The Peoples’ Empowerment Party has thrown its support behind the National Union of Public Workers as it grapples with rumours of the imminent retrenchment of as many as 3,000 public service employees.
However, party president, David Comissiong, has stressed that its position must not be taken to mean that it does not support the demand that Government must reduce its expenditure.
Comissiong said: “The party fully subscribes to the view that Government needs to bring its annual recurrent expenditures more in line with its annual revenue, and therefore needs to reduce its regular annual expenditure. In fact, it is PEP that has been in the forefront of urging such remedial action on the dithering and irresponsible Democratic Labour Party administration for several years now.
“We have urged this course of action not as a component of any deflationary austerity economic programme, but rather, as a necessary preliminary step in a programme of economic stimulus and development. As far as the party is concerned, the institution known as Government has to take the lead in piloting the country out of recession. But Government will not be in a position to provide such leadership if Government’s finances are in a state of disarray,” Comissiong added.
He argued that Government must take urgent steps to restructure and strengthen its own finances by establishing a more acceptable degree of balance between its regular annual expenditure and its regular annual income.
“While the PEP agrees that Government must reduce its annual expenditure, PEP does not believe that the correct way to do it is to dismiss public servants. Indeed, our basic political philosophy tells us that all members of the society are equal human beings with the same needs and rights to food, clothing, shelter and health care. So why should Barbados pursue a policy that jettisons members of the society and throws them on the dump-heap of unemployment?
“As far as PEP is concerned, if there are sacrifices to be made, let us all share in those sacrifices collectively, rather than placing them on the shoulders of one segment of the nation’s population,” Comissiong added.
Comissiong pointed out that it was against this background that PEP proposes a four point programme for reducing Government’s annual expenditure without there being any mass dismissal of public servants.
Comissiong advised the current administration to urgently undertake a rationalization and trimming of the structures of Government and a revamping of the work procedures and expenditure patterns of the civil service – but to do so with the full involvement and participation of the public service workers themselves and their trade unions.
He went on to say that the mass of workers in all the various departments of Government (along with their union representatives), and challenge them to devise concrete proposals for simplifying work procedures, amalgamating structures and programmes, cutting out wastage, reducing costs, and for identifying workers for whom early retirement might be a feasible option.
Comissiong stressed that any programme to rationalize and revamp the public service must begin with and be based on this type of worker and trade union participatory process.
Comissiong, who is an attorney-at-law said: “ One would expect that any such collectively worked out programme to revamp the public service would include proposals to deal with statutory corporations. If it were up to the PEP, we would develop a fundamentally different management structure for statutory corporations- one that precludes meddling by unqualified politically appointed directors and that leaves technical management decisions to the qualified , hands on employees. In addition, PEP would restructure the mandates of the corporations in such a manner that they would not be consigned to be congenital loss-making enterprises that depress and demotivate the spirits of their employees.”
Comissiong suggested that people at the highest levels of public administration should set an example to the rest of the public service and to the country at large by voluntarily agreeing to a cut in their salaries and a temporary suspension of some of the expensive perquisites and benefits that are attached to their offices
The former Government senator argued that if it comes down to a retrenchment of public workers and a legislated across the board salary cuts for all public servants, his party would come down on the side of a legislated salary cut even though it would call for an amendment to the constitution and a two third’s majority.
Comissiong pointed out that other complementary components include measures to ease the financial pressure on the Barbadian people; reduce the country’s foreign exchange bill; stimulate local production and commerce; develop the manufacturing sector; put all national assets with foreign exchange potential to work; foster close working partnerships between Government and critical local productive sectors; construct a serious Caribbean and Latin America orientation.