The ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is demanding to know how the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) plans to pay for tertiary education for Barbadians attending the University of the West Indies (UWI).
The BLP has been critical of the Freundel Stuart administration’s decision to impose tuition fees for UWI students from the time the announcement was made in 2013, promising as far back as August 2013 to reverse the fees if elected.
Back then Opposition Leader Mia Mottley had said that an “inescapable part of Barbados’ success” was its ability to maximize education, and that free education had promoted upward mobility and social stability and had led to Barbadians not having to depend on the welfare of the State for their survival.
In a bid to reduce the transfer to UWI by $42 million a year, the Stuart administration announced in 2013 that for the first time in post-Independent Barbados, Barbadians would have to pay tuition fees to attend the university effective the following year. This led to a steep decline in enrollment.
Mottley again addressed the issue in February during her party’s preparation for its 79th anniversary, stating that “we’ve been very clear since August 2013 when the Government announced it . . . and we will not be charging fees at the University of the West Indies for Barbadians”.
However, DLP backbencher James Paul Thursday launched a blistering attack on Mottley over the issue, telling supporters during the ruling party’s FACT tour of St Michael West Central that the Opposition Leader’s vow to restore free tertiary education was nothing but an election ploy.
“I want us to examine these things. I encourage the Opposition Leader and the Opposition to stop saying things because they sound politically nice and attractive. Let us look at it in terms of the times in which we are living,” Paul told the approximately 20 party members and supporters who descended on his constituency bedecked in white T-shirts with the word FACT emblazoned on the front.
“The Opposition Leader is the one who wanted to push Barbados into the arms of the International Monetary Fund. She is the one. However, more informed persons are saying that it would have been disastrous for Barbados to go the IMF route. The Opposition Leader is clearly saying these things because she wants to get elected as Prime Minister of this country.”
With Government’s homegrown austerity measures failing to achieve the desired result of turning around the struggling economy, a number of top economists, including former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, have suggested that the administration should turn to the IMF for a bailout, something the administration has said it would not do.
At a BLP meeting in Top Rock, Christ Church last December, Mottley sought to link a decision by Guyana to stop trading in Barbados currency to a possible move by the Stuart administration to turn to the international funding agency for help.
“The Guyanese stopped taking our currency in 1991 just before Barbados and Sandiford, under the Dems [Democratic Labour Party], went to the IMF,” she said then, while reminding supporters of the mass protests that eventually led to the fall of the Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) Government in 1994.
And in January of this year, after Caribbean Information and Credit Services Limited had announced another downgrade of the country, Mottley again asked whether Government had a secret plan to go to the IMF.
“Is an IMF austerity programme on the cards for Barbados? Why in spite of assurances from the Minister of Finance that the economy had turned the bend has the Barbados economy continued to fail to meet targets for economic growth and deficit and debt reduction?” she asked.
By March of this year the international rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) had further downgraded the island – the 18th since the DLP came to office – causing consternation among the international business sector, which said the downgrades would damage the country’s reputation as an international business centre.
S&P recently downgraded Trinidad and Tobago’s sovereign credit rating from ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-’, while stating that the outlook for the country was “stable”, citing the sharp increase in the country’s debt burden since 2014.
This was in contrast to the CCC+/C rating it had given to Barbados in March, which was followed by a Caa3 issuer bond rating from Moody’s.
Still Paul, who has been confirmed by the DLP Executive Council and the General Council as the candidate for the next general election, lashed out at those who lament the downgrades, contending that Trinidadians had behaved differently under similar circumstances.“I have not heard Trinidadians belittling the Trinidadian government and saying how they are doing such a bad job, but yet we got a downgrade and we have Barbadians not even respecting the fact that we are doing a much better job in managing the state of affairs of this country. Barbados is respected much more in terms of what we are doing but some of us want to take a political opportunity to basically degrade a government. We need to acknowledge the fact that this Government is doing the best possible that it could do under the present circumstances,” he said.