Yesterday’s ominous warning from Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler that Government’s austerity programme was “not over by a long shot” was more than enough to provoke many a sigh of frustration, a good old Bajan steupse and even downright anger from citizens across the length and breath of this country.
More than that, it must have triggered confusion for many households coming on the heels of statements made by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on June 19 that signs of national recovery were evident and Barbadians were feeling the benefits.
Referring to the Central Bank’s economic report for the first quarter of this year and the International Monetary Fund’s report issued at the end of its Article IV consultation between May 9 and 19, Stuart said then that “the resounding consensus on the ground now is that Barbados has turned the corner”.
He went on to add that the economy did not “turn the corner” by him and other officials responding to every criticism levelled at his Government.
“We achieved it by keeping our gaze fixed on the problems, deconstructing the problem, reducing it to finest parts, and trying to see how best we could get things back together. And that is why we are where we are now.”
But today we are left to wonder which corner Barbados had turned and how many more miles down this seemingly never-ending road of austerity are left to travel before we can enjoy this economic turnaround.
Sharing a frank assessment of our economic landscape, Sinckler served notice that more adjustments would have to be made, though he insisted more layoffs were not on the cards- a commitment we heard from the ruling Democratic Labour Party long before 3,000 public servants had to swallow the bitter pill of retrenchment in 2014.
We respectfully disagree with Sinckler that the current economic situation was neither worrying nor depressing.
It is downright disturbing for Barbadians who also had to endure wage freeze, high taxes, elevated utility bills, increased costs at the pumps, in the supermarkets, at the pharmacy and on and on and on.
We aver no wave of a magic wand and Abracadabra can remedy our economic ills. But we can’t help but wonder if our chauffeurs Messieurs Stuart and Sinckler ignored the signs along the road and whether the vehicle is the right model for the rough journey ahead.
While both the Central Bank and the IMF touted the fall in unemployment and inflation and even predicted growth above two per cent by the end of this year, there were clear warnings that the 19-month fiscal consolidation programme rolled out in 2013 had yielded less than expected, evident in the spiralling debt and the remaining wide gap between Government revenue and expenditure.
The fact is many are still questioning the effectiveness of the fiscal consolidation programme on the basis that little has been done to improve the economic situation for John Public.
While we concede that this programme is not the only deciding factor in economic growth, we know that policies can either support or hinder economic activities.
What is clearly needed to restore this struggling economy is an accurate and unflinching diagnosis and we are indeed grateful for Sinckler’s candid assessment yesterday.
Tough decisions are facing this country and Barbadians deserve nothing other than full disclosure.
Again, Sinckler raised the vexing issue of statutory corporations and the need for urgent reforms.
By now it would seem almost inevitable that Government has to swallow its own condemnation of the privatization of state-owned entities.
Further delay in tackling this issue and closing our eyes to glaring potholes in our economy, including the burdensome debt, the runaway cost of living and the persistent delay in getting critical projects off the ground, will not improve the ride but only stall the country’s desperate quest for economic recovery.