Despite mounting pressure for him to resign and for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to ring the election bell, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler today expressed full confidence his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government will be returned to office.
Delivering the weekly Astor B Watson lecture at the DLP headquarters in George Street on Friday, he strongly urged party supporters to ignore the advertising and campaigning of the Mia Mottley-led Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), while promising that the party would in due course be mobilizing its forces to go into political battle.
“We will go into political battle and we are going to speak the political gospel according to the Democratic Labour Party, and we will leave the public of Barbados to make their decision,” Sinckler said, adding: “I am confident that they will make the decision to return the Democratic Labour Party to office.”
Sinckler, who is currently facing immense pressure over his May 30th Budget presentation, also stoutly defended the measures, which include a major increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from two to ten per cent, a hike in taxes on fuel and a new two per cent tax on all foreign exchange transactions.
He said the measures were necessary to drive down the high deficit of over $500 million and to continue to fund Government afforded social services.
“If there is anybody in Barbados that believes that they are going to change a Government and wake up the next day and all these problems are going to go, I say to them, ‘I wish you well with that view,’” Sinckler said, while attempting to turn the tables on the Mottley-led Opposition, which is already fully in election mode and has been actively campaigning in various constituencies.
“I tell you to ask the people who coming around rubbing shoulders and doing whatever else they are doing, ask them ‘tell me what you will do different, I want to hear it before I vote for you. How are you going to bring down the deficit, are you going to cut or raise taxes? If you are going to cut taxes and lose revenue and increase the spending power of Barbadians how are you going to protect your reserves, where are you going to get the money from?’” he questioned.
Just yesterday, BLP Chairman George Payne issued a statement on the party’s behalf in which he complained bitterly about the quality of Sinckler’s economic leadership while calling for the minister of finance’s head.
“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, while calling for a total recall of Sinckler’s $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 while echoing the earlier concern levelled by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur that Sinckler does not know what he is doing and was evidently out of his depth.
However, in dismissing both Arthur and Payne, Sinckler told a packed gathering of party supporters: “Do not for one minute think that anything that these people are saying is having any impact on me.
“Not at all . . . that is what I am saying to you, do not get sidetracked by Mr [George] Payne and Mr [Owen] Arthur. They would like me to respond to them because they want relevance, but that is not my job.
“They are politicians and they say what they have to say. We have to stick to what is important but do not believe for one moment that they can knock me off of my poise or get me upset or cause me to lose focus. I am always focused on the job at hand,” he said much to the satisfaction of the DLP crowd.
Sinckler also dismissed suggestions that his Budget consultations were being carried out after the fact, explaining that two tripartite set up by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had come up with recommendations but some of those suggestions were “not worth much”.
Making it clear he was not prepared to be engaged in any shouting match with anyone, Sinckler said Government simply did not have enough money to do what it wanted to and therefore “we are calling on the citizens to make an additional contribution to helping us continue to do this until we can get the structural changes to change it and to improve that situation.
“If that is not what people want then they are going to have to chose the alternative and let me tell you that the alternative is not the alternative Government because none of these facts will change with a change in Government,” he said.
“So the choice is very, very clear, I know what choice Barbadians are going to choose. Barbadians will choose to have their garbage collected, Barbadians are going to choose to be able to go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital no matter how much they cuss it . . . . I know how Barbadians will choose because we have wise people in Barbados. And whenever the time comes they will chose the political party they know is going to protect their interest,” said a confident Sinckler.
He also accused some private sector groups of pretending to be independent but were “really [Barbados] Labour Party supporters, hiding behind institutions.
“Don’t worry, soon enough we will remove the fig leaf and expose the cancer for what it is,” said Sinckler.
Elections are constitutionally due in the first quarter of 2018.