By Peter Webster
“Harbouring resentment, anger and hate is like taking a poison with the expectation that it will hurt your enemy” – Nelson Mandela
“The word silo originally referred to storage containers for grain or missiles, but it is now used as a metaphor for separate entities” – Investopedia
“The provenance of something is the place that it comes from or that it originally came from” – Collins Dictionary
“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart” – St. Augustine
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” – Mathew 22:39
Two recent occurrences in Barbados (one relating to the sugar industry, the other a display of cruelty on a public beach) have been treated like silos separate from our society and out of context which have resulted in our failure to understand the actual causes.
The first was a consultancy which studied our sugar industry and recommended a way forward. The consultants reported among other things that: The current management of the industry was very poor; there was a need for a “best practices” manual; and that the industry should be privatised with a significant injection of capital.
It does not take a genius to examine the graph of Barbados sugar production over the years and conclude that something happened in 1971 that caused a precipitous decline in the industry. Such a decline had been forecast if the 1971 Sugar Industry Act was legislated. That Act, rooted in hate, was legislated anyway. The industry and its management were subsequently bankrupted costing the country: a billion dollars in foreign exchange earnings from dwindling sugar exports; plus another billion $ in subsidies by successive Governments, over the last 30 years, to prop up the industry while still leaving it bankrupt, so that the sugar workers would continue to have some employment.
Our sugar industry management prior to 1971 had been rated among the best in the World, like our cricketers, but it was destroyed (like our cricket) with no succession planning. For example, the consultants concluded that Barbados needed a “Best Practices” manual for the sugar cane growers. Whoever advised these consultants, did not even know that “Best Practices” in the industry had previously been documented on two separate occasions. Once, in 2007, by the Barbados Management Company itself and the other by the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture (BSTA). Those involved in the industry should join and participate in the BSTA as they would likely learn something.
In the meantime, current management of our industry is producing sugar at a cost in the region of $3,900.00 per ton and selling it at $1,500.00 per ton. The mind boggles! No wonder the industry is still bankrupt and only a fool (soon parted from his money) would invest in it.
A big part of the problem is that the industry has not been supported by any research in over 20 years. One of the key areas in the industry in need of such research is the financial feasibility of producing fancy molasses for our rum industry instead of sugar thereby adding to the rum’s provenance. Such a research project was articulated in detail four years ago by the BSTA. Note: the rum industry in Barbados currently utilizes in excess of 40,000 tons of molasses annually. However, there is no Research Committee probably because the funds allocated for that purpose (The Research Fund) which were supposed to be in the region of $60 million, cannot be found.
The importance of this is underscored by the fact that our neighbouring country of Grenada, not famous for its sugar industry, has just undertaken a major renovation and upgrade of its sugar cane mill to produce fancy molasses for its growing rum industry and its financially viable sugar cane industry. You will note that they are not wasting their resources producing sugar like their neighbours in Barbados.
Furthermore, it has taken foreign investors to demonstrate the value of “provenance” to the Barbadian rum industry, which in the past, has even imported rum and after blending, labelled it Barbados Rum. Our Government does not seem to really care one way or another, as long as it gets its onerous excise tax for every gallon of rum produced, while insisting that the local molasses is sold at a lower “Free on Board” (f.o.b.) price to these rum producers. The rum producers must pay a higher price including, “Cost, Insurance and Freight” (c.i.f.) for the imported molasses, the price differential of which is almost $150.00 per ton. In doing so, our Government has forced the bankrupt sugar industry, to essentially subsidise the rum industry.
I wonder how many will understand the value of the Barbados sugar cane and molasses to the “provenance” of Barbados rum and its ultimate market value.
The other occurrence was that of a man apparently drowning a dog in public view on a popular beach. Disgusting as that was, it is no big deal in our society which is steeped in resentment, anger and hate that is corroding our very psyche, the emotional flames of which are regularly fanned by our leaders for their personal political popularity and gain and to appease some of the main “haters” in the community.
Taken together with the stark indiscipline evidenced by: garbage strewn public places and countryside; the hoggish, lawlessness on our roads, including that of the bus culture, which we seem so proud of; the poor productivity of our civil servants; young men toting illegal guns and murdering each other (if only we could feel more sympathy for these dead, born and bred Barbadian youngsters, than was shown for the drowned dog); failure to account for millions in public funds; Political Independence without accountability; and many others; all paint the reality of Barbados, where the vast majority of people are good, but sheep lacking the intestinal fortitude to speak out and replace that resentment, anger and hate with love.
We regularly hear about the progress in Singapore. The difference there is the discipline that the vast majority of people in Singapore revel in, not because it is imposed, but because they welcome and embrace it for its benefits. In Barbados, too many of our people, sneer at such discipline because it is deemed “colonial”.
Then we have vested interests worrying about what our visitors will think. Our visitors are already asking questions about what is happening in Barbados. Most of them, who are not fools, will soon realise the cause and that their patronage is helping to prolong if not promote the hate filled status quo. Maybe if the visitors start staying away in increasing numbers our leaders will wake up and be finally forced to treat that cause! Unfortunately, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not see that connection either.
Even if we are not believers, Christ’s teachings about love and not hate are still the answer.
Round and round we go like water in a sink-hole vortex…
Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.