Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has warned Barbadians that they must be prepared to carry “more of the weight” as the island moves into the next 50 years of independence.
Stuart believes Barbadians have come of age economically and can now be weaned off the multiple social services provided by various governments since the achievement of political independence from Britain in 1966.
The Prime Minister was speaking last night at the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s George Street headquarters where the party continued its 62nd anniversary celebrations with an awards ceremony for outstanding young people of Christ Church.
“The first 50 years of independence were years of entitlement, but the next 50 years of independence cannot again be years of entitlement because we have now built a middle class in Barbados,” Stuart said.
“We have now educated people in Barbados to the extent that more people than ever in this country’s history can take hold of their life chances and move in the direction in which they want to go.”
Asserting that “the doors of opportunity have been thrown open” to Barbadians, he spoke of young people with dreams and aspirations because “you now live in a country in which you dare to dream”.
He said that the present circumstances of Barbados and Barbadians were far removed from the “road blocks” faced by ancestors.
“We are now at a point of transition to another stage of Barbados’ development. There are people in the country who can now better afford to look after themselves in a way that their parents could not, or their grandparents could not.”
He said that in the interest of the country, such Barbadians will have to be asked to carry a little more of the weight.
“We couldn’t ask them that in the early 1960s because none of us could afford to carry any weight,” Stuart added.
The Prime Minister’s comments came against the backdrop of a worrying economic situation highlighted by dwindling foreign exchange reserves which fell precariously from $1.4 billion in 2012 to $681 million by the end of last year.
With the bread and butter tourism industry not producing the required financial returns while the island’s stock of foreign reserves is fast declining, the Stuart administration has been warned of the need for urgent corrective action to stem the downward trend.
“This requires a simultaneous parallel approach where incentives that earn foreign exchange are adopted, while at the same time measures to save foreign exchange are implemented,” a recent report of the Foreign Exchange Working Group of the Social Partnership said, while warning of the need for “some radical impactful measures”.
Currently, the island’s debt service is estimated at more than $300 million annually and rising, in the context of dwindling access to capital loans through private placement, the apparent weakening of the link between arrivals and tourism revenue.