Outspoken Government minister Donville Inniss has taken the strongest position yet from among the Freundel Stuart administration, in support of privatization of state enterprises.
In fact, the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development this morning said Government should move swiftly to place many of these services in the hands of the private sector.
The denationalization of Government agencies and services was a contentious issue in the campaign leading up to the 2013 general election. At that time the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had accused the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) of scheming to go the route of privatization, something the DLP said then it would not do.
However, the administration’s position has become murkier since the election, as several economists, including former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, advised Stuart to sell the State assets.
In an address at the opening of the International Business Week conference at the Hilton Barbados Resort this morning, Inniss left no doubt where he stood on the matter, suggesting his position was at odds with that of Government.
“My simple position is that the State must move with greater alacrity to devolve itself of some of the services and goods it currently provides and let a bolder, more imaginative and efficient private enterprise provide such services. I hold the view that opportunities abound for our citizens, especially our young people, when the State becomes a facilitator and regulator and not the provider of first resort in an economy. Perhaps there is a philosophical divide here, but let there be no doubt as to where this minister stands on this matter,” an emphatic Inniss said.
When Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced in April that the sale of the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited was all but complete, with Government simply “waiting on the cheque” to consummate the deal, it seemed to suggest that the Stuart administration had taken the first step towards selling some assets.
Nothing had happened since, until the Sanitation Service Authority last week began outsourcing some of its garbage collection services to private waste haulers, in what both the trade union movement and the BLP said was privatization via the backdoor.
Inniss today lashed out at the critics of both the SSA deal and privatization in general, some of whom he described as “wannabe scholars”.
“When I see scholars and wannabe scholars, as well as labour leaders, making a ruckus about the State engaging our domestic private sector to assist in collecting garbage, I shudder.
“Here in Barbados we must seriously respect and accept the role of the private sector in economic and social development. This anti-private sector sentiment that raises its ugly head from time to time under the guise of a view that the State must do more, be more involved and that it is better to tax us all to pay for inefficiencies, is a view that needs to be relegated to the dustbin of irrelevance,” Inniss told the gathering of international business sector officials.
Speaking on the theme, Weathering the Perfect Storm: Explore, Evolve and Adapt, the minister said the need for change was as urgent for the SSA as it was for the International Business and Financial Services (IBFS) sector, “because it can speak volume to the re-establishment of a large, inefficient and expensive bureaucracy that will smother our otherwise vibrant private sector”.