He is the Minister of Commerce and Industry, but don’t think for one minute Donville Inniss is happy about the excessive spending spree and the high level of commerce associated with the Christmas holidays.
Inniss said he was concerned that with Christmas only a few days away, Barbadians were putting way too much emphasis on the commercial aspect of the season and too little focus on family.
His concerns came as financial institutions, including two of the island’s largest credit unions, reported high demand for loans, with debt consolidation, home improvement and travel topping the list of reasons why Barbadians are eagerly borrowing this Christmas season.
“It is still too much about commerce. It might sound strange coming from me as Minister of Commerce but I still feel that Barbadians have an opportunity to really focus on the family and Christ at Christmas time. I think we have become very commercial, not just in our thinking, but how we conduct ourselves,” Inniss said.
Amid the hustle and the bustle of the holiday season, the sprucing up of homes and heavy merchandizing, the minister expressed astonishment at Barbadians’ priorities at this time.
“I am amazed that in this society today at Christmas time we have people who worry about whether they will get their cases of champagne in the island on time and there are others who are wishing that their ham bone will last until Boxing Day so they can boil a good ham bone soup. That is the disparity we have to face in Barbados today,” he lamented.
Inniss urged Barbadians to make their celebrations about the birth of Jesus, and to focus on helping others who are less fortunate, instead of concentration on “pretty lights, ham and turkey”. And as a Christmas wish, he asked those who can afford to share with those who have little.
“But don’t just give food and drinks and toys. Give a hearing. At least sit and listen to some people who have trials and tribulations. As we go about celebrating Christmas with all the glitz and glamour we face the reality where there are several who will have a challenge in getting a sumptuous meal on Christmas Day,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The minister also spoke of his concern that some people might not have roofs over their heads and of his priority in his constituency to keep families together and to make people “genuinely happy” and meaningful contributors to the economy.
A check with financial institution, revealed that the demand for loans remained high, but while the banking institutions were willing to lend, officials said they remained vigilant in order to avoid rising delinquency in the New Year.
General Manager of the Barbados Workers Union Co-operative Credit Union Ltd (BWUCCU) Corrine Clarke told Barbados TODAY there has been a 20 per cent increase in demand for loans, with the majority of members requesting $10,000 or less.
“We have seen some more like $15,000 for home improvements but generally $10,000, that is for the Christmas and the travel,” said Clarke.
“It is the season so the purpose that we have seen would be personal lending for home improvements; sprucing up the house. We have seen a lot of travel. We have seen Christmas spending, credit card debt consolidation. That are the types of purposes you are seeing over the period,” reported Clarke.
She said although the demand was high that did not mean BWUCCU was “just granting or approving loans”.
“We are being quite stringent and prudent with our approvals so that next year we are not faced with high delinquencies,” she said.
Republic Bank (Barbados) Limited has been promoting a Make It Happen Loan since October.
A bank representative said the demand was initially slow but picked up in December, with members requesting financing for debt consolidation and home repairs.
“So we are seeing more things happening in December as the campaign nears an end. More people are coming in at the end of the year as opposed to earlier on,” he explained.
Chief Executive Officer of the City of Bridgetown Credit Union Ltd (COB) Steve Belle told Barbados TODAY it was too early to say how many people had taken loans or how much was involved, but “this year we have done well”.
He said there was demand for funds for home repairs but little consumerism.
“We are seeing members coming and taking out loans for very productive purposes whether it be to fix up their house but not anything that you could say is indulging in major consumerism. It is more in terms of people spending money to fix up their houses and that kind of stuff,” explained Belle.
Meantime, President of the Barbados Bankers’ Association Glyne Harrison agreed that Barbadians have been exercising their spending ability this Christmas season, but the level of spending still lagged that of the pre-recession years.
Harrison, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of First Citizens Bank (Barbados) Ltd, said there was a greater demand for unsecured loans.
“I would say there is a high level of consumerism in Barbados to the extent that persons still consider some of the things that we considered sort of not necessary, that they are highly favoured in Barbados. So the things like the new furniture and these types of things people still have attached a traditional and sentimental value to those. So even though you may be able to forego it and continue for a while Barbadians still have that built into them that after a while it is time to change out.
“So yes people are spending and while it is not as high as it used to be before we went though the [economic] downturn, you can definitely see there are signals that people are starting to come back out and trying to get some degree of comfort around themselves even if just for the short space of time during the season,” Harrison said.