For the time being, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is keeping close to his chest exactly when he will deliver the Government’s 2015-16 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals.
What he is willingly to reveal, however, is that reform of the education, health care and social development sectors will receive considerable attention in his upcoming presentation to the House of Assembly, widely anticipated to come sometime within the next month as there was no Budget speech last year.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY last evening, Sinckler said effecting reforms in these critical areas, which have traditionally received hefty budgetary allocations, will be a priority for the Freundel Stuart administration over the next 18 months.
“(We) have to continue to prune the public service in terms of inefficiencies and reforming some of the big projects in Government: health care, education and the general social development complex in Barbados,” Sinckler said. “We have to address those issues (and) we will be saying something in the Budget about that and we will be having nationwide public discourses on long-term solutions to those particular issues.”
The Minister of Finance said he would be in support of any plan, which examined the Government’s ability to maintain free health care, given that the country was small and resource-challenged. And while declining to reveal if health sector reform included requiring everyone using the services of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to pay a user fee, he acknowledged there were several models that could be employed, pointing out that there were persons who already pay for services there.
He emphasized, however, that the Government recognized it had “a major social and moral responsibility to those who cannot pay” to ensure that they continued to receive quality health care and an array of services free of cost at the point of delivery.
“In the context of that, we then have to look at sustainable models that can support that type of structure if you want to continue to provide for the vast majority of Barbados, which is about 85 to 95 per cent, free of cost at the point of delivery,” he explained. “Government will be able to do some of it and then we have to look at other ways outside of Government’s narrow and shrinking financial pot (to determine) how we sustain those levels of services.”
“That is where the national discourse has to be,” insisted Sinckler.
In relation to post-secondary education, Sinckler said there was a need for greater focus on what areas of study were necessary to support the continued growth and development of the Barbados economy. He cited a need for some changes at all other levels within the education system.
“When we say education, we mean the sustainability of the tertiary education component but not only that, ensuring that the other components – pre-school, primary and secondary and the immediate post-secondary — are catered sufficiently that you do not have a situation where you have to spend inordinate amounts at the University of the West Indies,” he said.
Sinckler acknowledged there were “capacity issues” at the Barbados Community College and Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic that had to be addressed. “We have to begin to prioritize now. In the last decade or so, we kind of had an open field (where) people were free to go and study whatever they want,” he explained.
“You want to have that level of freedom but you also want to have national priorities,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense training 100 sociologists if you need 100 accountants and only training 10 accountants really.”