Since making his parliamentary debut in the House of Assembly after winning a seat in the 2008 general election, Member of Parliament for St James South Donville Inniss has not only grown tremendously in stature on the national stage but, in the process, has also earned considerable admiration and respect from a wide cross section of Barbadians.
The refreshing candour which Mr Inniss brings to public debate, giving his views on critical issues of importance to the future of Barbados, including the need for fundamental reform of the public sector to improve efficiency and deliver better service to the general public, sets him apart from most of his colleagues in the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). When he speaks, therefore, people take note.
Mr Inniss, by all accounts, is a hard-working Cabinet minister looking to make a difference. He strives to match rhetoric with decisive action in terms of bringing about necessary changes in the areas for which he has responsibility.
There was evidence of this, for example, in the various improvements at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital during his tenure as Minister of Health.
In his current role as Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Mr Inniss has become a passionate evangelist for institutional and other changes to create a more enabling environment for business to develop and prosper and, by so doing, contribute to improving national prosperity.
Last week, in an address at the annual staff awards ceremony at Williams Industries, Mr Inniss made what probably has been the most far-reaching statement so far by any member of the present DLP administration on what should be an important focus area of Government going forward –– reducing the role of the state in the economy.
Making a strong case for the privatization of state enterprises which, in some instances, have become a heavy drain on the public purse, Mr Inniss suggested that Government should move towards seeing itself more as a facilitator of business instead of being an active participant. Such a shift would be in keeping with a global trend.
“I believe that there are many things that the state provides today that certainly can be spun off, sold off to the private sector, in a manner that it empowers the majority in this country, as Williams is doing,” he told the gathering at the Plantation Restaurant in Christ Church.
We strongly endorse Mr Inniss’ proposal. However, we believe that, in some instances, privatization could be used by the present administration as a policy of empowerment by providing opportunities for ordinary Barbadians to acquire a stake in a viable enterprise and become an owner. In some cases, Government can then become a major customer, purchasing services from the said privatized entities once the prices are attractive.
It is ironic, however, that the need for privatization has been recognized within the DLP, even though it has come from, perhaps, its most pragmatic ministers. Barbadians will recall that privatization became a hot issue which the DLP roundly opposed in the last general election after former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, the then leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), placed it on the table.
Mr Inniss sees privatization as an effective way to reduce public spending, which was on a runaway trajectory up to a few years ago and contributed to an unprecedented high fiscal deficit. He told the Williams Industries function: “I’m far more interested in hearing a conversation about how we are going to drive the cost of Government services down, how we are going to become more efficient, more innovative, and how we are going to reduce that demand and burden on taxpayers of this country, because we have [to have] a far more efficient public sector.”
Because of the high level of public admiration which he enjoys, it is not surprising that Mr Inniss is favoured by a lot of people to take over as the next leader of the DLP. Besides his frankness on issues, Barbadians laud Mr Inniss for his willingness to engage Barbadians on public issues of interest –– an issue on which they often criticize Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
At the current age of 64, Mr Stuart is obviously in the sunset of his political career. Whether he will lead the DLP into the next general election, constitutionally due in 2018, or step aside in favour of the emergence of a new leader, is left to be seen. Whenever the post becomes vacant, one thing is quite clear. If Mr Inniss does decide to enter the race, he stands a very good chance
of winning, once favourable public approval continues to be on his side.