Situation Normal – All Fouled Up.

Last week, I visited the cargo port at Grantley Adams International Airport to receive computer equipment.  To clear it, I just had to pay $10.00 stamp duty.  As I reached for my wallet to pay, I heard those four familiar words that all Barbadians who interact with Government departments know all too well: “The system is down.”  Situation normal.

They explained that this would not stop me from receiving the equipment.  All I had to do was to travel to the Bridgetown Port, pay them the $10.00, return with the receipt, and collect my goods.  Polite inefficiency.

People all over the world pay money in exchange for products.  Neither: bad weather, epidemics, wars, nor famines can affect this type of commerce.  But in Barbados, we have our computer system that can frustrate all commercial activity.  This is a secret weapon that can end all wars, and we have tested it on ourselves for far too long.  Perhaps we should export it to warring nations.

How can a computer system prevent someone from recording the transaction in a receipt book, and then transferring this information to the computer when the system is back up?  Why is that so impossible for our Ministers to figure out?

Government inefficiency is the main cause of private sector unproductivity.  It is the extremely poor management of public services that makes Barbados a challenging place to do business.

For those who have been around for a while, we know the likely reason why the system is down.  It is the same reason why almost everything that the Government purchases must be very high-maintenance, very high-cost, and not fit for purpose.  It is the way of the corrupting no-bid contracts, which must go to favoured political supporters.

The normal way of ensuring quality, at an economical price, is through competitive tendering.  However, those who contribute to political campaigns are shielded from competing, and tend to be the least competent.   Since there is no competition, they can charge twice what it would normally cost to do the work.  This allows them to make more political contributions when called upon.  It also means higher taxes for us to pay them this ‘contribution’ – thanks Ministers.

When projects are given to those less-competent political supporters, we can expect that anything that they touch will be done poorly, and require excessive maintenance.  So we can expect the excuses that we are now accustomed, like: the system is down, schools openings are delayed, the department is closed for cleaning, busses and garbage trucks have broken down, the operating theatre is down, the equipment is not working, etc.

Barbados can be a challenging place to do business for those who do not participate in corruption.  To simply pay $10.00 to the Government of Barbados, I must stop working on my client’s projects for a relatively long period of time.

I hate corruption.  However, I understand how some people can be so frustrated by the unnecessary inefficiencies, that they can be tempted to pay a ‘tip’ just get to the next step of an inefficient process.

Barbados’ main problem is very poor management.  It has nothing to do with the amount of resources available.  Our political leaders simply do not manage public services well.  Therefore, we can bring in 300 buses and garbage trucks, and expect that most of them will soon stop working.

We can hire 10 new judges, and frustrate them in the same badly managed judicial system – so we can expect 10 times the number of adjournments and lost files.  We keep putting the cart before the horse.  Why not properly manage the resources that we have, and then determine whether we actually need any more resources?  Why is that so hard?  It is not.  But we must be made to think that it is.

Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados.  He can be reached at

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