POWAline: A kind of ‘sport utility’ debacle

We’re not sure how many people were aware, but recently a major commercial bank dropped the interest rate paid on savings to 0.75 per cent. That is how liquid it had become.

This reality came to mind as the complaint de jour raged about government’s proposed sale of the majority of its shares in the local golf course. We couldn’t help but wonder – without taking sides – exactly whose money is choking that bank and creating a surfeit of savings in others, and why so many of those who were born here, and others who make a pretty comfortable living here, are so reluctant to invest their money right here.

And since we are so loath to part with our money – even for the purpose of investment on which we stand to make a healthy return – then who can blame “outsiders” for sensing an opportunity and capitalising on it?

As we have opined before, we are a strange – and maybe schizophrenic – people, living in strange times. On one hand, we are so poor that we need a poorer government to step in and wipe out the debts that we ran up at the even-poorer utility company, and to reduce from one dollar to nothing at all what poor parents pay for a school meal.

And, on the other hand, we are so rich – or poor-boast, maybe – that we want to lean back in our recliners and tot up the figures in the credit column of our bank statements and call ourselves middle and upper-middle class folks in a middle-income country.
We can’t have it both ways, People.

In the new dispensation, after June 12 – and it will be new, because however it turns out, we cannot go back to our old ways – we will have to begin behaving like the adults the Constitution assumes we are when we reach the voting age. We, for one, are tired of hearing complaints about the need for investment – particularly “direct foreign investment” – and then, two minutes after a potential venture is announced, hearing the cries of “Fowl!” if it is a poultry project, say, and “Foul!” if it is anything else.

In the real world, of real economics, it is understood that, in order to grasp something, you need at least one hand open to grab it. First, it is not possible to take hold of anything if your hands are perpetually balled into fists; and, more important, if your hands are already full, then it is necessary to lay down what you are holding in order to take up the other object. We have not understood, or appreciated, these truths, however; and even those who know them to be self-evident would rather play politics than educate those who do not.

So, here we are in Antigua & Barbuda, unwilling to part with any money that we own, but wanting from the government all the things, the services, and the development that money can buy. At the same time, other than Crown lands, government has no other significant resources to speak of, and, hence, not much else to stake or to trade in order to satisfy the populace and the electorate.

Instead of leveraging those, however, we, the people, continue to bawl out at every perceived shadow, taking it to be a man, and, worse, a man with a gun, who has come to kill and to steal and to destroy.

Because of this national obsession with land at any sacrifice, many times we are not willing even to hear the two sides of a proposition, and we suspect and accuse the negotiators, without proof or discretion, of land-grabs, thieving, fraud, and all kinds of deception.

Sure, we can understand the need for careful consideration, for weighing and re-weighing, and for measuring twice and thrice before making any final, irrevocable cut. After all, this country has been burned, not once and not twice, by speculators posing as investors, when, in fact, we, ourselves, had more money stashed in the banks than they could ever hope to raise through any line of credit.

Still, we cannot imagine what life here would be like, if someone, at some time, had not done his due diligence and given the go-ahead, investing Crown lands and, of course, granting some concessions, in the interest of the people. And, to our way of thinking, if a company that builds houses has the material and financial wherewithal to establish a high-end hotel to complement its development of the golf course and what, truly, is a shabby physical facility, what, then, is the big objection?

It has already been proven that it is the higher-end properties – and not the hamburger-and-a-Coke joints – that are most recession proof. Hence, if it is deemed to be a good investment, reinforced by a water-tight performance clause, we see the project as something to welcome. For, as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is given to saying, “Gravel can’t travel.”

… In the usual fashion, we will, of course, hear a lot of breast-beating and claims of being hard-done-by from those who are members of the club; but let us be honest here: Golf is not, and never has been, either a national pastime or the occupation of the masses. Not in Antigua & Barbuda, nor in any place in the world.

This game, while it has made some efforts at outreach into the communities in which it flourishes, has traditionally been the sport of the rich and famous and, more recently, of the ambitious and the middle class – who, as we intimated earlier, are usually more invested in saving than in investing in local projects, anyway.

But whereas golf is a sport and politics, some say, is a game, this thing called life is about sometimes harsh realities. Hence, in this hyped-up political season, we need to sift and sort out what we really want – economic expansion, employment, and development opportunities that will allow us to become the self-determining adults we ought to be? Or to remain like children, hanging onto our toys with both hands and chanting, “Mine, mine, mine,” while our utility arrears, miraculously, are made to disappear?


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