Date August 04, 2007
Barbados Farms In Spotlight
by Carmel Haynes
THE WILLIAMS BROTHERS, Sir Charles and Ralph “Bizzy”, are leading a takeover bid for Barbados’ single largest agricultural land-owning entity. They revealed yesterday at a Press conference at Hilton Barbados that they were seeking to transform the “rotting plum” that was Barbados Farms Ltd. into a profitable entity. Pointing out that the publicly owned agricultural body lost $873 824 last year, the Williamses promised to bring their experience to bear on transforming Barbados Farms in the same way they had improved the agricultural efficiency of Foursquare Estates Ltd. by 84 per cent since taking that entity over in 1997/1998.
It seems to BU that as General Elections draw closer, issues are being raised which appear to be consuming national interest. Whether it is the BS&T merger, the 50 Chinese who were found to be working illegally but given retroactive permission to remain in Barbados, or the latest issue of the Williams brothers Bizzy and Sir Charles’ attempt to take over Barbados Farms Ltd. The enormity of the transaction can be gauged after the realization that the total land area controlled by Barbados Farms is 4000 acres; in the context of Barbados we are talking 6.25 square miles. To assess the implication for Barbados of this transaction, we have to factor the lands already owned by Sir Cow which is estimated to be the equivalent to St. Philip and St. John combined.
We need to argue this latest issue in a dispassionate manner as the situation allows.
The acquisition of prime lands in Barbados by the Williams’ is being done in the absence of a visible land policy. We also have to factor that the concentration of such a large acreage in the hands of a few gives rise to “control” by a mercantile class reminiscent of colonial times. What does this behavior bode for the social cohesion of a small country already absorbed by the Trinidad domination of the commercial sector? Some social commentators, such as talk show host Tony Marshall believes that free enterprise should prevail. In this case, if the Williams’ have the money they should be allowed to purchase whatever assets are available, land included. At BU we find this position to be simplistic, and frankly we are stunned that someone of Tony Marshall’s experience would prostitute his views on such an important matter.
BU has been consistent on the issue of protecting “national assets”.
We have been consistent on the issue of calling for management of our country which will prevent a high concentration of ownership by a single interest group. We intend to use the same argument against 4000 acres of prime lands falling into the hands of the Williams’ brothers to add to what they already own. Land in Barbados must be immediately categorized as a “national asset” and transfer of ownership of any significance must be regulated. The finite nature of land in the context of a 21 x 14 land space we call Barbados does not make this an issue to be trivialized. It seems a common sense approach that any government should be reluctant to allow market forces to operate unhindered when social dysfunction is a real possibility. Barbadians have the prevailing concern of high land prices which makes land an emotional issue given the psyche of the Barbadian. The attempted take-over by the Williams’ given our social kaleidoscope is distasteful and disrespectful to Barbadians.
Who will determine the measure to be applied i.e. which transactions should be based solely on economic value and or public good?
It is times like now that we miss the politicians like Don Blackman, who despite his flaws has always been vocal on the social issues which impact the masses. Hamilton Lashley and Trevor Prescod pale in comparison given the track record of both to date. Any country which becomes so consumed with satisfying solely the economic needs and neglecting the social is leading Barbados down a wrong road. The LIAT issue is another example of successive governments failing to properly prioritize economic and public good issues. The consequence of it all is a CSME which is meant to facilitate free movement of people is now unachievable given the high cost of regional airfares. Yes Barney, we don’t believe you either!
The two said they were committed to keeping a percentage of the more than 4 000 acres owned by Barbados Farms in agriculture, but also intended to place a portion of the land into housing developments aimed at low-and-middle income owners. Sir Charles said they were prepared to sell house and land for a price between $120 000 to $200 000 at the lower income level, while the middle income housing could cost up to $500 000.
We find the above quote interesting because the ink has not yet dried on the deal and Sir Charles is promising that land currently used for agriculture will be converted to housing. BU wonder how Sir Charles could be so bold as to preempt the Town Planning process. Why is it that we feel this deal has the blessings of the powers that be! It is clear that the Owen Arthur administration is connected to an open door policy whether is has to do with immigration, land use or other policies.
God help us!
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