Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has dismissed suggestions his Government used “feel good” stories and tricked Barbadians into returning it to office only to unleash $436 million in austerity measures on them this week.
Nothing could be further from the truth, the Democratic Labour Party leader said last night in the House of Assembly as debate concluded on the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals.
“We have been accused of going to the people of Barbados and saying that all was well, that is not true,” the St. Michael South MP told the Lower Chamber.
Stuart said “this idea that the DLP deceived the people, that we were telling the people one thing before the election and now we are coming to say something else cannot stand the test of public scrutiny, it certainly cannot stand up to the truth of the situation because the facts say otherwise”.
“I was speaking at constituency conferences of the Democratic Labour Party from 2009, I believe my predecessor … spoke at … four at most before he fell ill. I spoke at all the others and at every single constituency conference that I addressed I made clear that we were in the most serious downturn the world had seen in nearly a hundred years, that we had to be very careful,” he recounted.
“In the Harrison College school hall I began to tell people that we have to distinguish between wants and needs and we have to be prudent because we were going through a very difficult period and nobody could say with any certainty how long it would last or what would be its ultimate depth.
“I said so and that was the position I took consistently, it was the position that members of this government took consistently in all our public pronouncements. Nobody said that we were living in any Panglossian world, that all was well, all was sweetness and light.”
The Prime Minister said it would have been “absurd for us to walk around saying that all was well when the evidence available to households and to businesses was telling them something else”.
“But we embarked on a policy position, the object of which was to keep some spending in the economy and we could only do that by keeping people employed and that is what we did for practically the full duration of this crisis,” he said.
Stuart said two months after the general election his administration had to change course when the Central Bank advised it of a $300 million loss in foreign reserves, and hence the immediate need for a new fiscal consolidation programme worth more than $400 million.
“Our most serious challenges took shape, on the advice we got, just after April 2013 and that is the point at which we were told, and since the advice made sense we took the advice, … that we had to take stock and to take corrective action so that we did not allow the national economy to be structurally undermined, therefore exposing households and businesses to unnecessary risk,” he stated.
Stuart said Government’s focus was on the fiscal deficit, debt, and ensuring there was an adequate supply of foreign reserves.”
“So we have been trying to deal with our debt problems, our deficit problems and our foreign reserves issues, that is what this Budget is about,” he noted.
“We did not take the advice we were being given about fiscal expansion with any stimulus package or anything like that when we were being advised.”
What Government had done instead prior to being elected to a second term was focus on keeping Barbadians employed.
“And the policy was that we were going to keep people employed in the public service. We made attempts to protect jobs in the private sector as well by extending the hand of fellowship and cooperation to the private sector, making certain National Insurance concessions and that kind of thing and also we extended the payment period, for persons who lost their jobs, from 26 weeks to 40 weeks until actuarial advice suggested to us that we could not carry it beyond 40 weeks,” he pointed out.
Stuart said Government would pursue its fiscal consolidation plan in a responsible manner, while ensuring the economy grew again. (SC)