He has been travelling up and down this region for several months now dishing out economic advice in one form or another.
And on that basis, former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Owen Arthur said he could hardly refuse his own country’s appeal for help, even if his response to the latest economic overtures by the Freundel Stuart Government has triggered a sea of political undercurrents.
Asked today to confirm reports that he had been approached in recent days by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to serve as Chief Economic Advisor as part of a restructured National Economic Council, Arthur told Barbados TODAY: “Yes, I can confirm that I have been approached by Mr Sinckler [and] yes I can confirm that I told him that I would be willing to serve.”
While rattling off the numerous consultancies he has been engaged in over the past few months, he added: “I could not possibly be giving advice to other people and say no to a good and honest overture to me to give advice to the Government of Barbados.”
When Barbados TODAY broke the story last night, many appeared to be taken off guard by the news, including some of Sinckler’s own Cabinet colleagues, after Sinckler, when questioned, failed to let on at his press conference earlier in the day that any such overture had been made to his former political adversary, whose economic policies have been heavily criticized by the current Democratic Labour Party Government.
However, in Sinckler’s defence and his own willingness to ‘get into bed with the Dees’, Arthur said today he felt the minister’s heart was in the right place, but that he was currently hard-pressed to deal with the colliding economic and political agendas of the day.
“Chris wants to do what is the right thing and whenever Chris and I speak Chris understands the need for the [urgent] adjustments,” Arthur reported.
However, he said Sinckler’s problem had to do with the fact that “he is a Minister of Finance who is not a prime minister.
“When I was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance when I told my Cabinet colleagues ‘no’, it was no. Chris has a difficulty, which is that a lot of his colleagues are not interested in expenditure adjustments because they want to go back to their constituents and say, ‘bring your electricity bills and bring your telephone bills, I will continue to spend,’” Arthur suggested, adding that “governments facing elections do not like to be told that there has to be prudence in the management of expenditures and I suspect that Chris has a difficulty selling the adjustment to his colleagues”.
He further suggested that while Sinckler was likely to easily retain his St Michael North West seat in the general election due next year, “other men who are in difficult contests want the Government to continue to spend and that is the political crisis in which we find ourselves”.
However, Arthur said this was no excuse for Sinckler to behave like a “lone wolf”, especially when it comes to the constitution of an economic advisory council that will be critical to the performance of the entire Government.
“To have something like this work successfully and not be a botched job, Chris has to consult with his colleagues,” Arthur stressed.
He also questioned Government’s delay in putting the consultative team together, while stating that with the Estimates of Expenditure due to be laid in Parliament next week, setting out Government’s financial policies and programme for the coming fiscal year, time was of the essence.
“A consultative group that would be put in place now clearly would not be a consultative group to advise as to what is or should be done, but merely a group that could best advise as to how to implement the policies in the Estimates,” he complained.
“Secondly, if Mr Sinckler intends to have other policies pursued by way of what we call the Budget, he would have then to come later in the year and present policies that may be at variance with what he will present in March, which could only possibly lead to further confusion,” he added.
Before his sacking last week, former Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell had indicated that there was need for a $600 million per year adjustment to correct a $50 million a month shortfall in salaries.
However, Arthur would like to know whether or not the new Estimates conform to Worrell’s thinking or not, since “$600 million adjustment just so would be wrenching on the society”.
“That is why perhaps it was so important for Chris to get consultation before he fixed the Estimates, rather than seek to get consultation after he has fixed the Estimates. But whatever else happens now there is no basis for serendipity or ‘happy days are here again in Barbados’. No matter what is done, I think the country has to be prepared for the fact that very difficult adjustment has to be made and it will affect the way of life of many people in Barbados, the standard of living of many people in Barbados,” he warned.
“We are running out of time and to consult now after the Estimates are prepared would mean that you have a year, when in fact you only have three months and that is the danger of where we are. Are Chris’ estimates going to embody the Worrell adjustment, which Worrell said on his way out needs to be done, or are they going to embody something else?
“I can’t emphasize too strongly how important it is for us to get to May, June, July with many of the questions answered that could prevent Barbados from facing a complete catastrophe. And that is why what Worrell said is of such anguish right now,” Arthur said.