I DON’T WANT to give anyone the impression that I have anything against the Arawak Cement Company or its principals, because I don’t, but I can’t help but declare that I have absolutely no sympathy for the organisation in its current battle with Rock Hard Cement.
My involvement with Arawak goes all the way back to the very beginning. I was a junior reporter at the time, and during its construction it was my beat. I was there for the ground-breaking.
I witnessed the introduction of a new method of pouring concrete to form the silos. I saw first-hand all the industrial unrest that occurred during construction and the rise of BIGWU (Barbados Industrial and General Workers’ Union) under Bobby Clarke. I was there for the visits by then Prime Minister Tom Adams and various Trinidad officials.
I am still very proud of the lifelong friendship I was able to build with, and the many things I have learnt from, then project manager Fred Broome-Webster – a gentleman and scholar until he left this earth.
But in my opinion, over the years Arawak has behaved like a neighbour you could do without – one whose presence brought some security, but at the end of each day when you reflected, you couldn’t help but wonder if you would not have been better off without him.
While I recognise the stabilising effect Arawak had on our construction sector at a time when we most needed it, and the positive impact on direct employment, quite frankly if Arawak is forced to close its manufacturing plant tomorrow, it would not bother me one bit.
Arawak’s survival for decades has been based on an artificial pricing structure that has been unfair to Barbadians, compelling us to pay significantly more for cement than was fair, and more than what our neighbours paid for the same product, from the same plant, manufactured by the same Barbadians.
Today Arawak Cement is retailing at almost one-third less than it was two weeks ago. Should Barbadians not be justified in believing Arawak has been taking advantage of us all these years? Look at all the commercial buildings, middle class homes, poor people’s ventures that we are all still paying through the teeth for that could have been built so much more cost-effectively.
The people of Barbados have long paid their debt to Arawak. We owe them nothing more and if there is a debt remaining right now, it is from Arawak to us.
I take it as an absolute insult the statement from Arawak’s general manager Rupert Greene over the weekend that they did not drop their price because of the arrival of Rock Hard Cement on the landscape. Apparently, they had always had a reduction in the pipeline. Maybe the price drop was in the pipeline for so long it turned rock hard and created a block.
Above average price
Hear the GM: “With the advent of certain investments, we recognised that our price was one that certainly, when compared with international or regional markets, would have been above (the average global price), and the commitment was given then that a key initiative was to realise a reduction in price, and to pass benefits on to our customers.”
It must be at least 15 years that we have been carrying stories from everyone – from construction magnate Sir Charles Williams to the weekend builder – complaining about Arawak’s price in Barbados compared with nearby St Lucia, for example, but never once did they respond with a decrease.
Now Mr Greene wants us to give Arawak credit for the $200 million in foreign exchange they supposedly brought to the island over the years. Let’s make a deal then, Mr Greene. We’ll acknowledge Arawak’s “good deed” if you return to Bajans all the money Arawak made all these years by charging us artificially high prices. How about that?
Sorry, Arawak and your parent Trinidad Cement Limited, but if I have to build even a pig pen tomorrow, I would opt for your competition’s product, if for no other reason than to make sure you are in no doubt about the fact that your consumers now have the power. In my book you are not too big to fail.