It’s not the Government’s fault!
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart warned today that four major economic downturns over the past 50 years could not be pinned on either the present or past administrations, pointing instead to “titanic events” which he said had affected the island’s major trading partners.
However, in the midst of the difficulties and despite some ramblings and a “few Jeremiahs”, Stuart said the country had been able to count on the support, confidence and maturity of the private sector.
He was addressing a packed gathering that included Jamaican hotel magnate Gordon “Butch” Stewart, several local hoteliers and top officials of the rival telcommunications companies FLOW and Digicel, who were seated side by side for the first business luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) for the year at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“We don’t have recessionary conditions here because we are wicked or because we want to cause anybody distress or because we like to play snakes and ladders with people’s emotions,” said Stuart.
“We have recessionary conditions in Barbados because from the 1640’s this country’s economy was tied up with the economy of the United Kingdom, later with that of the United States . . . and with that of Canada and they continue to be our principle trading partners,” he explained.
“From the 1640’s on that has been our reality. And whenever we experience profound recessionary periods here that experience has been traceable to what has been going on in those three economies,” the island’s leader insisted.
Before an audience that also included innovators Mark Maloney and Ralph “Bizzy” Williams, Stuart said he had listened to the “very well meaningful discussions about what we should do and what we should not do and what we can do” and sometimes he got the impression that Barbados neither influenced or was influenced by things happening elsewhere.
However, he said, “that has not been my experience and it has not been yours.
“I say all of this to say, we have walked this road before, and, if you do not know your past, you cannot have any sensible or realistic appreciation of your present and you have no future,” the Prime Minister warned.
“That is why we cannot continue to behave as though Barbados only has a present. It has had a past as well and we have weathered these storms before. We don’t create them, but we have to weather them,” added Stuart.
Zeroing in on the most recent economic downturn, he argued that it was not as a result of an oil crisis like the previous three meltdowns, but had its genesis in other countries and caught up with Barbados because of its connection with affected countries through tourism and the international business and financial services sectors.
He also told the audience that included Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, his Government has been trying to diversify tourism “as common sense dictates, so that we do not feel the full impact of any difficulties that Barbados’ principal tourism partners may experience in the future”.
Based on what he was hearing, the Prime Minister said, people were seeing “an easily perceptible light at the end of the tunnel.
“And we are going to make sure that that light becomes evident to everybody by our continued efforts as a Government working with the private sector and working with the labour movement and the people of Barbados.”
Stuart also assured the gathering that it was not the intention of his administration for businesses to fail since he believed in private sector-led growth and was committed to ensuring that businesses succeed and that more were created.
“When businesses fail, when they are not making profits there is nothing for Government to tax,” he said to the laughter of those in attendance, adding, “If Government doesn’t get taxation it cannot minister to the requirements of the population in the way it wants to do.”
The Prime Minister, whose speech was well received, said he accepted that his Government could do better when it came to business facilitation, while acknowledging that there were some roadblocks, including the access to financing.
Stuart also said there were issues in both the private and public sector to be addressed, including workers’ attitude and productivity, adding that everyone needed to work together in that regard.