There has been a lot of China Bashing lately, and now even St. Kitts-Nevis is getting in on the act. The St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce has gone on the offensive appearing to bat for the small local business. Certain pundits have chimed in citing the extraordinary levels of support given to these businesses from mainland China.
I however, believe that this is a distraction and there are significant issues at play which need to be addressed. However, it should go without saying that these issues are not only difficult and unpopular but also strike at the very core of a small community.
I am reminded of a Kittitian friend who told me that when he and his wife were buying their home in England the neighbours organised a petition to try to prevent a black couple moving into the neighbourhood. St. Kitts-Nevis with a population of some 50,000 people is no different to any small insular backwater village where everyone knows everybody (and their business) in any large country, fearful of strangers and change. Especially, if those strangers seem to have some sort of advantage.
Before the Chinese came it was the Guyanese and Santo Domingans, so where’s the beef?
It’s often joked that there was greater freedom of movement under British Colonialism and in the absence of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the OECS and seemingly every other regional entity devised to “facilitate” or simplify the movement of people and goods. The sad and very sobering thing is that while it may be said as a joke, it is also very true.
Last week, the debate about work permits, protection for local businesses and the Asian invasion raged on with members of Parliament and the Premier of Nevis no less weighing in on the matter. Additionally, an eloquent legal luminary and commentator cited the Federation’s poor productivity as a major cause for concern. The week however, ended with a couple of news items which to me should put the matter of immigration to bed, while opening up another huge can of worms.
Robert Gregory – Independent Professional Training & Coaching Professional, and past Executive Director at The Heart Trust National Training Agency in Jamaica – facilitated a workshop on the topic of Competence, and the role of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET). He summed up the very real concern of employers seemingly the world over, pertaining to the challenge of educational establishments churning out highly qualified but functionally incompetent graduates. I will expand on this in a follow up article.
Days later, a representative from the local brewery lamented that they were unable to fill positions for their labs and production division from the national or OECS sub-regional talent pool! This damning indictment of our education and training system also pours icy cold water on any argument for labour protection.
All these issues are related and combine to bring us to the troubling situation in which we find ourselves. One doesn’t need to be competent, because my family knows the minister (and not necessarily the religious type) or someone who can open some doors for me. I don’t need to be productive on the job because the boss didn’t really hire me, or doesn’t want to upset the relationship he has with who ever got me the job, and so the race to the bottom continues.
Therefore, those who are truly competent, productive and professional in their sphere of expertise, are often marginalised and hamstrung by the majority who are naturally challenged by anyone who comes along that is willing and able to work, and work hard.
So before we continue this pointless excercise of blaming the Chinese or anyone else for our plight and crying for protection perhaps we need to get our house in order!