The proverbial hammer has dropped and the pain is severe.
As predicted by the economists, the pundits, and the man on the street, the 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals offered no sweets for Barbadians, only a strong dose of bitter medicine to treat the ailing economy.
And we shouldn’t have expected anything less with an early warning from Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler two weeks ago that he had nothing to give.
Still, we didn’t expect such a blow.
Our Government ministers would have us to believe that there are no other feasible options and that Barbadians are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, while the Opposition Barbados Labour Party tells us that the measures are harsh and oppressive and will not fix the crisis staring this country in the face.
The public debate will continue but the devil is in the details of the measures.
Make no mistake about it, the massive hike in the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) which is applied to all imported goods, as well as locally manufactured goods – from two per cent to ten per cent; the increase in gasoline and diesel prices; and the two per cent levy on foreign exchange transactions will cause a ripple effect on every household, business and investor.
Yet, Barbadians are still in the dark and more confused as they await an honest rationale and perhaps even inspiration to bite the bullet.
In the ensuing debate, Government legislators have failed to deliver the answers and the Opposition has fallen short – both sides opting to trade charges and countercharges.
Sadly, we can appropriately lay the blame at the feet of our governments for the economic abyss in which we now find ourselves.
Successive governments have not been fiscally responsible. Weak policies, partisan politics, wastage, and a lack of accountability and transparency have left us paying a very high price.
Nevertheless, trading blows back and forth will not change the bitter reality or help us to play the hand that we have been dealt.
Outspoken Minister of International Business and Commerce Donville Inniss hit the nail on the head today as he restored common sense to the debate underway in Parliament: Government did not engage in more extensive and purposeful multi-sectoral consultations before Mr Sinckler’s announcements.
This is unfortunate because of the far-reaching nature of the measures, especially the new or increased taxation.
On this, we fully support Mr Inniss who also made it clear that Government had a duty to listen to and empathize with Barbadians on whom the blow has been inflicted.
Inniss said: “Let’s face reality. There will be an increase in the cost of living in Barbados . . . . All I ask is that we ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not placed in any more of a disadvantaged or uncomfortable position. It means that each one of us as parliamentarians must be prepared to provide some comfort and understanding.”
We aver that although Government has already delivered its fiscal package, it is not too late to engage the people in widespread consultations.
It could very well yield viable new alternatives and generate buy-in for the unpopular policies.
Take for instance, the clear economic warnings outlined by economist and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur who alternately suggested that Barbadians could have been spared this severe pain had the Freundel Stuart administration opted instead to accept a much needed helping hand from the International Monetary Fund.
As a country, have we fully examined and explored the implications of any IMF help, or will politics and pride dictate our every move?
This country needs to talk, and this is not restricted to the closed-door meetings of the Cabinet in Bay Street. Barbadians want to be engaged. Our best minds must be enlisted.
Too much is at stake for the Democratic Labour Party Government to ignore the cries of Barbadians who will be forced to endure these tough economic measures.