Worried that the Barbados economy is now in dire-straits, a retired economics professor last night called on the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to stop the “talk”, and to take urgent “action” to both repair the island’s floundering economy and safeguard its future development.
Delivering the fifth lecture in a series hosted by the DLP at Almond Bay, Christ Church, former professor of Economics and pro vice-chancellor of planning and development at the University of the West Indies Andrew Downes warned that both structural and policy changes were critically needed.
Speaking on the topic, The Path to Economic Development: 50 Years After Independence, Downes acknowledged that though the island had come to be regarded as a developed Caribbean nation, it was now faced with serious fiscal challenges.
“All up to 2006/2007 we had situations where there have been surpluses on the current account and growing, but then bram! . . . we are now coming into a period where we now have to rein in the fiscal deficit. This is where the worrisome part comes,” he told the gathering, which included Minister of Education Ronald Jones and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Maxine McClean, as well as other ruling party members.
“We need to be more focused and disciplined and evidence-based,” the retired professor suggested, adding that a culture of “action, monitoring and evaluation” had to be developed.
“We are weak when it comes to this. If we had to export talk in the Caribbean we would be rich,” said Downes.
“I am saying therefore we need to be more action oriented.”
Presenting his “economic development scorecard” for the island, the retired professor highlighted a number of achievements, including increased income per capita, sector diversification, growth in the middle class and improvements in health and education.
However, Downes raised concern about the current economic growth rate, as well as its employment rate. He also said the shift from agriculture to services had created major economic challenges.
The retired professor also pointed to a rise in non-communicable diseases; high levels of youth unemployment; a high percentage of the adult population without certification; external shocks as well as long recovery periods for Barbados following recessionary periods, among the other issues that still needed to be addressed in order for the island to achieve sustainable economic development.
“So that means therefore [that in] the next 50 years, innovation, entrepreneurship and research and development will be critical to our story,” said Downes.
He also argued that it was about time that the Barbados economy was linked with faster growing economies through trade and other policies, instead of only slow growing ones. He also said the island must take advantage of both the “green” and “blue” economy, adding that the private sector must make greater use of export opportunities.
During his 90 minute presentation, Downes also suggested that the island needed to better manage risks and make faster legislative changes.
“We need to create an environment for business creation and expansion, which is the essence of sustained economic growth and job creation,” he said.
“We have to strengthen the institutional framework for policy action and building economic resilience,” he stressed, while pointing out that the Social Partnership should play a more critical role in the process.
His comments came on the heels of a similar warning sounded by UWI economics professor Winston Moore that the decline in economic activities experienced by Barbados since 2008 had been one of the deepest and one of the longest in the country’s history.
In a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, the President of the Caribbean Development Bank Warren Smith had also added his voice to the deepening chorus of concern, while suggesting that “front end adjustments” were urgently needed to correct the economic slide and to address the country’s worsening debt.
Smith had also described the island’s overall fiscal position as “unsustainable”, while cautioning that if left unchecked, it would do untold damage to the Barbados dollar. He had also called for the immediately privatization of the country’s air and seaports.