There is nothing worse than warming some good ole Bajan soup in a microwave, seeing the steam rise and the aroma of the soup making you salivate, only to be utterly disappointed when you stick in your favourite spoon to find that the soup is as cold as ice.
No one in Barbados can accuse the Minister of Finance of not speaking because that is perhaps the only thing he is extremely good at. However, what continues to be disconcerting is that it seems that he simply does not comprehend that his job ought not to be political but one in which the public of Barbados and other interested parties, upon hearing him speak, should not be left asking more questions than were originally posed.
In short, we heard on Monday the same things he said in Parliament last August and many other times before. There are two specific things I want to address with respect to the minister’s press conference on Monday afternoon. Firstly, he indicated that the Central Bank of Barbados will continue to print money which was first announced by the General Secretary of the Democratic Labour Party a few days earlier.
Anyone who was paying close attention would have realized that the contents of the Minister’s press statement mimicked, to a large degree, the sentiments expressed by the ruling party’s General Secretary. Clearly, there’s no distinction between party business and government policy which, of itself, is alarming but I’ll leave you to ponder on that one.
It’s one thing when the General Secretary of a political party makes a statement to the public about fiscal and monetary policy but when those exact sentiments are then reiterated by a Member of Parliament of no less standing than the Minister of Finance, it becomes a completely different matter.
I wish to point out once more that the job of the Central Bank of Barbados, according to the Act of Parliament that established it, is to maintain the currency peg. Therefore, if the Minister of Finance wants the Central Bank to continue printing money, then he must go to the Parliament of Barbados and amend the Central Bank Act, releasing it from its current mandate of maintaining the fixed exchange rate so that his party’s objectives as described by the General Secretary can be met, full stop.
My grandmother always told me growing up, “Ryan, boy, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” She left school at 7th standard and didn’t have any further education beyond that but she was an intelligent woman. Were she alive today, she may wonder what the Minister of Finance is trying to achieve.
The other issue I want to touch on relates the revamped Council of Economic Advisers. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding this announcement by the Minister. My name was even mentioned among potential persons to sit on this advisory committee but the news that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is tipped to be the chairman, has generated the most attention.
I was even asked by a section of the media if I knew who some of the other persons being considered were. My response is two-fold. If Alan Greenspan, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, all world-renowned international economists; Clive Thomas, Vanus James and Patrick Watson, all renowned regional economists; and Jesus Christ himself were to join Mr Arthur on the council, it would make absolutely no difference.
This would be so for the following reasons: the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the rest of the Cabinet have proven after nine years that they are not capable of understanding the issues facing Barbados and, worst yet, it seems that they cannot even follow simple instructions. My sense is that the revamped council is nothing more than a distraction for the public to sink their teeth into.
We must not allow the current government to bamboozle us. I believe deep in my heart that if the Democratic Labour Party had spent just two or three years out of the last nine pursuing sound economic policy with the same level of fervour and enthusiasm that they have pursued their political agenda, Barbados’ economy would not be in the state it is in.
Even now, with a clear economic crisis, their instinct is to double down on more politics. Barbadians ought to ask themselves at what point will the Democratic Labour Party stop practising politics and get down to the business of governing this country? When will the political theatre stop? Politics, at its core, ought to be about improving people’s lives. When will the Democratic Labour Party recognize this responsibility?
Economies are strongest when there is confidence but that doesn’t happen by accident. It is not something you can touch or feel but it is a necessary and sometimes sufficient condition for growth. Without competence, there will be no confidence.
The Minister of Finance, in responding to a question on the state of the economy, went through a long convoluted answer for nearly three minutes, only to end on this note which I truly think was an honest reflection on his ability to manage Barbados’ economy.
“It’s difficult . . . and . . . perhaps I can get you to help me to understand why that is the case . . . but I really am at a loss,” he said.
(Ryan Straughn is a University of the West Indies and Central Bank of Barbados-trained economist who is the endorsed Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for Christ Church East Central. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)