by Shawn Cumberbatch
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler reached into his Budget “lucky dip” and extracted a real dud.
That’s how strongly Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley feels about yesterday’s Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals, singling out Government’s decision to stop paying tuition fees for Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies as “the most backward policy by a Cabinet of Barbados since adult suffrage”.
And she calculated that the $140 million in cuts in the allocation to at last six statutory bodies, the $30 million reduction in money for temporary employees, $20 million decrease for acting allowances and substitutes, and likely shortened work weeks would result in job losses and reduced pay in the public sector.
In a more than three-hour presentation in the House of Assembly this evening, the Barbados Labour Party leader warned that with Government’s fiscal deficit already “hanging us” and expenditure “killing us”, the “blows” Sinckler inflicted would be felt by the entire population in the coming days and weeks.
“What has the Minister of Finance brought? A set of lucky dip measures,” she said.
“I asked myself whether this country recognises what lies before it because the truth is that many of the measures delivered in the three hours people felt pain, they knew they were hit but they were not sure of the severity of the blow or exactly where it is.
“Regrettably there were many Barbadians last night who understood that their dreams have been put to an end… Barbadians want to own a piece of land, a piece of the rock, Barbadians believe that their children must be educated even if they did not get the full benefit of that education, Barbadians believe in fairness, they believe sometimes in fighting for the underdog.
“So that what has been put at stake are a number of things. Our identify as Barbadians has been questioned and put at risk by the measures delivered by the minister of finance last night. And it was not only the removal of fees, the ultimate betrayal of not only his party but this country [by] a removal of free education at the university, but that this … constituted a lucky dip of measures,” she stated.
The St. Michael North East MP said by its inaction, inertia and incompetence the Freundel Stuart Administration approved plan outlined by Sinckler had betrayed Barbadians who returned the Government to office in February on the premise that the economy was “stable”.
“The Barbados Labour Party cannot support this Budget because we cannot give this Government what the people of Barbados haven’t given it, the people of Barbados haven’t given this Government approval for this budget,” the former Deputy Prime Minister asserted.
“Our perspective on this Budget is that this must not be passed and must not be inflicted on the people of Barbados because it would be equivalent not just to the great betrayal but to them being ambushed in the middle of the night.”
Mottley also said Government was hiding behind a false view that it had few choices and was being hemmed in by a continuing international recession.
“When we look at the Caribbean the country that will grow the least in 2013 in the entire Caribbean region is Barbados. So that they can find no company, as much as we know that they like to feel that misery loves company, in the recession with our major trading partners regionally and internationally,” she said.
“We hide behind this, this Government, as if we are now powerless and innocent victims, and rob this country of its spirit to fight as others have fought before against greater challenges and succeeded.
“We have a set of choices that have been put before us that we can only properly appreciate and decide as a people if we understand first and foremost what is at stake. Barbados as we know it is at stake, Barbadiana and Barbadianness as we know it is at stake, our DNA,” she warned.
Mottley said as a result of Sinckler’s Budget a large number of Barbadians would fall back into poverty, thousands of civil servants would be marginalised, and small businesses and vendors would “suffer from the contraction of disposable income that will result from the $150 million dollar increase in taxation and fees by stealth”.
Noting that members of the Government benches were laughing during her presentation, the BLP head said: “Laugh, but the people of Barbados will not laugh, the people of Barbados are crying and Mr. Speaker I hope I finish this speech without crying because I feel that the country that I have come to love and that I live in has now been put on the block.
And with Sinckler stating yesterday that his presentation was predicated largely on ensuring Barbados international reserves and hence the island’s exchange rate were maintained, the Opposition Leader said there was nothing he outlined that would satisfactorily resolve this challenge.
She also had a major problem with the minister saying there was a lack of confidence in the Barbados economy.
“The Minister of Finance in his three hours really did nothing to tell us how he would stop the immediate decline of those reserves, and his measures … all relate to initiatives that are either to take place a year hence, … nine months hence or the ones that are to take place next month require so many steps to execute them that they are unlikely to be execute in the time frame to stem the problem in relation to the reserves,” she said.
“He kept trying to say that the decline in reserves was as a result of something that happened after the election, he said it about three times. I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to distance himself from his comments about stability in the economy up to February and March of this year.
“In 1991 when I ran in an election the word then was not stable, it was that the economy was sound… We were told that there will be no layoffs of 4,500 people in the public service and that there would be no cuts, only to find that within nine months not only were there layoffs of almost 5,000 people but there was an eight per cent pay cut levelled across everybody.”
Mottley told local hoteliers too that they should not be jumping up and down with excitement about the measures for tourism, specifically a promise of $100 million in additional marketing and promotion funds for the Barbados Tourism Authority.
This she, said, was because the BTA owed clients almost $30 million and at the end of it all would still be operating with a reduced budget. email@example.com