The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) says Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s recent move to establish two working groups on the economy to make recommendations to him, at the conclusion of next week’s Estimates debate, will amount to nothing.
The Estimates, which detail Government’s expenditure and revenue for the coming financial year, were officially laid in Parliament Tuesday by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
However, it was only last Friday during a meeting he chaired of the full Social Partnership at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, that the Prime Minister announced that the establishment of the advisory groups, which are due to report to him in two weeks time.
“If they were to put together these groups three months before and have their input into the Estimates before you debate them in Parliament that would make sense,” BLP General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott suggested today.
During a press briefing at Jubilee Gardens, The City, ahead of his party’s “march of disgust”, on Saturday, Walcott contended that the Prime Minister had acted a little too late.
The Opposition spokesman also accused Government of engaging in window dressing, given that it would have known for sometime of the country’s fiscal challenges.
He suggested that it could have opted to set up a think tank during the planning stage of the Estimates.
“I would figure that we would have done that during the discussions leading up to the Estimates,” Walcott said, while pointing out that discussion on the Estimates usually started in September or October of the previous year.
“[Therefore] one would have thought that they [Government] would have been aware of what was happening in terms of the [economic] situation back then,” the BLP senator argued.
The two working groups, comprising representatives of Government, the Central Bank, labour and the private sector, have been specifically mandated to discuss Barbados’ dwindling foreign reserves and its ballooning fiscal deficit, following a recent report issued by the Central Bank, which showed that the foreign reserves had fallen below $700 million or 12 weeks of export cover.
Last week, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler also acknowledged that Government had fallen short of its deficit reduction target, with the shortfall said to be in the order of eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
The members of the Fiscal Deficit Working Group are Patrick McCaskie, Bertram Johnson, Darrin Downes, Tracy Maynard, Davida Forde, Charles Herbert and David Small, while Dr Louis Woodroffe, Ronnie Griffith, Peter Whitehall, Anton Belgrave, Gillian Alleyne, Donna Wellington and Roseanne Myers make up the Foreign Reserves Working Group.
The development followed closely on the heels of last Tuesday’s announcement by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur that he had been approached by Sinckler to serve as Chief Economic Advisor as part of a restructured National Economic Council.
However, Arthur has since expressed concern that two more consultative bodies had been established, while Sinckler’s committee was yet to get down to work.