Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is suggesting that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) have no reason to quarrel with each other over divestment of state enterprises, since history will show both political parties have practised it in the past.
He explained that privatization was a major aspect of the DLP’s strategy between 1991 and 1992, and that he, too, as Prime Minister, had divested Government’s interest in the then loss-making Barbados National Bank.
“We privatized the Barbados National Bank and the 20 per cent of the shares that the Government ended up owning in the BNB was worth more than when we owned the whole bank; and because of what we did, we ended up doubling the employment in the BNB,” Arthur said.
Therefore, he added, “to quarrel against privatization is like saying that in accordance with the laws of aero dynamics, a bumble bee cannot fly”.
In 2003, the then Arthur-led BLP administration sold 57 per cent of BNB shares to Republic Bank of Trinidad. By 2012 Republic had accumulated 65 per cent stake in BNB, which it then renamed Republic Bank (Barbados), and a year later it acquired the remaining shares from Government.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament yard Tuesday morning, Arthur, who served as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance from 1994 to 2008, expressed amusement over the Barbados Workers’ Union’s recent hardline position against privatization of the Sanitation Service Authority and other state entities.
He said that the union itself had also played an integral role in such divestments in the past.
“When I hear the General Secretary of the [Barbados] Worker’s Union making an issue about it, I wonder because one of the things my administration did is that we privatized part of the Barbados Transport Board. The Transport Board had a mechanical shop and it was not a core function of the board and with support and arrangement of [former BWU General Secretary] Senator [Sir Roy] Trotman, we converted the mechanical workshop into a business owned by the workers.
“The fact that it has not been successful is not because of privatization, but because the Government has not been paying them,” he said.
The former Prime Minister challenged the union to share information related to any study which enabled it to speak out so strongly against privatization.
“All privatization means is letting the private sector do things that the Government has been doing but private sector is better able to do. If you can save money in the process without sending home people, then you have a win-win situation,” the former leader added.
His statements came in the wake of Government’s outsourcing of some aspects of the SSA’s waste collection services to private garbage haulers.
The move was met with consternation on the part of the National Union of Public Workers, which warned that it could only redound into full-fledged divestment of the SSA, resulting not only in the massive retrenchment, but also higher garbage disposal levies for Barbadians. This position was strongly backed up by the BWU.
However, just Tueday Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe made it clear in Parliament that Government would not be taking the SSA down the privatization route, effectively putting the matter to bed for the time being.