Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is not the only one who seems to think that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler does not know what he is doing.
Today, the Chairman of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) George Payne issued a statement on the party’s behalf in which he echoed much of what Arthur had to say yesterday in an interview with Barbados TODAY about the quality of Sinckler’s economic leadership.
However, Payne went one step further in calling for Sinckler’s head, while suggesting that the embattled Minister of Finance must be made to shoulder the blame for the economic ills inflicted on the people of Barbados over the past seven years, and that last month’s Budget presentation by him was the final straw.
“The fact is, the imposition of the increase of the National Social Responsibility Levy to ten per cent, the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions, and the hike in excise taxes on gasoline and diesel will cause the cost of living in Barbados to skyrocket,” said Payne, who also wants a recall of the entire $542 million tax package, on the grounds that it will also “devastate the average Barbadian and lead to more unemployment.
“Indeed, this has been stated by all of the stakeholders, which is unprecedented. Therefore, notwithstanding the minister’s belated concession not to have the NSRL applied to the near 300 basic items already included in the VAT-free basket of goods, the reality is that come July 1, the Budget measures will inflict more pain on Barbadians,” the Opposition representative for St Andrew said.
In the statement, Payne also accused Sinckler of abandoning CLICO investors and policyholders, who are still awaiting settlement following the collapse of Trinidad-based CL Financial back in 2009.
“The Barbados Labour Party is therefore calling on the Prime Minister to fire the failure that is the Minister of Finance, and recall the entire Budget,” he said.
And while arguing that the country could no longer afford a “chop and change, piecemeal approach” to its economic management, the BLP Chairman suggested that immediate consultations should be held with key stakeholders – including the official Opposition, the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Development Bank – on the economic way forward.
Since the start of the week, Sinckler has been holding consultations with private sector groups, which complained openly about the harshness of his economic medicine that is due to take effect next month with a view to erasing, in short order, the island’s $537 million deficit and putting the country back on a stable footing, amid a looming general election next year.
However, with the July 1 implementation date for the new levies fast approaching, Arthur yesterday complained that there was still way too much uncertainty surrounding the announced fiscal measures.
“We are in danger of having our economic policies characterized by an absence of clarity of purpose and certainty of incidence,” he warned, while pointing out that it was not only the measures, but also the process by which they were to be implemented that was now the subject of great confusion.
“What is also important is that this process of consultation is now taking place after the policies have been conceived, announced and are intended to be implemented. And consultation after the fact could hardly be regarded as the way in which you conceive of economic policy and seek to implement economic policy,” he added.
In agreeing with Arthur’s position, Payne charged today that Sinckler was “the only Minister of Finance in the history of Barbados who has habitually conceptualized policy measures, announced them, and thereafter has to go to great lengths to explain them to stakeholders and the public”, while pointing to Government’s botched implementation of “a solid waste tax, cell phone tax, the tipping fee, and the confusion over when all but two of the income tax allowances he took away from hard-working Barbadians were to be deducted.
“What happened this week with the minister holding consultations with stakeholders to clarify his May 30 Budget was a continuation of his characteristic behaviour of repeatedly getting it wrong, and putting the cart before the horse,” the Opposition spokesman said, while accusing Sinckler of “gross incompetence”.
Payne also charged that “whatever credibility the minister had left after the numerous gaffes he has made in his seven Budgets; the 17 downgrades this country has suffered under his watch; and after the spectacular failure of his homegrown fiscal programmes to rejuvenate the economy, has now been totally eliminated by this week’s talks with stakeholders on his Budget, after it was presented.
“No competent leader decides on a path, declares it, then holds talks to listen to how those most impacted by the measures feel. This bastardization of the Budget package after it was presented renders it discredited and unreliable. It shows how wrong the minister got it.
“Worse than that though, is the fact that the Prime Minister agrees with this approach given his statement essentially to that effect. That demonstrates the rot in this Democratic Labour Party Government starts at the very top.
“This entire situation would be laughable if it did not involve the well-being of 260,000 Barbadians,” the Opposition MP added.