If economic forecasters are calling it correctly, Barbados appears no closer now to emerging successfully from its ongoing recessionary times than it was about five years ago. And contrary to popular political opinion, it is not only both sides of the Lower Chamber to blame. We, the people, are equally culpable.
Notwithstanding the global economic meltdown that started to take shape in 2007 and which continues to shoulder the blame for several failing economies in the region, individual responses to the crisis have determined whether some countries have emerged creditably from the economic downturn, are heading in the right direction, or like Barbados, remain mired in seeming futility, excuses and statistical spin.
We do not begrudge Governor of the Central Bank Dr Delisle Worrell the arduous task with which he is faced. But had he been so gifted and inclined towards cricket, his name surely would be mentioned in the same breath as those two great spinners of yore, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine. Dr Worrell presents quarterly bad news with an optimism that is almost infectious. Dr Worrell is an eternal star-gazer but having one’s heart in the right place will not always help.
Barbadians have been fooling themselves for the past few years and in many instances this has been occasioned by the unfortunate belief that the Opposition Barbados Labour Party has some magical solution or is imbued with such economic wizardry that a recovery and a change of government automatically go hand-in-hand. Politicking is politicking and the ultimate goal of politicians is to be or to remain in the seat of power.
So where can we find a solution, one that encourages genuine optimism and real growth? Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has gone on record that the programmes instituted by Government are working but need more time to show real progress. Then we get the occasional tax squeeze with further suggestions from the goodly gentleman that the programmes are working but they must be given more time. Then Dr Worrell speaks optimistically on the record numbers of tourist arrivals compared to previous years, as well as the increased activity in the offshore sector. But then with a straight face he speaks to a type of growth that can only be categorized as negative.
Where therefore do we the people stand? How can we help our Government without seeing Prime Minister Freundel Stuart or Mr Sinckler, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley or Mr Kerrie Symmonds as political messiahs?
Last month during a lecture at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur made some rather keen observations while speaking on the subject: Towards A New Governance. Of course, there will be some who will accuse Mr Arthur of having contributed to our economic woes by his failure to restructure the economy adequately, his enormous off-budget spending and his seeming de-emphasis of agriculture for the sake of land developers. But those who would point such accusatorial fingers are part of the problem. Irrespective of which side of the fence one’s political allegiance rests, the time for this blame game has long passed. It is a self-destructive cancer that we nurture, when instead of looking to put our heads together for the sake of country and progress, we waste time and energy by playing tag with blame.
Mr Arthur has called for consensus among all stakeholders in the country, in the formulation and acceptance of a programme that will drag Barbados out of its economic quagmire. He had this to say: “The crisis facing Barbados as a society is real, multifaceted and will not be overcome by the recourse to old practices nor the maintenance of the status quo. A consensus has to be generated, subscribed to by all stakeholders, as to the nature of the economic transformation programme that can rescue our economy and take it forward.”
He added that at a time when all stakeholders should be “pulling on the same rope, in the same direction”, they were instead seeking to advance their separate interests by seeking to go in separate directions. In essence, Mr Arthur’s challenge was for Barbadians to put country first; patriotism versus self-interest. He urged the Government, private sector, labour movement and all agencies to join forces in one common cause.
But what do we have? A labour movement disrupting productivity while demanding increased public sector wages under circumstances where Government is printing money to pay its bills. A private sector that in the current economic situation, still seeks to meet the profit margins it achieved in good times. Then, we have a public sector that is still not in tune with the necessity to raise productivity levels. And last, but by no means least, a Government that appears unwilling to put necessity ahead of pride.
With all the recent rumour of one International Monetary Fund approach or another, perhaps what Barbados needs most is for all to be more flexible in seeking remedies, mindful that often it is not the wound per se that kills, it’s the gangrene that sets in when the wound is not treated with dispatch.