The embattled Freundel Stuart administration –– but more so Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler –– has good reason to smile today and feel upbeat following some small but encouraging developments on the economic front during the past week.
Except for the warning about the need for public sector reform and reducing the Government’s salaries bill, the good word from a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission was the confirmation that an economic recovery was finally under way and the slightly revised upward projection of growth this year.
The Washington-based lending agency now sees growth in the region of one per cent, up from a previous forecast of 0.8 which had upset the Government somewhat. If this result is achieved, it will be the highest growth the economy has posted in about seven years.
Additionally, a survey with which the Chamber of Commerce and Industry is associated, indicated that business confidence was showing signs of improvement, in response to the emerging turnaround in economic conditions that offered better prospects for business. It is a welcome sign because business is the engine of economic growth.
Nevertheless, it would be premature to engage in jubilant celebration. The recovery is fragile, vulnerable to setbacks and still has a considerable way to go before major consolidation occurs and growth returns to a sustainable path. The downturn of the past seven years is easily the longest and most devastating in living memory.
The recent performance of the economy may be compared with the experience a man who sets out to climb to the top of a mountain. Initially the going is good but, as he is approaching a crucial point, a sudden change in the weather makes conditions hazardous and he is forced to descend.
Following an improvement in the weather, the man resumes his climb but he does not pick from where he left off. He has to recover lost ground to reach this point and then press on towards reaching the mountain top.
The experience of the economy during the past seven years means Barbados first has to recover lost ground. And, the size of our economy today is not the same as when the downturn started.
Before departing, the head of the IMF mission, Nicole Laframboise, drew attention to an issue which the Government had neglected and, by so doing, had contributed to the decline in investor and consumer confidence. The issue relates to communication. Ms Laframboise said while it was critical for Government to “stay the course”; it also needed to “communicate the course”.
“That really needs to happen . . . to build support in the country and reduce uncertainty and build confidence,” she said.
Effective communication is crucial any time people have to deal with major change, which is at the heart of what Barbados has been going through. During times of change, people look for reassurance and hope from their leaders.
By providing a clear explanation of what is happening, leaders enable followers to make necessary adjustments to their lives to cope better with change. The lack of a clearly defined communication strategy by Government has left many Barbadians uncertain and unable to plan effectively for the future.
Hopefully, the Government will take on board the suggestion from Ms Laframboise and begin engaging Barbadians in a more meaningful manner on the economy in particular. It cannot be achieved through Press releases or speeches at constituency branch meetings. It can only be accomplished through directly facing the people, as at a town hall meeting, for instance; presenting the case and taking questions in a true dialogue.
Barbadians are a highly educated, reasonable and patriotic people. We believe that if they are fully brought into the picture by Government and clearly understand the choices which have to be made, they will give their support because, in the final analysis, everyone’s goal is a better Barbados.
As the Government continues along a path of adjustment which the IMF recommends, we look forward to an improvement in public communication, so that the next stage of the journey will not be as bumpy as the first and that, armed with the relevant information, Barbadians can face the future with confidence despite whatever challenges may lie ahead.