Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 9th 2014 Contents A23
February 9, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Barbados gets its day in
the spotlight tomorrow.
The IMF board meets in
Washington to discuss the
island s economy. That follows a
December visit for intensive
The big question is: Will Bar-
bados make the IMF report pub-
lic? Reports normally get
released, but the country covered
has a right of veto.
The state of the Barbados
economy is dire. On December
13, at the close of its visit, the
IMF noted falling output, with
government spending running
way ahead of the tax take.
Tomorrow s talk will be of bad
news. But the worst news would
be if the Barbados authorities
don t face facts and publish. So
far, the Central Bank isn t doing
In itself, an IMF visit is no big
deal. Australia and Israel also
come up at tomorrow s board
meeting. Every year, a string of
countries get Article IV visits.
A team of IMF experts talk to
the government and the central
bank. They usually talk also to
the private sector, trade unions,
academics and the political
opposition. They check the
books. Quite often, data which is
not easily available comes to
light through an IMF report.
An Article IV report on T&T
was published last October. It
reported a modest recovery.
But when the economy is in
trouble, an IMF report is big
news. It is an impartial assess-
ment from well-informed out-
An IMF report can fire a
warning shot. In the Bahamas,
there is stiff public resistance to
a proposed Value Added Tax.
The IMF said last month: "VAT
is the cornerstone."
For Barbados, there has been
no big change since the IMF s
December visit. Then, the
Finance Minister Chris Sinckler
announced drastic action---2,000
layoffs in the public sector by
January 15, and another 1,000 in
We are well into February. A
few hundred, mostly low-paid
temporary staff, have been laid
off. The headlines and the pain
are there---but there is no evi-
dence of a clear plan.
Tourist arrivals for 2013 were
down more than five per cent.
The problem is not just one
year s arrivals. The tourist econo-
my has long-term problems.
Since the early 1980s, the num-
ber of hotel rooms has shrunk by
20 per cent.
St Lucia has almost four times
as many hotel rooms as it did in
1980. Jamaica has three times as
many. Cuba has multiplied its
room stock by almost eight.
Port-of-Spain has built the
Hyatt, Marriott and Carlton
In December, Barbados report-
edly borrowed on commercial
markets. I have seen no official
announcement, but the talk is of
US$150 million in high-cost
cash, with a real interest rate
well over eight per cent. For junk
territory, that sounds likely. It
would buy a little time. For a
country in trouble, the cost of
time comes high.
It s not so long since Barbados
debt was investment grade.
The dread words "IMF in
town" set alarm bells ringing.
There are deep folk memories of
dire conditions imposed on
Jamaica and other borrowers in
the 1970s and 1980s. But an IMF
borrowing programme makes far
more sense than high-interest
When it lends, the IMF nego-
tiates conditions. There are fiscal
targets to cut government debt.
That makes sense. For a country
in real trouble, out-of-control
debt interest can gobble up half
the tax take. Public service
salaries may eat most of the rest,
leaving almost nothing for
health, roads or education.
Today, the IMF always includes
an emphasis on a social safety
net, with targeted assistance for
the poor and vulnerable.
Unwise commercial borrowing
can flag a warning to other
lenders. But IMF cash unlocks
additional funds. Other multilat-
erals are willing to step in when
an agreed programme is under
St Kitts-Nevis is near the end
of a three-year IMF programme.
Their politics is messy and the
murder rate distressing---but the
economy, at least, is on the
mend. The IMF ten days ago
reported "firm signs of a recov-
ery" in tourism, construction and
employment. The fiscal balance
has swung from a deficit of eight
surplus of 8.6 per cent last year.
There s an IMF warning,
though, about the Citizenship by
Investment programme, aka sale
of passports to foreigners:
inflows should be used prudently,
and must not "undermine the St
Kitts and Nevis brand."
Jamaica s current IMF pro-
gramme was approved on May 1
last year. Much of the news from
Kingston is dire, as always.
Tourist arrivals last year were
flat. The Jamaica dollar is down
13 per cent since January 2013.
Much of that has fed straight
through to consumer prices, with
salaries mostly frozen. Royal
Bank of Canada has just sold its
Jamaica operations. But the IMF
says performance is "on track,"
in spite of continuing risks. The
programme can "lay the founda-
tion for sustained economic
Even if he gets off from his
murder rap, Vybz Kartel won t be
singing about the joyous
Jamaican economy. But without
IMF support, things would be far
worse. Barbados may need to
bite the bullet.
BARBADOS AND IMF: IT'S BIG MONDAY
In the drive from Piarco air-
port, straight into the pall of
smoke hanging over the city,
I felt my heart sink. There was
news of murder---almost 50 in the
first month of 2014; of oil spills;
and now, of pollution that kept
children from school.
So this is what it was like---
truth wept like a wound, like the
sutured boil, seeping out like poi-
son, in slicks of oil hanging in the
bruised clouds like an ugly reali-
ty---outward manifestation of
inner rot that we ve been writing
about and writing about and
I ve seen enough slums juxta-
posed with obscene wealth---dia-
monds with slush across India---to
last a lifetime. In this latest trip to
India, in my eagerness to capture
the development---the seven-lane
highways that make you think of
LA, the new metros, the marble-
floored malls, the palace hotels,
the exquisite architecture---I ve
averted my eyes from the fact
that one third of the world s poor
live here still: 400 million (the
2010 World Bank figure) living in
the shadows of cities: Delhi,
Hyderabad, Bombay, Bangalore,
Bhopal, living below the poverty
line of US$1.25 a day, in slums.
I ve turned away from them, pre-
ferring to look at the middle class
in the world. But at least the
Indians are looking.
I was shocked at my own
mixed response on my arrival
back here in Trinidad. Yes, the
skies were bruised, but they had a
weeping beauty...this country, my
adopted home, with its unrivalled
complexity that hooks people. The
streets looked clean, the moun-
tains freshly washed, the strains
of steelpan, a kind of ethereal
We have all collectively averted
our eyes. It s been easy, with our
endless feasting. But while the
shadowy slums are being
addressed with poverty rates pre-
dicted to fall drastically across
India, like a nation in post-trau-
matic stress disorder, we are living
like the blind---unable to look any
The red lights were flashing
hard for a long time.
In this space in February 2010 I
reported on it. For the past three
years I have been editing a
Guardian Media Environmental
series and saw week after week
that the beverage bill promised
when the People s Partnership
came into power wasn t going to
happen. The larger business inter-
ests would take over.
We tried everything. I went into
the Beetham dump on a rainy day
and walked around with a cam-
eraman with rats around us.
I came out of there and after
speaking to dozens of environ-
"T&T is among the most pol-
luted small-island states in the
world. We dump more than 50
million plastic bottles in our
dumps and one million glass bot-
tles every month. Plastic, when
exposed to heat, creates among
the deadliest toxins known to
man. This is what we are breath-
ing every day. When these bottles
are exposed to heat, they produce
among the most toxic substances
that exist. Doctors suspect it is
related to rising rates of cancer.
"We do not recycle e-waste---
computers when damaged or dis-
mantled produce hazardous toxins.
A tiny island state like Barbados
recycles over 70 per cent of its
waste, while we recycle next to
"Two of our dumps are over-
flowing and need to be shut down
as they are polluting our water
table and contributing to serious
The smoke was a long time
coming. It happened when we
were not looking. Instead of deal-
ing with the Beverage Containers
Bill, with recycling, with toxic
waste, police shot a scavenger
(who is more civilised than the
rest of us because he recycles) in
the leg, triggering protest and fires
in the dump (not a landfill),
bringing forth this vague platitude
from Minister Bhoe Tewarie as if
from a parent to an uncompre-
hending child: "There are ways of
dealing with garbage that would
also take into account those who
are now making a livelihood or
eking out a living from it. We
could manage this in a more
Yes: like finally dealing with the
Beverage Containers Bill. Like not
being afraid of big business inter-
In this space, too, I wrote of the
lack of enforcement and the
opacity with which oil and gas
companies in Point Lisas were
"allowed" to operate by the Envi-
ronmental Management Authority.
I suspect the companies were
doing the dictating. Big money
talks like nothing else.
We reported on claims that
street people living around the
estate were getting cancer, that
fish around the waters where toxic
waste is regularly dumped were
It happened again when we
were not looking.
So there was an oil spill, not
one but 11 between December 17
and 19, polluting miles of beaches
along Trinidad s south-western
Jamaludin Khan, vice president
of exploration and production for
Petrotrin, was, amazingly, also
platitudinous; he spoke like one
would about a blind faith in a
God about whom one is unsure:
"Hopefully this will never happen
in our industry again. In our
industry one spill is one too
There was supposed to be a
payout to "fisherfolk" and area
residents of about $5 million: a
drop in the bucket compared to
the money we know is at stake.
Monitoring Point Lisas would cost
far more in the short term, too. A
few choice people and corpora-
tions would lose too much.
We have no faith that it will be
monitored. There will be more
spills. You read it here.
The cloud hung over us like a
battered reminder that this time
we have to look.
WE'RE LIVING LIKE THE BLIND
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