More “messy” and “painful” austerity measures are on the cards for Barbadians, as Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has hinted at additional tax rises and structural adjustments.
He today warned of changes if Government is to continue providing social services such as health care and education while improving on the gains made over the past 49 years.
And while not being direct about increased taxes, the minister said, in an address at the Parkinson Memorial School Speech Day and Awards Ceremony this afternoon,
he understood no one liked taxes but it was time for Barbadians to stop believing they were entitled and to start embracing change.
He made specific mention of health care, transportation, welfare services and education as some of the social services that could face cuts.
“We live in a society in which we believe that we will constantly be able to do the things which we do before economically. It is just not possible. It is not possible. Costs have increased, demands have increased, expectations are far more sophisticated and demanding than ever before in our lifetime,” said Sinckler.
The minister, who has come under fire for the 19-month fiscal adjustment programme and recent budgetary announcements, maintained that the current system was unsustainable. He argued that “loading up” the public service with employees was no longer viable, and that “spending inordinate amounts of money” to do simple things inefficiently and ineffectively was affecting the country’s ability to compete.
“We must change it. Change, yes, can be messy; change can be painful sometimes, but it is a process we have to go through in order to achieve our ultimate goal,” said Sinckler.
He contended that it was time Barbadians understand that the things they have taken for granted “are not ours to hold on to forever”
unless they embraced change, and while the country had given so much in its first 49 years of independence, particularly “in the form of health care, education, social welfare, and community development”, Barbadians would have to give back during the next 50 years.
“And unless we understand that things have to change, envisage that change, embrace that change, and make those changes that are required to protect the things that we have come to learn, to understand, to enjoy, and to need going forward, we are going to have significant problems in Barbados,” he warned.
Sinckler said residents should stop believing that “nobody should be taxed, no tax should be raised, everything should be low, but we want all of the services provided for free”.
He made it clear he did not “live in that dream world” and emphasized that if the country was to remain competitive and maintain the services now offered, “we have to step up and make the changes, not just in relation to increasing this tax or increasing that tax”. “That is temporary – taxes go up and they come down. But substantial change in relation to the efficiency, in relation to the administration, in relation to the delivery of those social services must take place now. Not next week, not next year, not the next ten years.
“It must happen today because we have to embrace the situation that the world is no longer in a position whether willingly or [unwillingly] to provide for us that which we feel we are entitled to, because the truth is, we are really not entitled to anything other than what our hard work and the sweat of our brows produces,” he stressed.
The Minister of Finance indicated that the cost of running the Queen Elizabeth Hospital climbed from $120 million in 2010 to $200 million by 2013, while statutory transfers to the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies almost trebled from $60 million in 2003 to close to $150 million by 2012.
In addition, he said, the cost of waste collection and disposal continued its rapid rise from $30 million in 2006 to $62 million by 2008 and almost $80 million at present, and that it costs between $4 and $5 each for Barbadian to travel on Transport Board buses. “If costs are going to increase like that we need to do two things. One, we need to find out what are the best models to finance the cost if we are going to meet the demands of a sophisticated and growing population. Secondly, we have to make sure that whenever we spend a dollar we get absolute value for the dollar we spend.
“Every dollar we waste or misspend or get less value for is a hit on our economy and that is why we have to find ways to change what we are doing,” he stressed.
The minister also called on Barbadians to stop complaining that “times are hard in Barbados, Barbados is a difficult place to exist in, taxes are too high and it is not right”.