Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur says sending home public sector workers should be a last resort for Government.
And today he called on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to take the lead in saving the jobs of some 3,000 Government workers, who have been earmarked by his administration to go home over the next 14 weeks.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, Arthur suggested that Stuart not only reduce the size of his 20-member Cabinet but that his Government also cut out all remaining unnecessary schemes. He was especially critical of its free summer camp programmes and the just concluded David Thompson Memorial Football Tournament.
“For 14 years as a Prime Minister rather than cut people’s employment, I sought to so administer the country’s affairs that rather than cut employment, I sought to add employment. So that I am not the person who is going to agree that there should be cuts in employment,” said Arthur, in breaking his silence on last week’s announcement by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler of the impending lay offs in the Public Service.
“I am saying that the Government has not exhausted the other ways of saving expenditures and before it comes to cuts, and it may eventually have to come to that, do all the other things that are necessary,” he explained.
Arthur, who is a trained economist, was insistent that the livelihoods of ordinary Barbadians needed not be in jeopardy, even with the local economy in a state of “peril”.
While stating that Government needed to shoulder much of the blame, Arthur also called on it to “stop asking the public to pay for the political programme of the Democratic Labour Party”.
He made specific reference to the David Thompson Memorial Football Tournament, complaining that the very week that the Minister of Finance announced that he was sending home nearly 4,000 people, the Government was spending money on the competition, in honour of its late leader.
“Cut out that!,” advised Arthur, who also pointed out that one of the two biggest supplementaries that had been brought to parliament this year was to finance free summer camps.
“These things are means by which the Democratic Labour Party is feeding the appetites of its own supporters for contracts,” he said, adding that “before the Government talks about cuts in expenditures with respect to the payroll, it should stop the arrangements for secret deals for the few”.
“It has to address that first and I don’t think it should be asking anyone to carry the sacrifice unless the Democratic Labour Party itself is prepared to do a sacrifice,” he said.
As a means of significantly cutting back on its expenditure, Arthur also called on Government to review a number of financial arrangements.
“At a time for example when people are being laid off, the most outrageous set of concessions have been granted by the Government. That has to stop! We are also aware that deals, contracts have been arranged without tendering, involving a massive waste of money. The Government has committed itself to a number of projects for which there is no justification. We need to be made assured that these things will stop,” he said.
Asked if he was personally willing to join with Government MPs in sacrificing ten per cent of his salary, Arthur was insistent that Government still needed to do right by the ordinary worker.
“I am waiting for the Government to do that which is fair and if it is going to send home people, send home some of its ministers,” he said, starting with the Prime Minister, whose salary he described as a cost overrun.
In his extensive interview, Arthur also discussed the myriad of challenges facing Barbados at this time and he was highly critical of trade unions, which he said should be in the vanguard of defending workers’ interests at this time.
Please also see Pages 12 and 13 for full interview with Arthur.