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#BTColumn – Of corned beef and biscuits

by Barbados Today Traffic
6 min read

The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by Neil Marshall

It was with a sense of amazement that I read in the Barbados TODAY online newspaper of 30 October, 2021, the story under the caption, “School clothing makers happy about Government deal to buy stock”.

According to that report the Mia Mottley administration has proposed to “step in and buy 70 per cent” of the stock of those business entities involved in the manufacturing and retailing of school uniforms by taking that percentage of the uniforms that are available on the island.

The only obligation of the manufacturers and retailers in this agreement is a commitment to the carrying out of certain transformations within their operations and the retooling and retraining of their workers.

The idea apparently came about after the manufacturers and retailers complained that they were collectively left with millions of dollars in uniforms due to no face-to-face classes taking place.

One may ask, why am I so amazed? I am amazed for two reasons. First, it is a fact that since the switch to an online teaching platform, thousands of our children have been left standing in the lurch with inadequate or no devices, unreliable or no internet connectivity, and outdated or no textbooks, and yet, the administration can find the financial resources to purchase as much as 70 per cent of the stock of uniform manufacturers and retailers while this country’s future are left to scramble and make do with whatever resources their parents can muster to facilitate their education.

May I remind the Mia Mottley administration that uniforms are a dispensable aspect of our educational system in the current environment of online teaching.

What the children of Barbados need and need right now are quality adequate electronic devices and proper internet infrastructure in their homes or neighbourhoods that would enable them to participate fully in their online classes.

These are the real complaints of parents, teachers and children and they need to be addressed. The money spent to “compensate”, “relieve”, “ease” the manufacturers and retailers can be best spent on ensuring that our children are given a fighting chance in this new and challenging environment of learning.

Teachers have selflessly utilised their own personal resources in ensuring that their charges where possible are provided with the best education that they can deliver through this medium and are no doubt hopeful that whenever that time comes to return to in person instruction that the school plant is in fit condition for them to carry-out their task.

There is no doubt that many school plants that were bordering on dereliction prior to this pandemic, two years later remain in such a state but yet the government can find it convenient to provide taxpayers money to prop up the manufacturers and retailers of school uniforms.

The second factor leading to my amazement is the fact that this global pandemic has now been with us for almost two years and government is now not only being asked to provide relief in the form of purchasing stock from entities that made either poor business decisions or took risky decisions in the face of this pandemic but that the government is actually entertaining of such a proposal.

One wonders who these manufacturers and retailers really are, since only one Eddy Abed of Abeds was prepared to comment on the proposal. If my instincts are correct, we are not talking about Ms. Clarke the seamstress from down the road who manufacturers, school uniforms or Joe the tailor from next door who does the same with school pants, neither are we speaking of the little one-door shops that may purchase ten khaki shirts and ten khaki pants for resale, because the manufactures have also ensured they are also the retailers as well.

We are speaking of the big entities, the ones who often boast of years of business acumen and knowledge and are held up as titans of entrepreneurial spirit and whose companies have been in existence for two generations.

These are the persons who will be the beneficiaries of the largesse provided by the taxpayers of Barbados.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that I have no problem in principle with the state stepping in to lend assistance to entities that may find themselves in challenging situations.

Indeed, in developing economies like ours, the view has often been that the state should lead the way in creation of new industries and providing developmental capital to industries where private capital is unprepared to take the risk but where industry is vital to the well-being of the state or is critical to the very existence of the state. The too big to be allowed to fail argument.

The tourism industry and the sugar industry are two such industries where the cost of collapse of these industries and the collateral damage to other sub-industries and employment would be too catastrophic for the economy to bear.

The University of the West Indies offers a BSc degree in Management (Entrepreneurship) of which one of the courses is titled MGMT2224 – Introduction to Entrepreneurship.

It is hoped that the graduates of that course do not leave with the belief that in their business adventures that taxpayers’ largesse through Prime Ministers is an adequate solution to making unsound business decisions and the inherent risk-taking involved in business.

hope that they learn about things such as product diversification, market diversification market trends, retained earnings, forecasting skills etc, and not be “earning” their keep by lucrative Government contracts and captive markets that through high import taxes exclude competition.

Let me put it bluntly for those manufactures and retailers of school uniforms, you like all good businessmen and entrepreneurs are risk-takers, gamblers.

Two years into this pandemic environment and all the uncertainty that it entails you took a gamble of which the payout would have probably been fantastic.

Given the length of this pandemic no student can wear last term’s uniform. They can’t fit and it is new uniforms for everyone!

Your business risk did not pay off, and the same way that the taxpayers didn’t ask for a share of your profits they do not now ask for the burden of your losses.

I wish to remind the honourable Prime Minister that the small entrepreneurial shopkeepers of the constituency of St. Philip South are still waiting for the much-touted financial assistance that was to be given to them at the beginning of this pandemic.

Alternatively, you are welcomed to buy-out whatever stock of corned beef and biscuits they have for your up-coming election because like the uniform manufactures and retailers they didn’t diversify and sell cheese, or bread, or flour, or milk or rum because even if they did the non-existent sales brought on by the hardship imposed on customers by the pandemic have left them on their hands.

Neil Marshall is an attorney-at-law and the Democratic Labour Party candidate for the constituency of St. Philip South.

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