The Democratic Labour Party acknowledges February 21, 2017 as our ninth year in office as a government. It is most appropriate that we say “thank you” to all Barbadians who have ensured this journey was possible.
Over the nine years, we have seen many developments locally, regionally and internationally. Yet, the party has stayed the course and sought to secure a better Barbados for all.
Where we came from
Nine years ago, the Democratic Labour Party came to office within the context of the region having already experienced the consequences of the loss of trade preferences. The domain of sugar in Barbados and other Caribbean countries was on the decline. This, one could naturally conclude, would therefore lead to a substantial reduction in their foreign exchange earning capabilities, and job losses.
Secondly, the 2008 crisis found most Caribbean economies still recovering from the fuel and food prices crises that had taken a heavy toll on households and commerce across the Caribbean region.
The Caribbean had in its midst some of the world’s most heavily indebted economies. Guyana, which is touted as a model of growth by the Opposition party, has been the beneficiary of debt cancellation as they were classified as a heavily indebted country.
Therefore, a scene was set for a Democratic Labour Party coming to office amidst this regional and global environment. We shared the same trading partners as our neighbours and engaged similar potential markets.
We heard and saw for many years the redefined concept of what development was, and the debate that subsequently emerged of economy versus society. Barbados became the victim of a movement by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) that defined government as party and party as government. The Opposition failed to consolidate on the fundamentals of the Barbados economy during their time in office. No attention was paid by the Opposition team to reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and cultivating a needed appetite for the use of renewable energy, and we later had to push such a policy agenda. Their only recorded effort in the area of renewable energy was the payment of $2.4 million to a Nigerian water heating firm which did not produce a single water heater – and not a cent retrieved by the taxpayers of this country.
The civil service which we now seek to meet monthly and annual commitments to ballooned in size under the BLP. Once again, post 1994, over 7,000 persons found themselves on the payroll. Here we are in 2017 with an inherited government structure whose past market driven agenda has left the economy violated and in need of reform, a task which the DLP will not shy away from.
What have we found?
This party came to government in 2008 and found an environment that dictated a response to excessive spending and fiscal irresponsibility.
Let me itemize some of the things this government had to do in its first six months and add to that the long list of commitments made by the former administration which we have had and will have to finance.
· $26.5 million for the Barbados Defence Force pensions, and other new Barbados Coast Guard expenditure;
· $33 million to clear the National Housing Corporation’s overdraft;
· $27.8 million for the Transport Board;
· $5 million for the Enterprise Growth Fund;
· $8.1 million for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital;
· $50 million subsidy to Barbados National Oil Company;
· $30 million commitment to VECO re: Dodds annually.
I think it’s important for Barbadians to have an appreciation for the true picture. Truth be told, the Opposition held back from our people, and that is why I think it’s important for us, nine years later, to appreciate the magnitude of our inheritance. We accept the responsibility of governing as a party and nine years later we are still at the helm.
From the word go, on January 15, 2008, this party has had to face off with an Opposition still in shock at their loss. This shock led to converging of forces across the Caribbean to ensure that the DLP administration was a one-term government. This party endured a nine-year attack on institutions and people. The only break came when a successful coup was help and Arthur returned to his rightful position as party leader.
The myth of a one-term government was put to rest on February 21, 2013 when party leader Freundel Stuart successfully led the DLP to a second term in office. In the period under review, the Opposition hedged their fortunes on the party’s implosion after the untimely death of the former Prime Minister and party leader David Thompson. Our ability to press on did not find favor with the election machinery of the Opposition.
This DLP government in times of recession has gone where no other Caribbean country dare to venture – we have sought to allocate a $10 million fund to assist in retooling those persons dislocated by the tremors of the recession. This fund was buttressed by the extension of unemployment benefits that can be claimed by unemployed persons.
The most bitterly criticized measure to date was the free bus rides for school children. We also ensured that during the summer, we provided an enabling environment by expanding the summer camp programme in a way never done before.
This measure was used as a political football to give the public the impression that we were squandering money. One only has to unmask the true criticism and appreciate that anything good associated with poor people benefitting, the BLP opposes.
Despite this volatility, we have put our hands to the plough and dug in. Peel back the pages of history and examine why you should continue to place trust in the DLP. Between 1962 and 1976, we built nearly 4,000 houses in the Eden Lodge, Friendship Terrace, Wildey Terrace, Lodge Terrace and Wanstead communities.
On assuming office, the records of the NHC show that approximately 28,042 people were on the waiting list, representing a 250 per cent increase when compared to 2003. This surge occurred despite a decade-long construction boom, four high profile ministers of housing, a much publicized Primary Homes Programme, a Settlement 2000 Programme and a joint venture programme launched in 2003 – the aim of which was to provide 860 houses to primarily middle income earners. Less than 150 were constructed.
It would be remiss of me not to record the Hardwood Housing fiasco and the vesting of 134 parcels of land spread over 30 constituencies – yet not a single house was completed.
Of the less than 600 houses completed under the three terms of the BLP administration, 123 were constructed for relocation purposes and 181 were under construction when we demitted office as a party.
The Arthur administration’s record works out to 42 houses per year, and 10.5 houses per minister.
Comparatively, in two years, in the midst of the worst economic recession since 1929, and with limited financial resources available to the NHC, the DLP handed over 600 housing solution.
These include terrace units at Country Park Towers (56), Tweedside (20), Sayers Court (4) and Clapham (16). Houses also went up in Work Hall (44), March Field (31), Four Hill (42), Greens (51) , French Village (17), Constant (64)) and Coverley (170), Lancaster 1 and 2, and The Grotto.
In the area of education, we have constructed new schools, among them:
· New Blackman and Gollop Primary School;
· New Maria Holder Nursery School in St Thomas, Christ Church and Oldbury, St Philip;
· New Thelma Berry Nursery School, St David’s, Christ Church.
We also did major refurbishment on the Lodge School and Parkinson Memorial Secondary School, expanded Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, and introduced new degree programmes at the Barbados Community College (BCC).
Over the period, we saw a breakup of the European Union, a weaker pound sterling and reduced spending per visitor, along with reduced airlift by some airlines. Europe still continues to a potential market for us in the tourist sector and spending was increased in UK, Canada, US and key CARICOM countries.
The efforts at fending off the recession were real and expensive. The foreign exchange drivers are also the foreign exchange takers.
The conclusion that one can draw from above is the critical reality that generation of foreign exchange above and beyond our spending is fundamental to maintenance of the fabric of our quality of life.
Where are we now?
The BLP rejoices only in bad news. I want to suggest that the combined efforts of our fiscal adjustment strategy and the need to have everyone make the effort to contribute to the rebound of our economy will allow for Barbadians to repeat the benefits of a shared vision.
Some have tried to compare Barbados to its CARICOM counterparts. With tourism, it’s that St Lucia is doing better; with Guyana and Jamaica, it’s about growth. As a matter of fact, one can easily see the Opposition strategy in this respect is to give Barbadians the impression we are doing nothing, while truth be told our economic development are at different stages. But the mission of the Opposition is to derail public confidence in the state.
We simply cannot continue to import the amount of oil we currently do at some 10,000 barrels a year and close to $800 million. The public of Barbados witnessed the passage of the Barbados Light and Power Act 2013.This represented a legislative step in the right direction. Barbadians have ushered in a DLP government focused on doing what is right for a future viable Barbados.
We completed a new piece of legislation – the Cultural Industries Bill – which provides the framework to enable the growth of that untapped sector. Of course, the seriousness of this sector was equally underscored by oil-rich Trinidad which deemed it one of its six priority areas.
Our tourism sector continues to receive good news with the commitment of Sandals, Hyatt and Wyndham as brand name Hotels expressing confidence in Barbados. We saw Radisson added also.
Within the area of Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, the new headquarters was completed and the massive laying of pipes to replace the worn out and now health hazard lead pipes that are well over 100 years.
Let me close by asking this: If things are so bad, why the clamor for office?