Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has called for urgent consideration to be given to the future of three key state enterprises.
Amid mounting pressure on his Government to slash its overall deficit, Stuart has ordered that immediate introspection be made of the operations of the loss-making Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), the Barbados Transport Board (BTB) and the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA), which now appear destined for the proverbial official chopping block.
However, it is still too early to say what will be the outcome of the Government-ordered review exercise, even as the local private sector continues to press the Stuart administration to take “decisive action” to address the island’s worrying economic challenges.
Just yesterday, the President of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Charles Herbert repeated his warning that “the deficit needs to be closed and there needs to be fiscal reform to ensure a balanced budget in the short term, so that the credit rating can be improved and allow us to refinance foreign debt that becomes due”.
The warning came as the BPSA prepares to update its members on some of its own recommendations to Government.
“The meeting on Friday is for the private sector to tell its members what it has been doing in its advocacy and what the private sector recommendations are on the economy, and to elicit feedback from our members – to give expression to things they may think or know,” Herbert said following a meeting held on Tuesday under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister with select members of the island’s Social Partnership.
Noticeably absent from the table was the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which is the island’s largest public sector union. However, sitting with Stuart were General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union Toni Moore, her predecessor Sir Roy Trotman, and Cedric Murrell, head of the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB).
The tripartite discussions also involved representatives of the island’s private sector, namely President of the Barbados Private Sector Association Charles Herbert, BPSA Chief Executive Officer Anne Reid and the head of the local Bankers Association Donna Wellington.
Stuart’s delegation included Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer Suckoo and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Senator Darcy Boyce, for the meeting called to discuss the proposals for turning around the economy, with the island’s 2-to-1 peg with the US dollar already showing cracks, and an all-out balance of payments crisis now a possibility given that Government’s debt rose above 110 per cent of gross domestic product at the end of last year while international reserves fell to $682 million, the lowest level since 2009.
So far, Government has before it a set of recommendations contained in reports presented by two working groups, which were mandated by Stuart at the last meeting of the Full Social Partnership on March 3 to come up with recommendations on the way forward with respect to the fiscal deficit and the foreign exchange situation.
However, the way is still not clear with the Prime Minister cautioning in a statement released by his office today that notwithstanding the urgency of the island’s economic problems, “it was considered imperative [by those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting] that the proposals be thoroughly examined and discussed by each Social Partner, prior to action”.
The statement issued by the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) further suggested that no corrective action was likely to be taken before the next Budget, which was likely to be presented before the end of May.
“The meeting was informed that the 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals were likely to be presented before the end of May and thus that the Social Partners would not wish to pre-empt the 2017 Budget presentation process,” it said, adding that “the Groups were advised that some of the proposals made in the reports would be dealt with in the Budget.”
However, “with the sense of urgency shared by all, it was felt that there were certain issues among the recommendations presented by the working groups which would be not addressed within the Budgetary Proposals,
but on which engagement could start immediately, with a view to early action,” the statement said.