”Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better; take thy fortune.” – (Hamlet – Act 3 Scene 4; William Shakespeare)
The turbulence surrounding the Finance Minister Christopher Sinckler and the Governor of the Central Bank Dr Delisle Worrell should come as no surprise to those Barbadians, long concerned about the sadomasochistic relationship existing between the two. Sadomasochism is, broadly, “the deliberate pursuit of manifestly aggressive, destructive and self-destructive behaviour”. Between Sinckler and Worrell, it often appeared that mutual respect was at best superficial when countering local economists, the Leader of the Opposition, a former Prime Minister, and anyone else bold enough to rubbish the multiple bad strategies for curbing fiscal imprudence or affecting economic stabilization and recovery in Barbados.
Clearly, the field of psychology (i.e. social and political) offers Barbadians this unique opportunity to delve into the thought patterns of this inglorious pair of Christopher Sinckler and Delisle Worrell; they spent more than five years moonlighting together without bringing about substantial gains for Barbados. In these the dying days of this Sinckler-Worrell knot, Barbadians are existentially reflecting on the “combination of something pleasurable with something unpleasant” as was evident in the frolicking of government’s lead macroeconomic policymaker and its chief financial and economic advisor. Barbados’ survival depends on the polity being conscious of the lowly place to which Sinckler and Worrell have brought the country, even as devaluation threatens.
Sinckler and Worrell’s pursuits of good economic returns were mostly conjured in fantasy; their unrealistic approaches to structural adjustment and economic growth never really brought the excitement or satisfaction that the public desired. Instead, there was almost a constant trail of pain, humiliation, austerity, unemployment, and increased poverty. The linguistic masking of statistical details almost always led to contentious debate, with the Governor removing himself from the naked glare of an inquiring media.
Hence, the relationship between Sinckler and Worrell may best be characterized in terms of portraying many of the traits, symptoms, and behaviours referred to as sadism and masochism. This wide spectrum of phenomena includes political self-injury, stubborn fantasies that Barbados is emerging from economic disaster, and unconsciously presenting as fact that things such as credit rating downgrades are apparently contrived by agencies wanting to see Barbados’ demise. Oh, what a string of ‘bad luck’, especially when oppositional forces were said to be bad-mouthing Barbados!
Evaluations of the Barbados economy by Finance Minister Sinckler and Governor Worrell have often been perceived as being comical and far-fetched. If, as Sigmund Freud suggested, “humour is a release for anxiety”, surely Barbados has been witnessing for more than five years the tendency for both Sinckler and Worrell to laugh at their own self-determined tragedy. Sinckler has become the proverbial sacrificial lamb for the embattled Democratic Labour Party (DLP), and Worrell is now the definite scapegoat for the troubled Freundel Stuart-led Cabinet.
Poor economic returns and nonsensical financial decisions directly made by Barbados’ Minister of Finance were ably supported by the Governor of the Central Bank. This is concerning and equally disconcerting for Barbadians and those observing the demise of a national economy. Dr Brian Francis notes several of the key issues hurting Barbados, namely: the “growing incidence of poverty, shrinking middle classes, lack of any real and sustained rates of economic growth, huge public debt and massive fiscal deficits even on the current account”. As many as 17 downgrades by credit rating agencies have occurred against Barbados without abatement. These, as Prime Minister Stuart persists with dogged reluctance to dismiss or reshuffle Minister Sinckler. What is hilariously ridiculous is Worrell’s recognition that “steps to bring inflation under control and to maintain currency values often compete with other social and political pressures”. It is precisely around this type of reality that urgency grows.
Instructively, both Hegel and Marx contended that the dialectical processes of society were insatiable and relentless in calling forth the negation and transcendence of existing social relations. The view holds that relationships such as the Sinckler-Worrell phenomenon may be “ostensibly, iron-fisted subjugation”.
Hegel argued: “Just as lordship showed that its essential nature is the reverse of what it wants to be, so too servitude in its consummation will really turn into the opposite of what it immediately is; as a consciousness forced back into itself, it will withdraw into itself and be transformed into a truly independent consciousness.” Arguably, this description may account for Worrell’s conversion on the road to Damascus.
This past January, Worrell insisted that Barbados had repeatedly failed to achieve the balance between its foreign exchange outflows and inflows which is necessary for a stable economy. The Central Bank Governor recommended further restriction on spending to protect the country’s foreign exchange reserves. Worrell emphasised that “the reserves are what protect us against the devaluation of our currency,” and although the future is “exceptionally promising”, maintaining the peg of the Barbados currency to the USA dollar “will not happen unless we make it happen”. Thus, he contended that “realizing the vision will not be painless.”
Worrell’s caution appears oppositional to the DLP’s narrow-minded quest for greening the electorate’s pastures. Barbados is within 15 months of a general election. Worrell’s warning does not appear to have had the blessing of the Finance Minister or the Cabinet. Therefore, subsequent written correspondence dated January 31, 2017 to the Minister of Finance was necessary. It is reported that the letter contained a self-condemnatory but not surprising statement saying that “action is needed on project implementation and expenditure reduction to achieve announced fiscal targets, if the Government’s credibility is to be restored”.
There can be no doubt that the Freundel Stuart-led administration is imperilled with credibility issues. Additionally, PM Stuart is known to exist in a fantasy world; this claim is bolstered after Stuart predicted that despite the economic trauma affecting Barbados, he is confident of a third term in government. In the realm of psychology, “fantasy formation is an important and complex function that both contributes to and is dependent on ego integration”, which at least partially accounts for the self-pitying jargon of a “sleeping giant”.
Furthermore, the inept Cabinet faces crisis after crisis. The DLP administration noticeably continues to be hard-pressed to maintain decent social services. High government spending and incurring higher debt have not meshed with the situation of insufficient earned revenues from tourism, international business, or even taxes. On that premise, facilitation by the Central Bank to help government’s monthly salaries and wages bill goes against the stern warning highlighted by Worrell.
Allegedly given a choice by Minister Sinckler to resign or be fired, Governor Worrell sought and found temporary refuge in the Supreme Court. Arguably, the attempt to force the exit of Worrell was fuelled by a Minister of Finance also egotistically desperate to hold on to his job, and backed by a fanatically distressed Cabinet very eager to repair a damaged political image. This ruse by the ministerial architecture indicates that Worrell is ready to be slaughtered by a calculating Finance Minister and butchered by an incompetent DLP Cabinet. Yes, under the full knowledge of a dilly-dallying Prime Minister.
On the evidence of the developing psychosomatic structure, political guile coupled with abrasive authoritarianism (i.e. this latter trait is similarly exhibited by the current culture within the Stuart-led Cabinet) becomes Sinckler’s strongest card. Contrastingly, Worrell’s intellect but less than inspiring capacity to maintain ‘independence’ or functional order at the Central Bank, and his blatant refusal to communicate fairly with the public through the media, are all leading to his pending downfall. The abuse is visibly grave as the public peers into the Sinckler-Worrell fiasco.
Both Sinckler and Worrell should heed the English author Samuel Johnson positing that “integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful”. Barbadians have come to the realization that Minister Sinckler is struggling to retain his authority amidst glaring shortcomings. For Worrell, there is a strong sense that learning is not common sense and he savoured the pain notwithstanding criticisms from others akin to his professional field. The burden of the DLP’s bad economic choices, coupled with the Minister of Finance’s braggadocio, has rendered Worrell dispensable in the constructed sadomasochistic relationship.
Minister Sinckler’s tendency to use distraction and the weapon of ultimatum is possibly to make up for his lack of depth on macroeconomic management. In that context, the Minister may well believe that elected officials are hierarchical and can arbitrarily wave the sword of Damocles over the heads of other public servants such as Worrell. Maybe the Governor was expected to respond affirmatively to the Minister’s demands, even when such requests are obviously painful and averse to the broader national interests. The combination of Minister Sinckler and Worrell has embarrassingly failed Barbados for more than five years.
The Minister of Finance and, by extension, the Prime Minister of Barbados are direct contributors to the macroeconomic mayhem impacting negatively on Barbados’ development. No doubt, it is alarming for Barbadians that the main bone of contention stems from the printing of money to facilitate government’s fiscal and monetary disorder. Sidestepping the real economic issues that throw the Barbados economy into prolonged uncertainty and dangerous turmoil, further entertains possibilities of devaluation. But why should Barbadians be concerned and demand urgency in resolving the fiasco?
In September 2016, President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Warren Smith warned Barbados that “front end adjustments” were urgently needed to correct the economic slide. Returning in February 2017, his repeated warning has grown more acute, with him stating that: “the challenge we [Barbadians] are now faced with, has been made more difficult” because of the “accumulation of the problem,” and “it is also important to appreciate that we need action now. . . .There is no painless way out of this problem.” In addition, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur describes the Sinckler-Worrell fiasco as “a matter of the utmost seriousness” compounded by the Barbados economy being on the edge of disaster.
Shouldn’t Finance Minister Sinckler take responsibility for the economic and social dislocation in Barbados? Why should the Finance Minister consider routing Worrell from his post, when he had nothing but praises for the Governor’s advice all along, and as late as last month? If Sinckler had his way, maybe he would also try to silence Arthur, Smith, and every economist making statements on the Barbados economy.
The Finance Minister’s ultimatum to Worrell is bogus given that the Governor consistently gave Sinckler the kiss of cooperation and obliged the inept government. It is often said that people are initially helpful and cooperative, even at some personal expense, but they are hypersensitive to the possibility that someone might take advantage of their generosity. Who recalls when biting austerity was hidden in words suggesting the Barbados economy was making a turn for the better? The fact is, both Sinckler and Worrell deserve no sympathy because they ought to have had their exits since 2013/2014.
Prime Minister Stuart is not an innocent bystander in the created madness. The Prime Minister must now self-cleanse and agree with a growing majority of Barbadians that the death knell of the DLP is at hand. Sinckler’s political suicide is imminent and Worrell’s demise is a foregone conclusion. The Sinckler-Worrell fiasco clearly demonstrates that Barbadians were duped into accepting ambivalence and incoherence as norms, while being closed to the idea that the wrong medicine was being prescribed and taken. PM Stuart must do the honourable thing, and immediately replace both Sinckler and Worrell – legally; and stand ready to calm the economy and the electorate with an election date.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: [email protected])