The Freundel Stuart administration is being given a stern warning not to touch certain state entities if it ever were to go on a privatization drive.
Barbados’ Ambassador to the Caribbean Community Robert Bobby Morris Friday said some statutory bodies were simply too important to be placed in the hands of the private sector.
Privatization has been a vexing issue since the 2013 general election campaign, and with the economy continuing to struggle, leading economists, including former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, have been pushing Government to divest the statutory corporations.
The administration has largely ignored this advice, other than the announced agreement to sell the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited to the Sol Group for $100 million.
Morris admitted that a number of state agencies were draining Government’s resources and should be sold.
However, he said there were those that served a public good, and they ought to remain under Government management.
He made specific reference to the Child Care Board, the National Sports Council, the Barbados Vocational Training Board, the Public Utilities Board, the Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Welfare Department, asking “can we put that out to private sector? I believe not”.
“All of these are statutory corporations that we have to look at carefully and we have to reengineer them. There is no question in my mind that one of the major things we have to look at now in terms of statutory corporation is that they must not become too much of a drain on the overall economy. That is very important. They must be able to be efficient and effective. They might not be profit-generating but we have to concentrate on efficiency,” Morris advised as he delivered Friday’s Democratic Labour Party (DLP) luncheon lecture at the party’s headquarters on George Street, Belleville, St Michael.
Describing change as trans-generational and trans-political, Morris pointed to the privatization of the Barbados National Bank under the then Owen Arthur led Barbados Labour Party Government, stating that Barbadians should not be too quick to criticize the current DLP administration if it chose to embark on its own path of privatization.
“If the Democratic Labour Party wants to make a case for privatization there really is no ideological position that they will stand on against it. But the Democratic Labour Party has to decide what they will privatize, why they will privatize, what the impact will be on the country, what the impact will be on the people, the employees,” he said.
“Privatization can take so many forms: you might commercialize the activity, you might make it a corporation like Caves of Barbados . . . you can put a board like QEH [Queen Elizabeth Hospital], there are different forms of how you [can approach] . . . privatization, moving from purely being a state activity. And all of these things have to be discussed,” Morris insisted.
The historian lauded the performance of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, created after the disbanding of the Barbados Tourism Authority, as examples of reformed state entities that work well. He also described planned changes at the National Cultural Foundation as a good move.
However, he suggested that some serious restructuring was needed at other state entities to get them functioning at their optimum.
“The National Housing Corporation, to me that is a whole discussion that you have to get a panel or a group and talk about as an individual discussion not just as part of this wider discussion. Sanitation Service Authority, the same thing. I think we have to do some in-depth discussion. Things like the airport and the licensing authority let us not discuss that in public,” he said.