If prevailing political circumstances were a boxing match, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) might perhaps be kneeling on the canvas, the referee at number five of the eight-count and the Freundel Stuart administration searching frantically for its dislodged mouthpiece while finding difficulty getting to its feet.
Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick’s blunt admission that he is part of a failed Government is injurious. Perhaps he will be viewed by opponents of the Stuart administration as stating the obvious. His rebuke might also be seen by supporters of the DLP as yet another instance of a disgruntled politician still bristling at being deprived of the responsibility for a portfolio for which he had previously shown some relish. Whatever one’s critique of the St Philip West MP, he has one major factor on his side – truth. Government’s attempt to manage Barbados’ economy effectively has been unsuccessful, and if unsuccessful is synonymous with failed, then the Freundel Stuart Government has been a failure.
But there are some other important issues which must be addressed, within the context of Dr Estwick’s report card on his colleagues – particularly Prime Minister Stuart and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler. Last night, Dr Estwick stated that Barbados’ risk profile had deteriorated, the arrears picture had worsened and so had the fiscal situation. Dr Estwick reminded the country that he had presented an alternative economic plan to his Cabinet in January 2014 and was adamant that his main proposal was the best option to restore economic growth and sustainability.
“What I will stand behind is the analysis as to why the economic policies and strategies we pursued would not have worked and why we will have to refinance and restructure the debt. This should have been done much earlier when it was easier to do. It is more difficult now because our debt metrics have deteriorated significantly since 2010,” the former Minister of Economic Affairs said.
Dr Estwick explained that he had written Prime Minister Stuart three years ago on the necessity to change Government’s economic strategy. “I am again asking you to change our present fiscal economic policy stance and fiscal consolidation programme that were outlined in the Financial Statements and Budgetary Proposals of 2011, 2012 and 2013, given that the national growth strategy is significantly off target and is not taking off in any measurable way,” Dr Estwick wrote then.
He added that he had provided other options to his Government, inclusive of negotiating a US$5 billion sinking fund from the United Arab Emirates to wipe out the country’s debt. None of Dr Estwick’s recommendations was taken on board by Cabinet.
But here is where it gets interesting. On the one hand Dr Estwick is on record as stating that Government’s economic policies have been ineffective and basically in shambles for some time, but during the same period the public of Barbados was being played a different tune. This is Mr Sinckler on August 20, 2011. “Our fiscal consolidation programme is beginning to bear fruit with the year-on-year deficit running at 5.5 per cent, down from 9.6 per cent. Revenues are up and expenditures are coming down. We expect that trend will continue. With a continued vigilant application of expenditure control and efficient revenue collection, the deficit should settle somewhere around or just slightly above the original target for the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy of 5.6 per cent.”
On May 3, 2015, while hosting his annual picnic at Silver Sands Beach, Mr Sinckler publicly stated that Barbados was making a recovery in a number of areas, including attracting higher levels of foreign direct investment. He dismissed the International Monetary Fund’s bleak forecast on Barbados economic performance. He added he had seen nothing in the IMF’s forecast that would make him pause and consider another course of action to pull the economy out of trouble. Mr Sinckler said he had “absolutely no doubt that we [Barbados] are on the right path.”
So whom should we believe – the eternal optimist Mr Sinckler, who for more than four years has been consistently stating that “we are on the right path” or Dr Estwick, who has basically shattered the St Michael North West MP’s apparent illusion of following the right economic strategy?
Governor of the Barbados Central Bank Dr DeLisle Worrell recently urged Government to stop printing money, a request that seems to have put his job up for grabs. Dr Worrell dealt another blow to Mr Sinckler’s illusion of “being on the right path” when in the economic report for 2016, he admitted that Government and state entities owed $4.9 billion to private individuals and companies, and that at the end of December, the bank held $681 million in reserves, or the equivalent of just 10.3 weeks of imports. Dr Worrell, complicit before, contrite now, has basically been vindicated by Dr Estwick.
And seemingly leading from behind in this entire scenario is, by his own definition, the sleeping giant – Prime Minister Stuart – who has demonstrated scant public leadership in this situation.
In these difficult economic times the Ministry of Finance has been akin to an albatross around the neck of Mr Sinckler. The money chest has been primarily depleted with the printing of Barbadian currency providing temporary plaster to cover the sores of late salaries and tax returns, inefficient bus service, garbage pile-ups, unchecked sewage spills, stalled projects, pot holes, sick buildings, and the like. To his credit, Mr Sinckler has carried the brunt of public criticism manfully and without complaint while his boss seemingly waits to be awakened.
Dr Estwick has delivered a telling blow that has potentially left the DLP – some would suggest – near to an eight count. The next few months could determine how close the Government is to being rendered completely unconscious.