by Peter Gernert
We have sold our home and will leave Grenada in a few days. So, it is time to say, “goodbye”.
I thank many of you for your friendship, the time we spent together and many inspiring discussions. I am also thankful for help received so often to solve problems and overcome obstacles.
We came to the Caribbean in 2001/2002 onboard our sailing yacht “Seven Seas” as a stop-over on our six-year circumnavigation. We looked out for a nice place in the sun from the BVIs to Grenada and purchased land in Egmont. After completing our long-distance sailing, we came back and built the house.
Once we had settled down, I closely watched and analysed the situation. The problem areas were evident, could be defined and quantified. However, I did not see actions to solve them despite well-formulated strategy papers generated in abundance.
I had the illusion that with my long and broad business-experience, I could be of assistance to help improve the economic situation of the nation. What a misjudgment!
During these 10+ years, many countries, many hundreds of millions of people made substantial economic progress. The number of countries with consecutive 6+ % year-on-year growth rates is impressive. The people of these countries are feeling they are better off than years before. Some are in the same 12° N climate zone as Grenada is.
Not so in Grenada (and the entire Caribbean). At least I do not see it. Backbones for economic development are in the same desolate condition, or even worse.
Roads are as bad as 10 years ago, or worse. The number of accidents is rising. Some blue-eyed people say the increased number of cars on the road is an indication of increased wealth. I doubt it. I believe it is only the mirror image of demographics. Those directly imported secondhand cars are mostly not properly maintained because of lack of funds; not an indication of increased wealth.
Just about everything falling under ICT is a disappointment and severely restricts economic development. The service level of the ICT providers does not nearly meet the international level. Do not even think of Industry 4.0. While other countries will develop and use it and achieve growth, Grenada does not have the infrastructure for it.
Electricity has become slightly more reliable over the years. Damaged equipment in my house due to voltage peaks is less frequent than before. Grenlec might have done even more, but I do not blame them. The company is bullied by the Government on a fabricated case. Every business-man or entity holds back with investment in such a hostile environment.
Banking services are a fundamental pillar of a well-functioning economy. What I see today is more or less what I have seen 10 years ago. This fact alone is a disaster. The same long lines at the counters. Banks seem to be proud of their basic eBanking solutions. I say, they should be ashamed. The way we do money transfers is decades back in comparison to up-to-date solutions. Local banks are stealing hours of our productive time every month. The government is lazily watching this.
Where local banks stand out, is in bureaucracy. The world’s banks follow FACTA rules, same rules for all countries. The way local banks handle these rules is in a massive exaggeration – again lowering productivity of the economy.
I am very concerned regarding the NIS, National Insurance Scheme. The yearly performance on the fund is average at best. The minimal opening to the international market and eg a minor investment in equity are too little too late. There is no Annual Report 2013 (and no Report 2017). A “combined” report 2013 and 2014 confirms indebtness of the Government year end 2015 (!) of EC$178 million equal 20% of the fund. What’s wrong with this organisation? It is outright dangerous to borrow entrusted money, future pension income, to a government with a Standard & Poors Rating SD, selective default with little prospect of recovery. I am shocked that a government has the impertinence to use the pension fund of its people as lender of last resort.
The health sector is in itself reason enough for us to leave the country. We are not the only ones. Many Grenadian Expats do not return after retirement because of this. I do not see improvement in healthcare for reasons, I think, I need not describe. Everybody knows them. It is tragic.
We brought in urgently needed medication at the height of the chikungunya epidemic. The value was around EC$250,000. All new material in its original packaging on pallets. When the PS saw a table and chairs in the container, she begged to get it for her own use. The Minister did not even give me a phone call to say thanks.
There have been other most unpleasant circumstances which caused us and other people to stop bringing and donating medical supply to the island. A long practice of frequent shipments with hospital equipment and medication came to an end because of the frustration caused by the ministry.
Tourism is a cluster risk. It is pushed far too much in comparison to other industry sectors. The level of hospitality would need significant improvement to match world class standard. Luckily flight times from and to the US are short enough to attract those guests. One tsunami or air plane accident can ruin the sector for years.
The GIDC, a substantial organisation, is here to help potential investors establish business activities in Grenada, but why is it not generating visible results? It is not because of the leadership of the GIDC. The problem is government ministries. They are marginalising and neglecting the GIDC. I presented a 40-page business case for a US$12 million investment in agriculture to the GIDC. It took them 6 weeks before the PS finally agreed to a meeting, and they failed to arrange a meeting with the minister.
In the same time frame the PM made fun of Grenada’s low rating in the Ease of Doing Business Index in his budget speech. The rating dropped even further the year after.
Unfortunately, the GCIC, Chamber of Industry and Commerce became unimportant over the last few years. What is left, is a relay station which sends out messages to inform of seminars etc, conducted by other people, and cricket games.
Those of you who know me well, are aware of many initiatives I took to bring some improvement. Let me mention only some few.
Just about every daily problem was blamed on “bad or a lack of attitude” in 2010/2011. Public and private sector people were of the same opinion, a major change was widely desired. I took the initiative after consulting the then PM and identified the most experienced consulting company for Change Management, BCG, The Boston Consulting Group. Their list of successful worldwide reference projects was impressive.
Thanks to my efforts their Number One, Practices Leader for Change Management came to Grenada to do a in depth survey over several weeks and submitted a proposal in October 2011. I convinced them to do it free of charge and they also paid for their flight tickets. The then Government did not even seriously look into the proposal. I am of the firm opinion this neglect was a capital mistake. The underlying problem is still the same today and will be tomorrow.
Several success factors are needed to allow the private sector to flourish and grow.
I mentioned the deficient quality of infrastructure before, a serious obstacle. Another one is the exact business environment, especially to attract new companies. To define specialised economic zones is a worldwide, well established practice for this purpose. I visited as invited guest over 100 companies in Special Economic Zones in various countries. They are tailor made to specific requirements.
In a detailed paper I described how a Special Zone could look like in Grenada. The idea was discussed in several meetings with the PS and staff in the Ministry of Finance. Some months later I have seen the law as approved by the Parliament. The wording could not be more stupid. The people writing the law had no clue of the matter. I was never consulted by them. Needless to say, the Special Zone never came to life.
The biggest failure was my attempt to put abandoned cocoa land into use again. My partner was a highly reputable biologist with an exceptional track record of successful international projects in agriculture. Various meetings with ministers had all the same nature: They were late, and even though they already had documentation they attended unprepared. They did not display interest, made no clear statements and said goodbye with lip service or even less.
After 2 ½ years into our effort the PS proposed a MoU, Memorandum of Understanding, which we signed. Since this day, the PS has not accepted any of my phone calls nor answered any of my emails.
Grenada is the only country of the world with a monopoly situation for the export of cocoa and nutmeg. All other cocoa or nutmeg growing countries have liberalised since long and prospered. The quantity of cocoa here is about 1/5 of what is was (years before Ivan). The quality is questionable. I took samples given to me by the GCA to chocolate manufacturers for quality analysis. They failed in both cases. In the meantime, prices paid to the farmers have been reduced and witches broom is spreading on the island. Farmers are complaining and missing support. This very association refused to give us a licence to let us operate as a company, grow cocoa on abandoned unused land and employ estimated 300 people in permanent jobs.
The chairman of the GCA, a pastor, sat with me at a table, looked into my eyes and said, “Peter, by my reputation, you will get the licence”. The next thing he did, was to sign a harsh letter stating the association’s legal position to be the only organisation exporting cocoa. The victims are the farmers and many unemployed people who could have a job and secure income since long. The jobs are now in Guatemala.
Why is nobody upset in this country Grenada?
I am writing this history because it displays good real-life examples of why Grenada is stagnating or even more likely on a downward path. I am aware of published growth figures, those from the government and the lower ones from the IMF. Maybe they are even true. Fact is 90+ % of the people do not benefit. If there is some growth, it is concentrated in the South and for a few privileged people. The economy is significantly below its potential and neither diversified nor robust.
A government with a plan to bring the country forward looks and acts differently.
In summary, I gave up hope for better conditions in Grenada.
I have seen progress and positive development only in situations where we supported individuals directly. I am thankful for having met interesting people which became real friends. We had many good discussions while having dinner at our home. I started to learn golf in Grenada. I played with the same instructor/caddy/partner all the years. Thank you for the company and thanks to the Golf Club. Every Saturday afternoon brought a highlight: Hashing. Sincere thanks to all of the organisers. They do an amazing job in setting up the trails each and every Saturday. In case I will miss one thing, it will be the hashes.
In leaving I have no bad feelings because of all the disappointments. I wanted a place in warm climate and found it. Would I do it again? The answer is no.
If you, a recipient of this message visit my home country, let me know and we will meet. I will appreciate every email, no reason to lose contact.
I wish all of you all the best, the best possible in this real world.