Opposition Leader Mia Mottley is demanding an apology from Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler over his latest remarks on the country’s dire economic situation.
With the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) threatening industrial action if Government does not scrap the tax proposals, Sinckler yesterday warned that the Freundel Stuart administration was fast running out of options and that thousands of public servants could be dismissed from the service if Government were forced to abandon the tax measures announced in its recent Budget.
“I would say that if this really is the union’s position, it is as ill-advised as it is unfortunate at this time. I do not believe that the union leadership is oblivious to the fact that the alternatives to the measures which we introduced, including an increase in the NSRL [National Social Responsibility Levy], will be far more hurtful to public officers than what is proposed,” Sinckler said.
“Indeed, lest they forget, perhaps it bears reminding that there are a growing number of persons out there who believe that Government should immediately and substantially reduce the size of the public sector, especially its wages bill. Now while that may be coded language for some, it simply means that Government should send home thousands of public servants from the service,” he told Barbados TODAY in response to the NUPW’s threat.
However, while reserving her position on the possible NUPW-led protest, Mottley today sought to take Sinckler to task for what she termed his “bizarre threat” to send public workers home, if he did not get his way with the new $500 million tax imposition.
“Public workers are not excess baggage on an overweight plane to be shed at will,” she warned, adding that “the minister must stop using Government employees as scapegoats to cover up his incompetence”.
Mottley also recalled that two years ago Government had sent home 3, 000 workers, adding that “nothing lasting resulted”.
“Our economy is still facing even more severe challenges now. Is it Minister Sinckler’s plan now to send home another 3,000 workers? Has he promised multilateral institutions that this will happen after the next elections?” she asked, while contending that “putting workers on the breadline as this Government’s first and main option will not significantly alter or enhance the economic fortunes of this country under this DLP Government”.
Instead, she suggested that greater emphasis should be placed on eliminating wastage and cutting Government’s overall spending.
Mottley also called for greater transparency in awarding contracts and for Government to action matters raised in successive reports by the Auditor General.
“In an environment where the private sector is itself reeling under the pressure of these measures, how would dismissed public workers find employment? How would they feed, clothe and shelter their families? Doesn’t the Minister of Finance care about this?” she further questioned.
Suggesting that Sinckler’s response to the union was both “childish and ill-conceived”, she also warned that “no amount of threats and name-calling can make bad fiscal policies become good.
“The National Union of Public Workers was very reasonable in its request for a coping subsidy to help cushion the impact of the budgetary measures, until such time as a salary increase is effected. Against this reality, the minister’s brash response was unseemly and uncalled for,” she said, while calling on Government as a whole to adopt a more conciliatory approach to addressing and resolving issues of concern to citizens and representative organizations in the country.
“If the entire country is crying out and saying it cannot bear the $500 million in new taxes, a wise and prudent Minister of Finance, together with a caring and competent Prime Minister, would stop and reflect . . . . not throw tantrums and label all who speak out as ‘enemies of the state,’” she said as she harked back to a recent offensive comment made by Minister of Housing Denis Kellman in reference to critics of the administration’s handling of the procedure for granting permission for the construction of the Hyatt Centric Resort on Bay Street, The City.
While stressing the need for the administration to sit with the Social Partners and hammer out a reasonable formula for tackling the burgeoning problems impacting the country and its economy, the Opposition Leader said Sinckler should apologize to public workers.
However, in his statement yesterday to Barbados TODAY Sinckler had been at pains to point out that the administration had rejected the recommendations to sever public workers and had chosen an alternative path, which “we are now hearing that the workers’ representatives don’t want and in fact are threatening industrial action over.
“Well at least we know where their head is even if we do not agree with them. But make no mistake about it; those are the hard choices which we face at this time. So if the NUPW leadership is prepared to make the choice of seeing large amounts of their membership lose their employment and with it the capacity to earn a living, then I would definitely consider that position to be both ill-advised and undesirable,” he warned, while stating he was prepared to discuss the issue with the union, although he gave no hints that he was prepared to budge.
The controversial $542 million package, which is to be rolled out over the next nine months, aims to close a fiscal deficit of $537 million that is deemed to be totally unsustainable.