The headline screamed: No More Punishment, Please!
It was a story about former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s speech to the annual convention of the St Lucia Labour Party at the weekend, during which he warned the government to tread cautiously with fiscal adjustment.
Mr Arthur pointed to a recent international study of fiscal consolidation programmes proposed for 187 countries, and cautioned that “excessive use of punitive levels of taxation and draconian reduction of expenditure” would only lead to severe economic contraction.
We hope this is the same warning he gives to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and the Freundel Stuart administration if or when he takes over as head of Government’s Economic Advisory Team. As a matter of fact, whether or not he accepts the offer, we sincerely hope that Mr Sinckler, being the one who approached Mr Arthur in the first place, will heed this warning.
The minister’s most recent utterances suggest that more “excessive use of punitive levels of taxation and draconian reduction of expenditure” could be in store. In fact, it appears Government’s thirst for adding new taxes is unquenchable, considering the very duties it has levied on the population since taking office –– house tax, garbage tax, health tax, the soon-to-be-imposed rise in VAT on mobile phone use, and so forth.
Ordinary citizens with families and mortgages must be wondering how much more they can take; the average Barbadian who voted based on the promise that there would be no job cuts must all be queuing for lobotomies; everyone who became used to this country’s economic strength must be asking: “How did we get here?”
And what’s worse, according to Auditor General Leigh Trotman, no one –– not of Government, not the Auditor General himself, and certainly not of the people of Barbados –– no one knows the depth of the mess the country is in.
In raising concerns about the credibility of financial statements produced by the Treasury in recent years, Mr Trotman said in a public lecture on the Relevance Of The Auditor General’s Office To The Barbadian Society last week: “Unfortunately there has been a number of issues which have prevented the Auditor General from verifying some of the information provided, and there has been some departure from accounting standards resulting in my conclusion that the financial statements over the last few years do not fairly represent the financial position of the Government.”
It’s messy all right, and painful to Barbadians that we have managed to reach this state.
In the 19th century, the founder of Marxism, Karl Marx, adopted the sociopolitical ideal known as the dictatorship of the proletariat, coined by the communist writer Joseph Weydemeyer. This concept places control of political power in the hands of the proletariat, or the working class. Easier said than done, of course.
What is of interest here is Marx’s definition of this proletarian-run society. In 1875 he wrote that the state should control the proceeds of labour –– these are all the food and products produced –– and from them take what was “an economic necessity”.
“First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities.
“There remains the other part of the total product, intended to serve as means of consumption. Before this is divided among the individuals, there has to be deducted again, from it: first, the general costs of administration not belonging to production . . . ; second, that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etcetera . . . ; third, funds for those unable to work, etcetera; in short, for what is included under so-called official poor relief today,” he explained.
Only after the state has taken everything it needs –– or wants –– should the remainder be shared among the workers.
We are not accusing Government of being Marxist. This would be simplistic as Marx’s thesis was a lot more complex. However, this constant grabbing of more and more from a struggling workforce which this administration has so painfully shrunk, suggests it has attained its own redefined and abridged version of dictatorship of the proletariat. And so
the proletariat suffers from the messy and painful situation that Government has led us into.
So, as Mr Arthur as rightly said, Barbadians can’t cope with more taxes. No more punishment, please!