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are once again being encouraged to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the final court of appeal for the region.

The call has been issued from Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque who outlined that the CCJ has already shown its worth while pointing to last year’s landmark ruling on the Shanique Myrie case.

“There can be no doubt of the Court’s ability to render well thought out and reasoned judgements that can stand the scrutiny of its most ardent detractors. The CCJ is an integral edifice in the regional architecture as designed within the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. But arguably, even more important, the Court in both its jurisdictions represents the essence of our independence and sovereignty and is essential to the progress of the integration movement. It is an institution that has proven its worth and I look forward to the day when all our Member States accede to both its jurisdictions,” he stated.

He made the comments while speaking to the full Court at a Special Sitting in honour of the Honourable Mme Justice Desiree Bernard who is retiring from the CCJ, and stressed that no better tribute could be paid to her than for all the Member States of CARICOM to accede to the Court in both its Original and Appellate Jurisdictions.

“The work of Mme Justice Desiree Bernard has enriched the legal and social fabric of our Community and, for that, we express our most heartfelt gratitude. The wealth of knowledge and expertise which reside in you, Mme Justice, I am certain will not be lost to the Region as I wish you all the best in this new phase of your life,” he added.

CARICOM aiming to bolster relations with Africa


CARICOM is seeking to expand the horizons of its relations, in particular through enhancing South-South co-operation.

Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque expressed this sentiment during the presentation of credentials to Her Excellency Bernadette Rathedi, the first Plenipotentiary Representative of Botswana to CARICOM.

Saying that Botswana shared a number of similarities with CARICOM States, he outlined that tourism, agriculture and financial services are important economic activities for both.

He also noted that the region, like the African state, is engaged in the search for ways to stimulate economic growth, create employment and sustain development.

“As the Community seeks to deepen ties with the African continent, through strengthened relations with individual states and sub-regions, Botswana presents itself as a meaningful interlocutor with CARICOM States in this regard. Your position as the headquarter country for the Southern African Development Community as well as a willingness in seeking to strengthen relations at this time augurs well for our close collaboration. Indeed, the two communities face similar development challenges in the process of regional integration and cooperation,” he said.

Noting that since 2011 there has been an exchange of views on ways in which the membership of the two integration movements could co-operate, LaRocque stressed that this must be built on now.

“I am aware that such dialogue is already under way at the bilateral level between Botswana and at least two of our Member States, with one, Jamaica, having an Inaugural Session of a Joint Permanent Commission for Cooperation in July 2013. Guyana is also in the process of seeking to deepen the bilateral ties, building on the high level of co-operation at the ACP. As a result of such initiatives, there remains great potential for us to further strengthen and deepen our relations at both the technical and political levels…” he reasoned.

Leaders to receive first reparations submission in March

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles lecturing on the
topic ‘Reparation from Colonial Powers’.

When CARICOM leaders meet next month they will receive the first submission from the CARICOM Reparations Commission.

This was revealed by Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles last Friday during his lecture on the topic ‘Reparations from Colonial Powers’ in Barbados.

He told those present in Lecture Theatre 1 of the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex at the campus that this report will be received at a heads of government meeting on March 10th-11th.

The Head of the Commission, added that contain in their submission will be a “10 point action plan.” This plan, once accepted by the governments, will then be used by them to engage in reparatory conversations with the European countries.

The first item in the plan is a formal apology to the people of the Caribbean. He noted that such an apology was necessary to fully bring about closure as well as “sense of freedom and detachment from this history.”  Other items included in the plan are reparations, the establishment of an indigenous people programme, literacy programme and a psychological rehabilitation programme.

In his lecture, Sir Hilary also said that the call for reparatory justice has increased within the region over time.
Audience members listening to what is being said.

“50 years ago the only people in the Caribbean who were speaking about reparations on a continual basis were the Rastafarian movement, they were the ones who were calling for reparatory justice… it has spilled out of the Rastafarian community and into the wider society where everyone has realised that something must be done to address these crimes against humanity, this will become the movement of this century.” (MG)

UWI Cave Hill issues Campus Research Awards


AS part of its celebration of Research Week 2014, under the theme: “Cave Hill at the Crossroad – Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century”, the UWI Cave Hill Campus issued Campus Research Awards to those in its employ, who have been outstanding in their research work.
SUCCESSFUL RESEARCH: Dr. Judy Whitehead (left of trophy)
received a special award for leading her team (above) in The Compete
Caribbean – Private Sector Development Strategies Project.

At the opening of Research Days 2014 held at the School for Graduate Studies and Research, which signalled the start of Research Week, Campus Research Awards were dished out for the Most Outstanding Researcher in each Faculty, Best Applied Research, Most Internationally Successful Research and there were also awards issued for Research Teams who excelled in specific areas of research.

Faculty Awards

In the area of the Faculty Awards, the award for Most Outstanding Researcher in the Faculty of Medical Sciences 2012-2013 went to Professor Nigel Unwin, while the Most Outstanding Researcher in the Faculty of Humanities and Education was Dr. Babalola Ogunkola.

Most Outstanding Researcher in the Faculty
of Social Sciences, Dr. Dwayne Devonish.
Most Outstanding Researcher
in the Faculty of Medical
Sciences 2012-2013 was
Professor Nigel Unwin.
Most Outstanding Researcher
in the Faculty of Science
and Technology was Professor
Sean McDowell.
The Most Outstanding Researcher in the Faculty of Science and Technology was Professor Sean McDowell, while the award for Most Outstanding Researcher in the Faculty of Social Sciences went to Dr. Dwayne Devonish.

Campus Awards

In the area of the Campus Awards, the award for Best Applied Research was presented to Dr. Peter Adams from the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

The award for the Most Internationally Successful Research was presented to Professor Anselm Hennis, also from the faculty of Medical Sciences.

Recipients of the Campus Research Awards pose for a group
shot after being honoured by the UWI Cave Hill Campus.
Research Teams

Dr. Peter Adams received a special award for leading his team on the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network Project, while Dr. Judy Whitehead received a special award for leading her team in The Compete Caribbean – Private Sector Development Strategies Project. Professor Winston Tinto was recognised for leading the teams responsible for the Biofuels from Microalgae Project and the Research on Sugarcane Project, while Dr. Adrian Cashman was recognised for leading his team on The Sustainable Water Management Project. (RSM)

‘WORRYING TREND’


Economist, Dr. Justin Ram.
The alarming rate of unemployment in the Caribbean continues to be a major talking point across the region.

However, a top official of the Caribbean Development Bank is going one step further by suggesting that this situation has to be addressed or it could affect the region. That official is Dr. William Warren Smith, President of the CDB.

“In some of our countries, we are talking about youth unemployment around 30 per cent, some even higher, but the point is, whatever the number, it is extremely high, and the significance of that number is that it represents real risk to social and economic stability,” he said.

He explained that is the element referred to as youth at risk, meaning, everyone is at risk because as the old saying goes “the devil finds work for idle hands,” he reasoned.

“In the region there are not adequate statistics on these areas, however it is something that needs to be addressed to have policies targeted at addressing these issues,” the CDB President said.

Economist, Dr. Justin Ram, also echoed similar statements. “Another worrying trend we need to be cognisant of with respects to employment rate is that around the world, youth unemployment rates are signif-icantly high, both in major markets and in the Caribbean, and we therefore need to pay special attention to this area,”
he remarked.

“In terms of the unemployment rates, not many of our countries are up to date on unemployment data. In Barbados, we know unemployment figures in the Barbados economy are currently around 11 per cent. The level of unemployment in Jamaica are relatively high, close to 20 per cent.”

The figures that we have seen indicate that unemployment rates continue to be at levels higher than we would want to see in developing countries.

Many have suggested that there needs to be more focus on non-traditional industries, such as creative industries, which tend to be attractive to the youth.

However, recently, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency, believes one of the major problems eminent in our society is that the creative agencies continue to be treated as an afterthought by many of our policymakers and political heads. It is not thought about as a policy objective, but is merely viewed as something that comes naturally, and because of that, we have not really had an overarching policy dynamic that governs the way we engage the creative industries.

According to him, “Therefore, one of the things we will be looking at doing is looking at the export value of our music, the issue of intellectual property and the values that come through intellectual property and branding which has not really occurred in our region. We talk about it in generic terms, we use anecdotal evidence but we don’t have the numbers and data that drives our policy imperative, and that will be critical moving forward.” (NB)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

ICC changes will benefit West Indies cricket


PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – President Whycliffe “Dave” Cameron said the amended key principles covering governance, financing and structure recently agreed by the International Cricket Council will allow the West Indies Cricket Board to grow and develop the game in the Caribbean and the Americas far more robustly and vigorously.

The WICB was one of eight full members of the sport’s World governing body that supported the key principles at a recent Executive Board meeting in Singapore.

Cameron said the new financial arrangements meant that there will be more revenue for all members of the ICC including the WICB, a Test Match fund to sustain the longest version of the game over the next decade, and a clear pathway for Associate Members nations to become eligible to play Tests.

He said the new financing proposals will allow the WICB to negotiate, on a bilateral basis, tours to other countries for which it will earn direct revenue.

“Increased revenue in these areas will redound to the benefit of West Indies cricket through more funds invested into development, longer first-class seasons and other areas,” said Cameron at a media conference on Monday at the Hyatt Regency here.

“The WICB projects an increase of more than 100 per cent in ICC revenue for the upcoming eight-year cycle of international matches based on the proposals when compared to the previous eight-year cycle.”

He added: “The WICB and all other full members now play international cricket based on the Future Tours Programme which is spread over a period of eight years. It is negotiated between members and compiled by the ICC, and is based on two cycles of four years and it obliges us to play every full member twice – once home and once away – in every four-year cycle.

“Currently, West Indies have the most unfavourable allocation of matches of all the full members of the ICC, based on the current FTP schedule, and this is largely the reason the WICB is set to have a major deficit at the end of the financial year, September 30, 2014.”

Cameron said the newly approved proposals will however, allow the WICB to increase the number of profitable tours it hosts, while reducing the number of unprofitable tours it is obliged to host under the current FTP.

“Based on the proposed bilateral structure, the WICB will be able to negotiate fees when the West Indies team plays in away series, as was the case prior to the establishment of the FTP,” the WICB President told his audience that also included WICB Vice President Emmanuel Nanthan, Chief Executive Officer Michael Muirhead and Director of Cricket Richard Pybus.

“As the West Indies team continues to regain strength, the WICB will be able to negotiate more for our brand, which is a most significant consideration.”

He said: “Also, where the WICB hosts unprofitable tours, we will now be able to access the newly proposed Test Match Fund to help offset costs.

“We can inform you now that the WICB has already secured commitments from the major boards to play an increased number of matches and series during the next eight-year cycle. This will allow WICB to grow revenue significantly through television and sponsorship with increased opportunities to play against the more attractive teams in the game.”

On the possible introduction of a two-tiered system for Tests that could lead to relegation, Cameron said: “As it stands, the top nine teams – including West Indies – will continue to play Test matches. The risk of ‘relegation’ is only realistic for the 10th-ranked team. West Indies is currently ranked seventh and is in no realistic position to be ranked 10th in the foreseeable future.

“With the increased revenue and a fortified development programme, the WICB is determined to ensure that the West Indies team is nowhere near being ranked 10th in the World, allowing us to continue to play all formats of the game in full – and put us in a strong position to negotiate with every other full member for participation in home and away tours.”

On the impact the new governance structure will have on the WICB, Cameron said: “We want to make it abundantly clear: The WICB has not relinquished any powers as a full member of the ICC. The WICB remains a full member of the ICC with full voting rights on all matters.

“The WICB will be eligible for membership to all committees, chairmanship of all committees, and the presidency and chairmanship of the ICC.”

He said: “As such, I am a member of the Financial & Commercial Affairs Committee and will retain that position following the organisational transition.

“The WICB is extremely confident it will not be hurt by the organisational transition of the ICC and the World governing body will be stronger outfit as a result.”

Panama, ports and the future


In the last few years, almost every significant Caribbean country has announced that they are upgrading their port facilities and preparing to compete to attract the larger post-panamax vessels that from some time in 2015 will be transiting an enlarged Panama Canal.

Such is the opportunity, given the Caribbean’s strategic location at the crossroads of north-south and east-west trade, and its numerous existing or new locations for deepwater ports, that Jamaica, Martinique, Cuba, Trinidad, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic have all made clear that, with the support of one or another foreign investor, port development will become critical to future growth.

However, what is still far from certain is whether there is enough opportunity for all of the existing or proposed super ports, hubs, and manufacturing and transhipment zones to succeed. Viewed from another perspective, the more one speaks to experts, the less clear it is whether the winners will be those who have made an early start; those that are encouraging investment in co-located assembly, manufacturing and services, as well as transhipment; or those who have internationally respected marketing partners or shipping lines that can ensure success.

This is not to argue that any particular proposal is unviable, but to suggest that these are among the factors, along with competitive rates, high levels of productivity, and a straightforward regulatory environment, that will enable the Caribbean to take advantage of its physical location.

The issue of viability is far from simple as there are also other factors at play, including the deepening and enlargement of a number of already competitive US east coast ports; vast ‘capesize’ vessels now being constructed by major shipping lines like Maersk that will, as their name suggests, sail far
to the south and not pass through the Caribbean; plans for new trans-American rail links; and the possibility of a new Chinese financed canal across Nicaragua. Which is to say little about possible delays to investment in the Caribbean and other parts of the world as a result of structural changes in China’s economy, as it starts to address its own financial and economic problems by restricting credit for overseas investments.


This suggests that the most likely long-term winners may be Jamaica and Cuba, for very different reasons, plus the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic which already have an established business and the benefit respectively of Hutchison Wamphoa and Dubai Ports as operators. It seems also to point to success for those ports further south like Curacao that are seeking niches in ship repair and are known to be efficient, and proposals such as those in relatively embryonic form in Guyana and Suriname for ports linked to opening up parts of Brazil.

Although Jamaica has come late to the party, its geographic location, virgin deepwater site and its plans to become a logistics hub, suggest success if it can mobilise the investment necessary to develop a related manufacturing base and ensure that Jamaican’s benefit from employment, not just in the construction phase, but from all subsequent economic activity.

Cuba’s new port at Mariel is another interesting example of forward thinking. Because of the restrictions on trade as a result of the US embargo, the creation of the development zone around it is potentially far more important. In the 180 square miles surrounding the port of Mariel, Cuba plans not just to encourage foreign owned high-tech assembly and manufacturing – the large Chinese car company Geely International is interested in an assembly operation there – but also sees the site, and others planned elsewhere, as locations for joint ventures in research and services; as a new quasi-offshore home for  overseas investment in leisure facilities and villas; and has established preferential tax laws relating for operations in such zones. It is probably also no coincidence that the first vessel to unload its cargo in Mariel was a US flag carrier with a cargo of food from the US being sold under licence – an indication of what one day Mariel might become, given its location just 28 miles from Havana and 240 miles from Miami.

Port development requires the Caribbean to look outwards, make use of natural advantage on globally competitive terms and be future proofed for at least twenty to thirty years. As this column noted last week, in the longer term the nature of future development and investment will be very different as machines begin to take over many everyday tasks, making even the most productive low cost and unskilled labour less relevant.

Already many of the activities in the most efficient container ports are computerised. This means that what is required is for a port to be seen either, as is the case in Cuba and Jamaica, as a way of stimulating use of the country as an offshore location for everything from manufacturing to research and services, or as in very different ways, Guyana and Suriname see their future port development as opening up opportunity for others – in their case Brazil and China.

Put another way, port development, if well considered, conforms to a model that recognises the limitations of the Caribbean’s size, resource and geography, does not look back, eschews aspects of sovereignty, accepts globalisation, and pragmatically accepts that the Caribbean’s future role is as a facilitator for others – whether they be tourists or socially responsible multinationals.

This is a message that much of the region’s private sector and particularly small island governments have yet to embrace. It implies that the Caribbean economy of the future has to be less protectionist and defensive, become skills and knowledge based, and relentlessly focus on education at tertiary and higher levels, to build skills for tomorrow.

(David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org)

‘Too black to be Prime Minister’: The shackles of mental slavery


Of all the offensive – and unintelligent – statements made in the politics of the post-independence Caribbean, an assertion, that Dr Keith Rowley, the leader of the Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, is “too black” to be Prime Minister, has to rate as the worst.

It is a telling indictment of the person through whose mind the thought passed without perishing and from whose mouth the nonsense was uttered.

Fitzgerald Hinds, a former Senator of Mr Rowley’s political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), is the person reported to have made the statement to a party political meeting. He is also reported to have said that “a group of businessmen and former PNM ministers have agreed that Dr Rowley was “too dark in complexion to become prime minister”.

In the past, this asinine attitude has been expressed in other Caribbean countries. For instance, in Jamaica, there was the claim that Norman and Michael Manley were not black, nor were Alexander Bustamante and Donald Sangster. When P J Patterson became Prime Minister in 1992, some
circles in Jamaica actually said he was the country’s “first black Prime Minister”. Before he was elected, it was doubted that the Jamaican people were “ready for a black Prime Minister”. As it turned out, PJ Patterson was not only a successful Prime Minister elected to serve at his country’s helm for 14 years; he was also highly regarded in the international community.

In the Eastern Caribbean, the same nonsense was whispered – not always quietly – in many places including St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica.  The taint of blackness was used as a political weapon with the underlying inference that being of “too dark complexion” rendered any such person as unelectable, even to other black people who constituted the majority in countries such as Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica.

Of course, none of the leaders of these countries – not Jamaica’s Michael Manley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Eric Williams, Dominica’s Eugenia Charles, and St Lucia’s John Compton – would have counted themselves as anything but black.  And the Caribbean and the world would be hard-pressed to find more outstanding champions of black causes world-wide than Michael Manley and Eric Williams.

Also, there is nothing in the Caribbean’s political history that discredits its leaders of “dark complexion”. Barbados’ Erskine Sandiford; The Bahamas’ Lynden Pindling and Hubert Ingraham; St Kitts-Nevis’ Robert Bradshaw, Lee Moore and Kennedy Simmonds are all testament to leaders of quality, the dark complexion of whose skin mattered not a jot to the execution of their duties or their representation of their people.

Mr Hinds’ statement about Dr Rowley rightly caused a stir in Trinidad and Tobago. Regrettably, it also attracted the attention of international news broadcasters, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), that not only reported on what must have been to its reporters a very curious phenomenon, but they also sought to probe the causes behind it. To the international listener, Trinidad and Tobago must have seemed like a very odd place – one which is concerned with gradations of blackness as a qualification for its leaders in a world where the majority of leaders are of the very dark complexion about which Mr Hinds (and apparently others) hold out reservations.

That in 2014, almost two centuries after slavery was abolished with all the shades of colour that made slaves more valuable only according to the whims of slave owners, complexion still preoccupies the minds of persons who hold (or held) offices of state, is a tragic commentary on those persons. It ignores the reality of dark-complexioned people leading in fields such as the judiciary, medicine, education, science and technology, and sport. It is worse that the perceived stigma of “dark complexion” alarms members of the PNM, for that political party has always been seen as representing predominantly black people.

Had the statement about Dr Rowley been made by members of the ruling United National Congress (UNC) Party, whose support base is mostly East Indian, the charge of racism would immediately have been made. The repercussions might have been grave in a society which has not yet fully overcome the challenges of its racial diversity. Of course, there are also Indians of “dark complexion” and it leads to speculation that the doubts expressed about Dr Rowley’s electability might also apply to an equally dark-complexioned Indian. Is the issue then more one of colour than of race?

Those who peddle the nonsense of complexion should be reminded of the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr that people “should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. They would also do well to recall Bob Marley admonition: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind”. They should also be careful that in expressing their own prejudices, they are not wrongfully assuming that the electorate of Trinidad and Tobago is as bigoted and small-minded as they are.

Dr Rowley is being challenged for the leadership of the PNM in a few months (May 18) by Ms Penelope Beckles-Robinson. There was a time when politicians and others in Trinidad and Tobago would have said that a woman could never become leader of a political party or the country’s Prime Minister. The present UNC leader and Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has debunked that assertion.  The contest between Dr Rowley and Ms Beckles-Robinson should be on their intellectual capacity, competence and qualities to lead their party and possibly become the next Prime Minister.

It is leadership, vision, proficiency and commitment that all political parties everywhere need. That has nothing to do with the shameful and absurd argument about complexion which certainly has no place in today’s Caribbean.

(The writer is a Consultant, Senior Research Fellow at London University and former Caribbean Diplomat. Responses and previous commentaries:www.sirronaldsanders.com)

Don’t get caught napping again


IT seems that small economies will now have to better equip themselves to face the understanding that volatility will be a part of the global economic landscape going forward. The regularity with which these downturns have been occurring cannot be underestimated and while countries will not be able to escape them, better planning nonetheless could help to lessen the full impact of these downturns.

So that once countries are in tune with being able to anticipate them and to be able to steer sensible economic policies, governments will not be caught napping with the onset of recessions.

In recent times comments have been made to the effect that the severity and duration of the present economic slowdown was not anticipated. Like a volcano which is about to erupt, there are usually many instances where mini-eruptions take place prior to the real blast.

Developments in the 1990s were clear signs that the world was heading for turmoil. Mexico, once considered the economy that should be emulated because of the economic reforms undertaken and the resulting economic growth and stability, erupted in the early 1990s with catastrophic consequences. Towards the end of that decade there was the Asian financial crisis, while Brazil and Russia and a few others also had their bout of economic downturn around that time.

These developments indicated that the global environment was so unstable that at any moment another crisis was going to emerge, one that was going to be bigger and more long-lasting than what took place in the decade of the 1990s.

Thomas Gray, who served as an adviser to the late Margaret Thatcher when she was the UK Prime Minister, predicted that the world economy would go bust. Gray wrote that in his book “False Dawn” that was published in the late 1990s.

Given also that the market had been calling the shots since the turn of the 1990s, it was expected that one day it was going to experience a crash.

At the news conference hosted last week by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), one of the presenters said the recession was not expected to last so long and become so deep. Barbados’ Prime Minister the Honourable Freundel Stuart said as much when he spoke a the last luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). Even prior to that address, he had recounted in a lecture at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, the instances where the world economy had gone into a tail spin. He cited the 1974, 1981/1982, 1991/1993 crises and the current one as evidence of the regularity with which these things have been occurring. The 1974 crisis stemmed from the oil embargo and then the increase in oil prices. These factors, along with the Iranian Revolution, were also at the root of the recession in 1981, whereas the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 sparked the global downturn the following year.

Faced with the myriad of problems which these recessions have brought to both large and small economies, emphasis now has to be placed on how to be ready once they come a-calling.

It is true that small open economies like what exist in this region are hardly unable to influence global events. However, they have to engage in better economic management, always mindful that things will not always be the same.

FUNDING SCRAPPED


By Linda Straker

Foreign Affairs Minister, Nickolas Steele, has confirmed that the Australian Government will no longer be funding Grenada’s new Parliament building, which is scheduled to commence construction later in the year.

“We have received communications from the Australian Government that they have changed their Foreign Policy with regards to funding projects and they will be pulling out of this region and instead focus on the Indian Ocean, Asia-Pacific region,” Steele said.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently confirmed a series of reversals in the foreign aid commitments, which the previous government made as part of its campaign to win a seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. Votes from African and Caribbean states helped the then Kevin Rudd government secure the seat.

According to reports out of Australia, while in opposition, Julie Bishop was a loud critic of tactics in Australia’s bid. Although Ms. Bishop believed there was merit in seeking the prestigious seat, she argued that the bid put too much attention on African and Caribbean nations at the expense of engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

Steele said that the Australian Government had promised five million Australian dollars and they had already provided one million for some preliminary works. “They have not asked us to return the money because it was used in the preliminary preparations; what they are doing is not providing further funding. But I must tell you that we will continue with the construction because as you know, we also received support funding of US$5 million from the United Arab Emirates and we will use that to start the project,” he said.

“I am already in discussion with other donors to ensure that we have enough to complete the new Parliament building and these discussions are ongoing,” said Steele, who is hoping that the Grenada Parliament will have a new home while the New National Party administration, which won election on February 19, 2013, is governing the country.

Grenada’s Parliament building was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, since then the Parliament has adopted the Grenada Trade Centre as its temporary home.

‘EPA a game changer for region’


Mikael Barfod, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean States, believes the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) can be a game changer for Caribbean countries, particularly at this time of stark economic challenges.

The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export), in conjunction with the implementing partners CARICOM Secretariat and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of the Dominican Republic (DICOEX), have been awarded responsibility for the implementation of a 3.2 million euros programme by the European Union (EU) towards the implementation of the 10th EDF Services Sector Component.

The Head of Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean
from the European Union, Mikael Barfod, handing over a
cheque to Caribbean Export’s Executive Director, Pamela
Coke-Hamilton, while Ambassador Colin Murdoch, Chairman
of Caribbean Export; and Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs
& Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, look on.
Implementation of the services component will be a collaborative effort between the Agency and implementing partners CARICOM Secretariat and DICOEX.

Speaking last Friday at the Radisson Aquatica Resort in Barbados at the Caribbean Private Sector Consultation, Barfod maintained, “The EU remains committed to the process of implementation of the CARIFORUM Secretariat on the implementation of the 10th EDF which focuses on regional integration, including EPA implementation. We are also in the process of programming the 11th EDF for approximately £350 million, of which £110 million has been earmarked for regional integration and EPA implementation.


However, he did highlight, “The responsibility is on the private sector to take the initiative to capitalise on the opportunities presented in the agreement, especially in the area of services. Even with capacity issues, the private sector needs to use the provisions which have been made available as they are the primary beneficiaries of the agreement.”

Barfod outlined, “Our interest in the EPA goes beyond any market access that we may gain through this trade agreement. Selling more of Europe’s goods and services is not a priority for the EU; regional development and integration is. The services component of the EPA represents one of the concrete ways that Caribbean businesses and entrepreneurs could reap tangible, economic benefits. Although Caribbean countries are net importers of goods, they are net-exporters (or suppliers) of services. The services sector in most CARIFORUM countries is a significant contributor to the GDP, accounting for more than 50 per cent of GDP in most cases, and over 60 per cent for the OECS members states.”

He highlighted some of the benefits to the privates sector – the agreement allows the commercial presence of CARIFORUM firms in the EU, including the possibility for people to travel temporarily for business purposes across most sectors. The commitments under the EPA cover a range of sectors in which Caribbean businesses and entrepreneurs have a recognised comparative advantage. Services within the EPA and the related market access commitments of the EU are the most far-reaching of their kind and at the forum Ambassador Barfod also went into more detail on the potential benefits. (NB)

Leadership conference to provide ‘blueprint for success’


“Blueprint for Success” is the theme for a leadership conference scheduled to take place at the Spice Island Beach Resort Conference Room on Thursday, February 27, 2014 and one of the speakers will be Acting Comptroller of the Inland Revenue Department, Dr. Raphael Stephen.

Organised by the Consultancy in Law, Governance & Rights (CILG&R), the one-day leadership conference will be focusing on continued training and discourse for established and upcoming leaders in both small and large establishments as well as in civil society.

The conference will be organised and chaired by CILG&R’s Principal Consultant, Anande Trotman-Joseph, a local Attorney-at-Law, board member of the Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership, member of the regional Advisory Group to UN Women and regional consultant in areas of rule of law, human rights and strategic planning. She is ably assisted in the organisation of this conference by Consultants Deborah Baveghems APS, a John Maxwell Team Certified Coach & Trainer in Personal Growth, Leadership Skills and Business; and Carole Noble, MSc in Public Policy and Business Management.

“This signature Leadership Conference will provide a space for discourse by a cadre of national leaders under the theme, ‘Blueprint for Success’, and will offer the perfect opportunity for leaders and their teams to upgrade their skills and to interact with other teams,” said Trotman-Joseph.

The interactive agenda is expected to focus on areas of interest to national leaders with the feature presentation being delivered by Mr. Darryl Brathwaite on the topic, “The Balance of Leadership”. Other presenters include Dr. Lawrence Joseph on “The Required Characteristics of a Leader”.

There will also be a panel discussion on the importance of honest and open communications, while local multi-media artist Suelin Low Chew Tung will be presenting on “The Importance of Social
and Creative Trends, Restoring our National Soul through Art”.

Dr. Raphael Stephen will speak about, “The Immediate and Long-term Impact of Current Tax Reforms on individuals and businesses”; Dr. Jenny Japal-Isaacs will speak on “Ignoring your Health: You might be a ticking time bomb”; Mrs. Gloria Payne-Banfield will address the topic, “Respect Due, Understanding Protocol”; and Mrs. Carole Noble on the “Effective Use of Social Media by organisations”.

Grenadian singers Tammy Baldeo and Jay McDonald are expected to perform, while artist Suelin and a visiting Haitian artist will mount a small exhibition during the day.

The organisers expect positive outcomes of the conference including the establishment of network linkages between like-minded leaders, a think-tank/caucus of leaders, meeting periodically to discuss national issues following the event. (LS)

OAS commission to visit Grenada


IN April, a commission from the Organisation of American States (OAS) will visit Grenada as part of the follow-up process of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

The Commission from the OAS Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) says it will conduct an on-site visit to the Caribbean island from April 22-24.

A statement from the OAS said that the Commission will meet with representatives from the main oversight bodies of Grenada. “The purpose of the visit is to collect information in the field about how these organs perform their functions, which serve as inputs for the preparation of the report to be drawn up by the MESICIC on Grenada in its September 2014 meeting,” the Commission said in a statement.

“It is anticipated that the Commission will meet with Grenadian civil society organisations, private sector representatives, professional associations and academics, in order to address topics related to the issues being analysed in the Fourth Round of the MESICIC.

“Within the framework of the Fourth Round of evaluations, the OAS Anti-corruption Mechanism is also expected to visit Belize, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname in April,” the statement added.

The MESICIC is a co-operation mechanism between states, with the participation of civil society organisations, established within the framework of the OAS, in which the legal/institutional framework of each country is reviewed for suitability with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. (LS)

Former PM speaks out on Australia’s decision


By Linda Straker

Former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said he “finds it strange and cannot understand” why the Australian Government would reverse its decision to provide Grenada with the promised funding for the new Parliament building, which was one of the major deals his Government inked while in office.

“I, as Prime Minister, made the approach to the then Australian Government during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which was held in Trinidad. We as Grenada approached them on the basis of it being a more developed Commonwealth nation,” he said.

Thomas, who also served as Foreign Minister in the final months of the National Democratic Congress administration which was voted out of office on February 19, 2013, said that to the best of his knowledge, the promise to fund the Parliament building was purely a goodwill gesture.

Thomas also denied that Grenada received the promised funds as a gift for voting in favour of Australia becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on October 18, 2012, in a General Assembly vote which attracted the support of 140 out of 193 countries.

“To the best of my knowledge, there were no conditions attached when Australia promised the funding. It’s the first time I am hearing of any vote for the United Nations Security Council, I don’t know. What I know is that there were no conditions, this was a gift from one Commonwealth member, which is more developed, to another that is developing,” he said.

According to reports out of Australia, the Tony Abbott Government, which was elected on September 7, 2013 following a General Election – campaigned on a tag-line of “Stop the Waste”, will now be focusing on strengthening and building its relationship with the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region and will be ending all major projects in the Caribbean.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nickolas Steele said that despite the setback, Government will continue with the construction because US$5 million was also provided from the United Arab Emirates towards the new Parliament building.

He stated that he is already in discussion with other donors, but refused to provide the names of the donors with whom Government is holding discussion.

Hundreds flock to Youth Centre for free dental checks

Danielle Becker, programme director of Global Outreach.

Hundreds of Grenadians flocked to the Youth Centre from last Sunday seeking the services of dentists and their assistants through a special project that was conceptualised by Gracelyn Bubb, a Grenadian who currently resides in New York and is the clinical manager of New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry.

The one-week free dental check-ups project, which began on Sunday, February 16 and will conclude today, Friday, February 21, saw people lining up at the Youth Centre since 6 a.m., although the dental care professionals began working at 7 a.m. On hand are dental specialists in Oral Surgery, Endo Dentistry, General Dentistry, and Paediatric Dentistry.

“From the first day we cross the 100 persons,” said Danielle Becker, programme administrator for Global Outreach, the organisation which is behind the dental clinic.

“It’s very, very busy,” she said, while explaining that based on data, more than 1 000 persons will receive dental care during the week.

Bubb, who is from Boca, said that she came up with the idea years ago as a means of providing free dental care to needy school  children in Grenada. She recounted growing up without having a toothbrush of her own and now having a better understanding about the importance of proper dental practice, she is prepared to make a difference in the life of not just children but adults.

“The first two years the services were offered in Tivoli, St. Andrew and this year makes it the second year we are in the Youth Centre. So maybe another venue might be selected next year, but I am committed to maintaining this service,” she said.

Grenadians receiving dental care.
“Since our first clinic,” she recalled, “we began a toothpaste and toothbrush programme for all primary schools that see the distribution of more than 26 000 toothbrushes and toothpaste. This means that the children who receive the toothbrush will have one for use because we already tell them about the importance of dental care.”

The cost for the entire clinic including accommodation is well beyond US$100 000, but various components receive grant support including from the NYU College of Dentistry. The Government of Grenada, through the Ministry of Health, also offers support to make the project a reality. (LS)

‘Caribbean needs to be more competitive’


Dr. Justin Ram, Director, Economics Department at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), has highlighted that the Caribbean has competitive issues which are impeding growth.

Last week at a press conference to highlight the performance of the region for 2013 and outlook for 2014, he argued, “Small size is no excuse for under-performance. Caribbean economies are still lagging behind other small island developing states. It means that certain critical structural problems need to be addressed within our economies if we are to have sustainable and lasting growth in the future. Some of these reforms address the cost of doing business in our countries, examining overall cost of energy in our economies, as well as the need of governments to further tighten our fiscal accounts.”

He said, “Economic growth has been lagging in the Caribbean and we see this through structural inefficiencies of our economy. Policymakers need to ensure that the business environment is set at a pace where the cost of doing business is reduced. For example, if you compare what is happening
in Caribbean economies and Singapore, it takes six months to acquire construction permits on average in the Caribbean as opposed to 26 days in Singapore; with respect to enforcement of contracts within the Caribbean, on average it takes 772 days as opposed to 150 days in Singapore.

“In the Caribbean, the overall cost of electricity is very high when compared to many of our comparative block of nations. Electricity costs are around 35 US cents per kilowatt hour. This is far too high. It is imperative we reduce the cost of electric. If we don’t, our economies will continue to not compete on the world stage and this could have a dampening effect on our export potential.”

President of the CDB, Dr. Warren Smith, added: “There is an increasing recognition that in Caribbean countries to grow and maintain standard of living, something needs to change. We are seeing, in terms of the accumulation of debt, this is a direct consequence of the inability of our countries to compete internationally. Thus, foreign exchange becomes the binding constraint in our economies, but we are not generating enough foreign exchange to be able to sustain standard of living. So rather than adjusting to a low level of standard of living, we borrow more in order to sustain that standard of living.

“Our countries have reached a situation where we cannot continue to sustain that standard by borrowing. We need to adjust, we have to focus on those things that will make these economies more competitive, that we can earn foreign exchange to ease the binding constraint that forces us to put ourselves in a position where we become less and less viable as economic entities.” (NB)

Diversification is key for tourism


IAN DURANT, Economist at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), has highlighted, once again, that one of the critical areas to enhance growth in the tourism sector is through diversification of source markets.

In the CDB report of the performance for 2013 and outlook for 2014, it highlighted that goods-based economies outperformed service-oriented economies of our region. Most of the growth was led by Guyana, Haiti and Suriname and to some extent Trinidad and Tobago, although the growth rate of the latter was not as high as the others.

In the tourism sector, stay-over arrivals increased across nations, as the recovery in key US and Euro Area markets continued. The exceptions were Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where airlift challenges and high intra-regional travel cost affected visitor arrivals, the CDB report said.

“Due to the fact we have lower tourism arrivals and lower tourism receipts, there have been a knock-on effect of the fiscal performance of many of our countries,” Durant explained.

He said that diversification is important, because if “you look at the projected growth of Brazil (no traditional source markets), you have a situation where projected outbound tourist travel for Brazil is around six per cent”.

However, Durant stated that the Caribbean also needs to encourage diversification by improving the cost of doing business.

“One of the challenges we face ... we are not saving enough finance on our own, so you have a situation where investment is based on the inflow of external capital. In a situation where there is a sudden stop as a result of some international shock, then countries are forced to adjust because of the vulnerability of their economies,” he said.

Carl Howell, Chief Economist (Ag.) at the Caribbean Development Bank, said that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will return to the Caribbean.

“In the Caribbean, we are starting to see a rebound of FDI, for example in Jamaica and Grenada. My forecast is if the region continues to settle down and the fiscal adjustment continues, one can expect to see overtime a gradual improvement of FDI to the region,” he added. (NB)

Opportunities in medical tourism, but private investment needed


Medical Tourism is a niche that keeps surfacing in the Caribbean. In Barbados, many have pinpointed that niche as an untapped market, and even though it has gained some attention, it would appear that the drive has tapered.

Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the Caribbean Development Export Development Agency, also subscribes to the view that medical tourism could be a vital niche to the Caribbean, but believes areas such as infrastructure, insurance etc. needs to be addressed further. Mikael Barfod, Head of European Union Delegation to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean States, believes that while there is potential for this sector in the Caribbean, investments are key because it is capital intensive sector.

Some of the business persons who attended the
Caribbean Private Sector Consultation last Friday
at the Radisson Aquatica Resort in Barbados.
Coke-Hamilton elaborated that, “One area we need to focus on more and have a much stronger drive is medical tourism service; it is an extremely viable opportunity for the region and if we are able to actually engage with that in a systematic and strategic way, the returns to the region can be phenomenal. For example, if we look at the fact that so many of our nurses are in the United States, Canada, all over, and they are trained in the Caribbean and utilised in their countries, then it should be no problem with their people coming here. Therefore, how do we leverage that critical component of our professional services in the area of medical facilities to bring medical tourism to the region in a way that enables us to expand by bringing the tourist here and have the spin off effects?”

One of the main issues, she highlighted, “is having the infrastructure that allows us to be accredited – University of the West Indies is credited internationally. Another area is the ability to get insurance from the US, Canada, and Europe to cover people being treated here. If we can somehow negotiate transferability of health insurance benefits so that persons who choose to come here can be covered here, that would be vital to us in the Caribbean. Therefore, persons will come who would want to get better in sunshine and access to spa and wellness in the Caribbean”.

Barfod further noted that, “There is potential for this sector in the Caribbean in this area but investments are key because it is capital intensive sector. The European Union has invested a lot in the health sector in the Caribbean including Barbados. We built the biggest hospital in the region – the National Hospital in St. Lucia – and we are going to invest in the health sector in Grenada, but this is grant money, and to get to a situation where you have a viable medical tourism sector, you need to attract private investment and that is not easy. You have to have good bankable projects.” (NB)

Hamilton: Creative industries an afterthought


Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency, maintains that even though one of the new trends we are seeing in the services industry is the creative industries, one of the major problems is that they are seen as an afterthought.

Speaking to the media last week at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, she explained, “One of the major problems we found is that the creative agencies continue to be treated as an afterthought by many of our policy makers and political heads. We don’t think about it as a policy objective, we think about it as something that comes naturally, and because of that, we have not really had an overarching policy dynamic that governs the way we engage the creative industries.

“Therefore, one of the things we will be looking at doing is looking at the export value of our music, the issue of intellectual property, and the values that come through intellectual property and branding, which has not really occurred in our region.

“We talk about it in generic terms, we use anecdotal evidence, but we don’t have the numbers and data that drives our policy imperative, and that will be critical moving forward.”

In the short-term, we are seeing developments: “The Barbados Cultural Industries Bill; Trinidad has created a creative centre, where they have merged all of their organisations that deal with the creative industries; Jamaica has also been working on their creative industries...

“Therefore, what they are trying to do is put in place the policy and regulatory framework to begin to engage in a more strategic manner the creative industries. Also, linking sectors together is a major drive. For example, we are doing a major thrust on CALABASH, which is a literary forum, but we will link art and literature.”

Barbados Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Senator the Hon. Maxine P.O McClean, outlined, “In Barbados, we want to ensure we have the regulatory framework to facilitate entrepreneurs. We are talking about moving from operating in a domestic place to competing in the European Union.

“In Barbados, we had EPA implementation units that would be engaging in workshops aimed to discuss opportunities to provide technical assistance etc.

“It is about our business persons feeling comfortable to pursue these opportunities. It takes time, because you are talking about competing in a different competitive space, and, however, we are seeing a number of persons taking advantage.”

Economic branding

Mikael Barfod, Head of European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean States, believes “linking creative industries and economic branding is extremely important, and enormous benefits can be reaped from that”.

“I do believe that the EPA is beginning to take off and it is making progress, but it is a long-term process; it is not just something you can measure in terms of market access to the European Union. It is very much about regional integration, regional liberalisation, and within the service sectors, we the private sector to take advantage of the new facilities.” (NB)