It wasn’t the best news of the year; and it definitely won’t be the happiest for the New Year –– not for those 3,000 public workers destined to be severed or put on the breadline, nor for their families.
The notification coming just under two weeks from Christmas Day, and in the season of traditional goodwill and cheer, makes for the irony of all ironies. For many of us, no more is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
And with the uncertainty of whom individually will be axed come January, Barbadians, a saving people that they are, will be overly frugal for the holidays. We can expect a further damper on spending, given earlier complaints by merchandizing businesses that Christmas shopping wasn’t looking as bright as usual.
Still, it seemed the Government’s biting the bullet now and telling the people what the true state of the economy was and what would be required of them in short time was far better than giving them the discomforting news in January 2014 when they had all splurged for the Christmas season and probably committed themselves to unnecessary New Year debt.
It was never going to be easy for the Freundel Stuart administration, whose Medium-Term Growth And Development Strategy for bringing our national debt down, controlling swelling expenditure and rising out of the global recession was not exactly successful, and for whom job cuts would be, politically, a horrible nightmare revisited. For sure, Barbadians would not have wanted to go back to the disruption and pain of 1994 –– and, clearly, neither did Mr Stuart.
We may have agonized with him then when he sought to stall any job cutting after the announced Budget constraints of his Minister of Finance, by his pursuing a review of sorts of Government departments. And we had a hint that his exercise was not so fruitful after all when Mr Stuart, upon the insistence of the major voices of the private sector on job cutting, was leaving it up to Cabinet for a decision.
Obviously, if we shall go by the Prime Minister’s declared philosophy of democratic rule, the Cabinet finally gave Mr Chris Sinckler the green light to announce these harsh measures that would be a pall over the country for the next 19 months, among them cutting 2,000 jobs between January 1 to 15; trashing another 1,000 by March 31; and over the period of adjustment losing another 500.
We could expect to pay more tax on top of all this too as the International Monetary Fund –– the probable fallout from the IMF’s “comprehensive assessment” of our tax systems.
To the Government’s credit, it has elected to cut the external travel budgets of all ministries and statutory boards by 50 per cent –– which might be an indicator the halving could easily stay. And, being cut by ten per cent for the period under adjustment are the salaries of ministers, parliamentary secretaries, Government MPs and personal assistants. Oddly, there is no mention of the ten per cent cut on the remuneration of the Leader of the Opposition and her parliamentary team members. Were they not asked? Or did they refuse?
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has alluded to the measures as an “arithmetical necessity” thrown together “to slow the process of the International Monetary Fund telling the world what we already know locally”. She does not see the measures addressing Government spending, the economy, needed restructuring or the island’s competitiveness. And she seems committed to showing how this is so.
This is what we would normally expect of the Opposition. But are these normal times?
The unions aren’t exactly jolly either. They complain about not being consulted prior to Mr Sinckler’s announcements, a breach of protocol in the Social Partnership. Maybe the Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance will apologize and explain urgently.
Such organizations as the Barbados Economic Society have said that the Government ought to have taken the decision on layoffs for some time now. Many ordinary Barbadians, though recalling the promises of the Democratic Labour Party Government in the recent general election that it would have protected public sector jobs, have admitted being subsequently sold on the notion of job cuts being necessary, but are not enamoured of the timing.
Maybe earlier was better; but the fact cannot be denied it was going to be painful no matter when the sacrifice was being asked of Government workers.
We are not unmindful that contributing to our present dilemma have been for an annoyingly long time global matters beyond our control, even if the fallout from them were not handled as we thought they might have been.
At the moment, there is little time for the blame game. Given the much touted level of political maturity we present to the world, it behoves us all to put our hands to the plough –– together –– coming to a clear understanding and agreement on the required sustainable restructuring of our economy and state.
Not for party; not for fame. For country!