“Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” – Daniel 10:14

The Future Centre, under the aegis of Counterpart Caribbean, is being developed as an exhibition site to stimulate awareness of the need for holistic sustainable development in the spiritual, physical, economic, social and cultural life of Barbados and the Caribbean. One of our thematic thrusts at the Centre is to “educate our children, tourists and residents alike, to do the right things today so that we can preserve Planet Earth for our children and grandchildren”. If we do not get this message across and if the right things are not done in an holistic manner, we would have squandered the inheritance of future generations.

The Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry mounted a breakfast panel discussion last week on the topic “Who Controls the Economy of Barbados”. The discussion was very interesting and covered a wide range of issues ranging from the academic to the practicable.

The candidates for control were the government (politicians and civil servants), white business, black business or the people of Barbados. An argument seemed to be that the government controls the economy but the people choose the government, therefore the people are in control. However, the people’s choice of government at an election is influenced by the thrust and direction of the political campaign which is funded from business sources. We are well aware that he who pays the piper calls the tune and so a government, having been elected, is influenced by “pay back time” considerations. Maybe then it is the businesses, from which political campaign support is derived, which control the economy.

Historically, we have evolved from a fully developed slavery system where the white plantocracy ruled, politically and economically, the black man groveled and white indentured servants just survived. Then there were calls for the abolition of slavery and finally the freedom of slaves and indentured servants but the white plantocracy continued to rule. This was followed by a struggle for economic enfranchisement under white plantocracy rule. Finally, there was adult suffrage and then black political rule in a white economically controlled environment.

Then there was empowerment for the disadvantaged through an equal opportunity educational system and the descendents of the slaves and the indentured servants emerged as part of the business class. Economic enfranchisement continues to evolve for those who take advantage of the opportunities.

At the seminar there was much concern about black businesses and their access to finance to grow their businesses in a white controlled financial capital system. This was highlighted by an example where a black business had difficulty accessing funding but as soon as a white manger was put in charge of the black owned business the channels of the network were suddenly cleared, as in a cardiac by-pass operation, and this gave rise to the classical circular flow of money.

Much empathy was given to the point that, given a conservative banking system based on a tradition of doing business in a “buying and selling” environment, that a major constraint to the development of an emerging economic class of exporters was the lack of the timely access to appropriate finance.

It was agreed that we needed to develop a seed and venture capital fund to stimulate the growth of these emerging enterprises. However, the usual response from traditional financiers is that this is high risk activity and they did not want to blot their copy book of financial success by engaging in this type of financing.

There are two factors that need to be considered in response to this argument. The one is that the high risk can be mitigated if one realizes that the cause of business failure is directly linked to the management of the business. By management of the business I do not been the manager of the business, I mean access to management systems related to marketing, operations, administration, accounting, ICT, human resources, finance and governance. If all of these systems are well managed then we mitigate the risk of business failure and the investment is commensurately safer.

The other is that in a changing global environment these financial institutions had better look at sponsoring the development of emerging innovative enterprises if they want their own institution to survive in the future. The traditional business alone will not do it and, in any case there should be a social responsibility to develop the rate of growth in the country so that we can all be better off in the long run.

The population in Barbados is 3-4% white so as the struggle for economic enfranchisement continues, then inevitably the control will reflect the ethnic distribution of the population.

In any case, it is not so much who controls the economy, because there is not much we can do about the system of governance, but more importantly what is the vision for the future and how are we going to get there to ensure that the economy grows quickly and sustainably. Then and only then will the historically down trodden have a real chance of full socio-economic emancipation. There will be a future for all our people.