Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has said he was not prepared to stick his neck out at this stage in the way that the President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) seemed to have done on the whole question of a salary increase for public servants.
Approached today for a response to Akanni McDowall’s announcement that the union would go after Government for a wage hike as soon as ºthe year turns, Sinckler said while there are positive signs of a turnaround in the Barbados economy, he was not prepared to commit the Freundel Stuart administration to any additional salary expenditure at this time.
“We will have to see. We are now in the process of doing the 2016/2017 Estimates. We are now finalizing those numbers, which we should be much clearer on in January as we come out of the holiday season and so forth, so we will know by then. But it is difficult to say.
“I don’t want to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ but things still remain tight. We are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel; the economy is beginning to turnaround. We can see some economic activity but of course those things take time to gel and to get going, so it really has to be based on the financial affordability of the Government and whether the Government has the capacity to pay,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“At the end of the day, is the cash there? That is really the issue,” he emphasized, adding “I will only know that once all of the numbers are in and that is not now the case, so I certainly would not be able to say that with any degree of confidence.”
The Minister of Finance therefore took issue with the union president’s suggestion that Government could afford to pay an increase to public officers, who have not been afforded a pay rise in six years.
“I heard the president of the union saying that they have put together a team and the team has determined that the Government can definitely pay. I don’t know who that team is, or who was on the team. But I can tell you from where I sit, the numbers are not yet finalized,” warned Sinckler.
“They [the final numbers] are certainly not available to me and I cannot therefore speak with such a degree of confidence that the president of the union did,” he said, suggesting that “maybe they [the union] have an inside track that I don’t, but I can’t say that right now”.
While pointing out that the decision on whether Government workers receive a salary increase was really not his to make but the Ministry of the Civil Service, which falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance said any such determination would be based on the Government’s cash flow.
In fact, he acknowledged that Government continued to be bedeviled by a number of financial issues, such as a shortage of cash, an overall fiscal deficit and its rising debt level.
In such an environment, he said it would neither be “wise” nor “sensible” for him to commit the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration to any further expenditure, even though he accepted that it had been sometime since civil servants were granted any pay increase.
“Everybody knows why that has been the case,” he said in reference to the ongoing economic challenges, while stating that “yes, the union has legitimate concerns.
“We have to thank both them and the workers for holding strain for as long as they have, but in the circumstances everybody would have to sit down and look at what the state of play is, and then determine what the strategy would be going forward in terms of additional expenditures,” he said.
However, he emphasized that right now “nobody is in a position to say ‘yes we can, or no we cannot’ [since] the information is just not there.
“But I know we are still in adjustment mode, we still have things to do. As you said, we still have a deficit to be concerned about, we still have to be concerned about the rising level of debt, . . . so those are issues that have to be spoken to.
“When all of that is analyzed and we see what your revenue situation is and what our expenditure is, we would be in a better position to say if that can be done or it can’t be done,” said Sinckler.