“This DLP Government will always appear to be uncaring and insensitive because maybe it is, or maybe it just don’t understand the dynamics of the day. How can you as PM authorize a cutthroat budget to the citizens and then next day walk into a car dealership and drive out a brand new Mercedes Benz? It is all about the optics, whether the car was a gift from the King of Persia, it is about, ‘how it gine look’. . . . [Therefore], I better not see . . . [him] in VVIP at Puff o’ Color, I don’t care if his ticket was free, it is all about the optics.”
Comedian Eric Lewis best summed up the outrage of ordinary Barbadians this week, in a Facebook post issued in response to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s decision to step out immediately after last week’s austerity Budget and get a brand new $700,000 luxury car.
As Lewis rightly put it, in the midst a $542 million “cut throat” budget it is hard to fathom how in this nightmare of an economy, with a $537 million hole to fill, anyone, much less our Prime Minister, could be dreaming of having a new car, far less going out and purchasing one.
Yes, it is true, as the Prime Minister told reporters here on Wednesday, he doesn’t actually own the vehicle – so it is not exactly true to say that he personally has a new ride.
This, itself, is cloaked in such arrogance!
The Americans have a term that originated with the infamous Watergate scandal of 1972: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”
Mr Stuart’s decision to purchase and flaunt a three-quarter million dollar car could be excused as insensitive, but his reaction to criticism of the decision –– the cover up, if you may –– is shocking.
By virtually saying to Barbadians they should shut up and let him drive in luxurious comfort in a vehicle for which they paid, while they must crumble under the weight of an austere Budget, is to completely ignore the suffering his own administration has imposed on the population.
Of course, anyone with a modicum of common sense understands that whenever Mr Stuart is called upon to demit office he will be forced to leave his official vehicle and all the other prime ministerial trappings behind, so it really is not necessary for us to be to be told by our Governmental leader that “I don’t own MP2; I’m driven in it”.
Equally irrelevant is whether the new vehicle was on order since 2016, 2017 or indeed 2007 at the start of the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s current tenure which can best be summed up as nine years of economic famine in which the country was forever craving a return to the days of plenty.
And just when we thought that it was impossible to sink any lower, alas, there would be more fire and brimstone offloaded on us in the father of all local austerity budgets, pregnant with painful backbreaking measures which Barbadians will be forced to endure over the next nine months.
Among them the dreaded 500 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy that is to be applied from the first of next month on both imported and locally manufactured goods at a rate of ten per cent, up from two per cent last year.
Most unsettling is the fact that Mr Stuart would have stood on the floor of Parliament last Thursday night lecturing Barbadians about the need for national sacrifice and for them to put their proverbial shoulders to the wheel in the best interest of Barbados, only to kick down the very gate he had constructed to stop the Government’s jockey, “which has gotten too heavy for the horse”, from bolting the stables and going on a rampage.
At this stage it matters not to us if the late David Thompson drove a Mercedes Benz or whether his predecessor Tom Adams had a Cadillac or whether Sir Marston Gibson, our Chief Justice, or Madame Justice Sandra Mason will get to keep their vehicles long after they have exited the bench.
But amid all the appeals for pay increases by the trade unions; as well as the unanswered calls for relief by the private sector; the warnings from and of the International Monetary Fund; Credit Suisse and our current credit squeeze, it would have been prudent for Mr Stuart to do as Mr Lewis suggests and to hold off on buying a new car right now, even if it meant getting one or two replacement parts for the relatively new Benz he would have inherited in 2010.
It is a slap in the face to have a Prime Minister telling all and sundry to curb their spending and then as Lewis puts it, embarking on his own unbridled spending.
We are not suggesting the Prime Minister should be driving around in a Suzuki swift.
But was it really necessary to commit more than half a million dollars to a Mercedes Benz S-Class luxury ride with Barbados already sitting on the IMF doorstep, hoping and praying that a miracle will arrive to stop it from actually having to ingest the dreaded pill that has already been prescribed for us all?
Didn’t he learn a single thing from Errol Walton Barrow, who not only saw the need for tertiary education that the current DLP administration seemingly stopped at nothing to dismantle, but also drove around for years in a beat up Mercedes Benz?
Surely, leadership must be by example and if Mr Stuart would have us believe that he
is not one for any form of extravagance, then we would respectfully suggest that he calls up Mrs Debbie Simpson first thing on Monday morning and say to her that in the spirit of national sacrifice, he would wish to trade in his S-Class for a more conservative vehicle
that is reflective of the type of sacrifice his Government is asking everyone else to make.
It may not win him the next election at this stage, but it would certainly guarantee him and his party a bit more political respect, especially given that Mr Barrow had wisely said that “conspicuous consumption by politicians, particularly undertaken at the expense of the taxpayers, is not development”.
When the rest of us are being forced to cut our cloth to suit the tight and turbulent economic waters we are drowning in, Mr Stuart cannot keep taking Barbadians for a costly ride.