The current unseemly dispute between the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank not only sends shock waves though the local and international financial communities, but also indicates how close we are to the edge of the precipice.
What is at stake here is not just the economy but a whole society. At the root of the problem is our antiquated educational system which leaves the majority of our youth ill-equipped to do anything profitable but sell drugs, while we celebrate ad nauseam the 15 per cent who succeed at the Common Entrance Exam and at the Barbados Scholarships and Exhibitions.
This is a recipe for economic and social disaster in a knowledge society whose main resource is our people. I recommend three recent different analyses of Barbados that come at the situation from different angles but all finger education as a serious problem: one by Jay Mandel, one by Avi Persaud, and one by Annalee Babb.
Despite all our difficulties, Barbadians will pull together because we have great faith in this country. Barbadians of all walks of life are crying out to help in whatever way they can, but we need leadership.
Our present situation is untenable. There are three options for the Prime Minister.
First option: fire the Minister of Finance, thank the governor for his sterling service over the years and let him go on to greener pastures. Assume responsibility for the Ministry of Finance; make sure you’re getting the best technical advice from the public servants; humbly seek the help and advice of the business community and the labour movement and other members of civil society, work out together a plan to pull the country back from the brink of disaster; then roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Issues, some more urgent than others, that need to be dealt with in such a framework include:
• Sort out the mess that is the money owed to the Government and the money owed by Government
• Initiate public sector transformation over a six year period with the aim of reducing size and cost of the sector by 15 – 20 per cent. This can be done without any mandatory lay-offs, by re-engineering of work processes, streamlining of existing operations, making greater use of information technology or other innovations, providing services through alternative modes of service delivery, and increasing the private sector’s participation in the delivery of public services. Methods would include not filling vacant posts, recruitment freezes, redeployment within the civil service, and voluntary retirement schemes by which staff in designated grades could leave the civil service voluntarily with immediate retirement benefits and compensation. In the meantime, work should start on objectives of inculcating a performance-based, service-oriented management culture within the civil service, and providing a motivating and positive work environment in which employees are treated as a valuable resource within a culture of trust and caring.
• Over the same time period, reduce by 50 per cent the average time it takes to issue a permission/approval or to deliver a service. Every citizen should have the right to know exactly at what stage an application is at all times. As part of the exercise, each department would be required to set specific public timelines for meeting the new service delivery standards.
Second option: continue as before and sail happily over the cliff. The only thing that would then pick up the pieces and ‘rescue’ Barbados is the IMF.
Third option: call an election.
The best option for the country would be the third, but the Prime Minister is unlikely to choose that.
We all know that. So we got another whole year to go.
God save Barbados!
(Dr Peter Laurie is a retired Head of the Barbados Foreign Service, former Permanent Secretary and former Ambassador to the United States)