Monday, December 11, 2006
Dick Stoute is funny
DICK STOUTE (second from left), president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, addressing a recent Press conference while members of the chamber's commerce committee, (from left) Andy Armstrong, Randall Banfield and Ian Alleyne, look on.
I had a good laugh yesterday, and I owe it to the president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, Dick Stoute.
According to Mr. Stoute, Whites no longer have economic control of Barbados. They have been replaced by "a successful black entrepreneurial class and a powerful Government".
"It is quite clear that white people do not control anything....Whites are leaders in some high profile positions, but when you look at the whole economy and the level of entrepreneurialship and the number of new businesses that have started up mainly by black people, you see that the situation is changing," he said.
Mr. Stoute added that by dint of Whites making up less than ten percent of the population, it was impossible for them to own all the land, houses, vehicles and cellphones on the island. He further called on Government to release any figures it had compiled on the ownership of these items and the extent of black corporate investment in order "to let people know who owned what in the country".
Well, where should I begin? Maybe by asking a few questions and stating a few opinions.
1. Blacks have outnumbered Whites in Barbados since the days of slavery, yet this small fraction of the population owned the plantations while Blacks were landless and disenfranchised. (The first settlers of Rock Hall, St. Thomas received their right to vote when they were each willed an acre of land; they later lost that right when they subdivided the land for their families.) Since when was the population size of a race in Barbados an indicator of ownership or control?
2. Sure Black Barbadians own land, houses, vehicles and cellphones. But, unless they can afford to pay cash, most of these items really belong to a bank or a financial institution which is charging an exorbitant interest rate. When Mr. Stoute sees a well-dressed Black man or woman cruising down ABC Highway in his/her SUV and chatting on his/her Motorola Razor, he might not realise this picture of wealth comes at a hefty cost. A $5,000 credit limit is not the same as having $5,000 in the bank.
3. What constitutes wealth? Houses and land are assets, cars and cellphones are not. Sure lots of Blacks are driving cars and owning cell phones, because getting credit or loans to buy these items isn't too difficult. It seems more difficult to get a mortgage, and even if you do, land and house prices are getting out of the reach of the average Barbadian.
4. How many Black business start-ups actually go the distance? For every Branckers, Exclusive Lighting and C & I Hardware there are many Black-owned businesses that either fail or are pushed out of the market. Ask the reconditioned car dealers.
5. What qualifies as entrepreneurialship? Selling vegetables outside the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal?
6. I cannot argue that our standard of living has improved. Yet to paint such a fantastic picture of the economic status of Blacks in Barbados is grossly misleading. My family and I are comfortable, but we're not blind to the misfortunes of others. I can take Mr. Stoute on a tour to see families living in abandoned houses without electricity and water and living off the kindness of neighbours. Poverty here is more widespread than we'd like to think.
7. Is Government really powerful? In the past 12 years I've worked for two different administrations; I'm yet to see Government flexing its muscles on the private sector.
Sigh. I'm going to stop ranting now. Suffice it to say, I'll believe Dick Stoute when Black Barbadians own the mortgage, cell phone and real estate companies and the car dealerships.
Photo: Daily Nation