Government’s revenue reduction train has left the station on what promises to be an island-wide tour. We don’t know where driver Chris Sinckler, the Minister of Finance will end up, but if the pronouncements of railway manager Dr. DeLisle Worrell [Central Bank Governor] are anything to go by, the number of passengers left by the wayside will be significant.
Worrell said yesterday to the Press that it is better for the country to take the bitter medicine now, and he may be right, but our question is: Who is preparing the country for the medicine?
After months of waffling by those in charge, Barbadians now know for sure they are about to bite the “bullet”. In August when Sinckler delivers his Budget they will know for sure if they are taking a .22 round in the mouth or if they will have to deal with a high velocity, hollow-point that will explode on impact.
We don’t advocate violence! In fact, we sincerely pray that Barbadians will deal maturely with whatever comes their way and that while it may be natural to lash out at those they deem responsible, at this time the country would be better served by concentrating national energy on survival rather than recrimination.
The time for that will come later, for sure!
But how does an individual or a country prepare for hardships when all they can do is speculate on the route Government will take. First we can all accept that cutting $400 million or $450 million from a budget the size of Barbados is no small matter. You can’t save $400 million by sending home a dozen workers from the National Conservation Commission or the Ministry of Transport and Works — not given the size of their pay packs.
So if it is Government’s intent to depend heavily on its emolument votes to achieve this cut, then a significant number of public servants will cry.
If, on the other hand services provided by Government are intended as the primary targets, even more Barbadians may find themselves crying because, how ever you spread it, cutting almost half a billion dollars from health, education, transportation, welfare or wherever can’t be done with drawing blood.
That’s the reality! What about the reaction?
We suggest even now that churches, civic organizations, fraternity groups, professional gatherings should start now, if they have not already, talking to members and associates about coping in such strained circumstances. We believe this is absolutely necessary because these cuts are not coming at the beginning of a recession, but more than six years into tough times when most people’s savings would have been already severely eroded, if not depleted.
Perhaps church leaders will have to be less demanding on members about tithes. While we would not dare suggest they place less emphasis on saving souls, they may have to place greater emphasis on saving bodies and minds. Maybe our psychiatrists and psychologists should be asking for newspaper space and radio and television time for some civic minded articles and sessions aimed at helping Barbadians cope with the stress that will follow.
It’s okay to say take the medicine now, but that taste may be so bitter for some that they may see suicide as the only viable option.
Now might be the time for the Barbados Agricultural Society, the agro-chemical companies and the nurseries that retail plant seedlings to come together and produce some weekly articles for Barbadians on how to feed themselves from a backyard plot.
Parliament may want as a priority to deal with the issue of legislation promoting reverse mortgages as a means of senior Barbadians obtaining some much needed cash to maintain a decent standard of living.
Public sector cuts will automatically translate into business decline for the private sector. This will invariably lead to further job cuts. Based on the experience of the first half of the 1990s, we suggest that by now the banking community on its own, or with the input of Government, ought to be discussing how it will deal with the issue of mortgage defaulters. It certainly will not be in the interest of the homeowner or the mortgage company to be faced with multiple foreclosures.
So advising Bajans to take the medicine now is one thing — helping them to deal with the side effects is another. Medicine to eliminate the effect of arthritis is fine, but when blurred vision, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased heart rate, dizziness, stroke and trouble sleeping are the possible side effects, the patients may consider living with the original complaint worthwhile.