In yesterday’s Editorial we placed on record our position on public spending in relation to a questioned raised by an Opposition MP regarding money for the upkeep of Ilaro Court, the official residence of our Prime Minister.
Today, we return to the subject, but not in relation to Ilaro Court, and our aim is to invite discussion on the subject, not as a criticism to our leaders, but to allow John Public to share with those who govern our affairs what might be considered alternative views.
Our interest has been sparked by reporting in today’s edition of the Observer newspaper of Jamaica on the current five-day visit of that country’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to the People’s Republic of China.
For many of the years when the Owen Arthur-led Barbados Labour Party was in power, many citizens and the then Opposition Democratic Labour Party criticised the extent to which Arthur and members of his Cabinet travelled on “official” business. And there was hardly a shortage of state funds then.
Since the change of Government in 2008, the argument remained largely the same, just that the faces had changed. It was now the DLP being criticised, and members of the BLP and John Public were the ones expressing concern. Unfortunately, during this period we have had anything but a surplus of state funds.
It would therefore seem normal and prudent for the Prime Minister and members of Cabinet to rein in their foreign travel. After all, that’s what any sensible household would do in hard times. But, as a population, we have to be careful that we don’t tie the hands of our leaders with our protestations, forcing them to do things that when all things are considered, might not be in our best interest.
From an anecdotal perspective, it would appear that within the scheme of Caribbean politics and how we are viewed as a regional leader, Barbados is losing what once appeared to be a position of pre-eminence. At the same time the profiles of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago appear to be on the rise.
We believe that in tough times, such as we are now experiencing, while we should do nothing to waste scarce resources, our leaders still have to engage their counterparts around the world, in capitals other than Bridgetown, to ensure our image remains high.
At the same time, we still have to invite and entertain leaders who are in a position to contribute to the advancement of our country and our people — and to do so with a certain measure of panache.
We cannot take the narrow position that because, for example, some primary school needs a new lunchroom, it is wrong to spend our money on a visit by some foreign leader. We have to be strategic in our thinking: In Bajan parlance, throw out a sprat to catch a dolphin.
With all due respect to our neighbour to the north, Jamaica has been struggling with its fiscal problem much longer than we have, and what our people are experiencing is child’s play to what Jamaicans have endured for decades.
But only today the Observer reported that after a few days in Beijing, Simpson Miller has signed four agreements with the Chinese worth billions of dollars in loans and grants to facilitate infrastructural development.
Here’s a portion of what the Observer reported: “The signed agreements include a preferential loan deal with the China Exim Bank for the US$353-million three-year Major Infrastructure Development Programme, though it was not immediately clear how much funds will be disbursed.
There is also a100 million Renminibi Yuan ($1.6 billion) grant aid from China to Jamaica that will be used for projects to be mutually agreed upon through consultations between both countries. Detailed accounting procedures for the disbursement of funds will be handled between the Ministry of Finance and the China Development Bank.
China has also agreed to assist the Government of Jamaica in constructing the Tower Hill Infant School in Kingston and Morant Estate Infant School in St Thomas. The Chinese will be responsible for the design of the project, supplying the necessary machine and equipment, and dispatching the necessary number of Chinese technical personnel to Jamaica to organise construction.”
Goods and services that are not marketed don’t get sold and it is an accepted principal that the time when advertising is most necessary is when business is down. In case we have not noticed, business is down!