Opposition Member of Parliament for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds has added his voice to the raging public debate over Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s new $700,000 ride, accusing Stuart of living the “high life” while the majority of Barbadians were forced to “pay through their teeth”.
“My concern, and the concern of the country overall, is the apparently insatiable appetite on the part of elected individuals for the luxuries of high life,” Symmonds told Barbados TODAY Thursday morning, adding that the purchase of a new S-Class Mercedes Benz must be taken within the context of the recent ten per cent pay restoration, which was afforded members of the Stuart administration and the reclaiming of back pay.
The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) representative also pointed out that Stuart was not the only Government beneficiary of luxury vehicles at a time when the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration has been appealing to ordinary Barbadians to make personal sacrifices as the country grapples with severe economic challenges.
During the just-ended Budget debate, Stuart had likened the current economic burdens faced by the country to “a jockey which has gotten too heavy for the horse” after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler offloaded a $542 million package of new austerity measures with a view to immediately redressing a $537.6 million deficit position over the next nine months.
However, Symmonds suggested that the Prime Minister was the one who needed to climb down from the proverbial high horse, while stating that he was convinced that there was a level of “financial illiteracy” at the heart of Barbados’ problems.
“The Prime Minister has admitted that he changed not one, but two, luxury cars over the past year, namely MP2 and M50. The key point I want to make is that to my certain knowledge you can find suitable vehicles that are both robust and not necessarily high maintenance,” argued Symmonds.
While pointing out that he currently drives “a ten-year-old Toyota and it works very well”, the St James Central spokesman also expressed concern about what he termed “the absence of selectivity” displayed by the Prime Minister in the purchase of the new vehicles.
“Are we now so enslaved to brand names that we cannot shop around to find alternatives that may be more economical? And beyond that, is it fair to ask struggling taxpayers to pay through their teeth because of a lust among some in high society for brand name lifestyles that they themselves are not paying directly for?” he asked.
In dismissing the latest controversy over his vehicle, the Prime Minister contended that there was no mystery surrounding the replacement of vehicles for High Court judges and chief justices.
However, Symmonds dismissed Stuart’s argument as total hogwash since judges have a fleet of cars and issues of maintenance, affordability and value for money were key considerations.