There can be no “willy nilly” approach to privatization, former trade unionist and Independent Senator Sir Roy Trotman warned as he made his contribution to the Appropriation Bill 2017 in the Upper Chamber today.
Weighing in on the current debate on privatization – touted among solutions to help the cash strapped Barbados Government reduce its expenditure – Sir Roy insisted that it was not merely for Government “to gain S10 million”, but it should form part of an overall plan to grow the economy and develop the society at the same time.
“If we only deal in dollars without sense then we have a very serious problem. We need to have dollars and sense,” he said.
The former Barbados Workers Union (BWU) General Secretary said it was unreasonable for the authorities to expect trade unions not to challenge the move to transform some state entities to private bodies, as he hit back at former Prime Minister Owen Arthur for criticizing the BWU’s skepticism about privatization during last week’s debate on the 2016/2017 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
Arthur had told the House he was puzzled by the BWU stance, when his former Barbados Labour Party administration had partnered with the union to successfully develop the United Commercial Autoworks Limited (UCAL), a vehicle maintenance and repair company owned and operated by transport workers.
While Sir Roy conceded that Arthur had supported UCAL and the company had in fact taken off and had declared a dividend in its third year of operation, its rapid deterioration was a strong lesson on why Government must tread cautiously on the issue of privatization.
He explained that UCAL was struggling to survive with the state-run Transport Board owing the company more than $20 million.
“In fact, the Transport Board hardly gives us any money on a monthly basis and we have to go cap in hand to the Minister of Finance and ask him kindly to prevent persons from going too many more days without any wages for the week. That is where the matter now is. The Transport Board stop paying on time and then stop paying all together,” he lamented.
Sir Roy, a former chairman of UCAL, acknowledged that the company owed National Insurance contributions, taxes and other deductions, but stressed it could not pay until Government cleared its debt.
“We need to meet with the Government [and] confirm that the sum is well over $20million … and we would want that done because if there is an accident, somebody has to show the correct information.”
Stressing that UCAL served as a warning, the veteran labour leader urged that “where there is going to be question or any discussion on share divestment, that has to become the subject of very careful discussion, consultation and the best interests of all the parties, including the workers and their representative, must be taken into consideration,” Sir Roy maintained.