We Mix Business with Pleasure.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday February 25, 2014 – I like to watch those drug ads on American TV in which the part at the end that starts with “Do not take such-and-such if you are, etc…” takes longer to recite than the part telling you about the benefits of the product at the beginning.

During this part of the ad you are warned of imminent serious side effects or even death from taking said drug if you happen to have any one of perhaps a dozen other ailments besides the one it is supposed to treat. But at the same time there are scenes of the happy patient enjoying a sunny life with his or her family, obviously not having any of the grim preconditions being read out as fast as possible by an anonymous voice.

I was reminded of these ads when reading the presentation to the Cabinet by Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick, the text of which was published recently in the NATION.

The symptoms were outlined: Patient Barbados broke, mired in debt, can’t pay bills. Diagnosis: It needs a lot of money fast.  Prescription: Swallow US$3 billion from the United Arab Emirates and wake up feeling a whole lot better in the morning.

The sunny life was depicted: Apparently nobody would have to go home, our debt service would be cut in half, and the “Dolittle” government of Freundel Stuart would be able to take its time looking at, and considering, and getting just right this or that long overdue law, one by one, to make our economy worked better as each sector was slowly, and with much respect for the dead, brought back to life.

Really, it seems to me that the Stuart administration’s legislation for restructuring the economy will be so finely-tuned and nuanced that, even if the relevant sector is beyond hope of saving by the time the laws are proclaimed, we will have to marvel at their polish and craftsmanship.

“Swallow US$3 billion from the United Arab Emirates and wake up feeling a whole lot better in the morning”

But while Dr. Estwick’s published speech painted an idyllic version of how we would create the “economic space” to give the government time to save the economy through such admirable if untimely measures, I don’t recall reading anything about any possible downside.

I had to try to create what it might sound like in my own rough-hewn imagination. “Do not take this loan if you do not wish to become a client state of foreign country; or if you do not wish to become the laughing stock of the global financial community, which will forever say that Barbados could not pay its bills in the real marketplace so had to sell its debt and maybe its freedom as a democratic nation to a desert kingdom desperately trying to convert its short-term supply of fossil fuel to other forms of long-term revenue-earners, like financial services.”

My imagination would not give me a break: “Do not take this loan if you want to continue to be seen as a serious country which took the right medicine, which all other countries in similar binds have to take in order to re-emerge once again into the bright sunlit uplands of economic freedom and progress.” (With apologies to Winston Churchill.)

Could this figment of my imagination really have no real-life counterpart that we will come to learn of should we take the easy road to Abu Dhabi? If you were going to lend money out wouldn’t you want collateral? And what if, God forbid, we continued to spiral downwards, not due to anything the Stuart administration’s financial geniuses might have done – because, as you know, none of this is their fault – but because the cruel system just wouldn’t give us a break?

At what point would Abu Dhabi have to seek to seize that collateral? And what would it be?

Free berths forever for their mega-yachts in the new marina? Economic citizenship for whomever they designated? All the assets of the government, including the airport and seaport, and the jewel in the crown, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation? (Okay, I jest.)

Finally, perhaps the greatest service the goodly doctor has done the country by promoting this loan from the UAE is that he has made the option of going to the IMF seem, by comparison, much more desirable. After all, we can curse and criticize our IMF money lenders as much as we want and pay no price other than financial, because we are dues-paying members of an organisation with transparent rules and regulations.

And, besides, the IMF could care less. Would we be able to say the same about Abu Dhabi?

This story was originally published in the Broad Street Journal.

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