“Fundamental changes to the way we organize production in Barbados, support productive activity, treat domestic and foreign investment, conduct the affairs of our corporations, organize and utilize our labour force and use technology and information will have to be made if we are to succeed in the post-2005 global economy.”(Prime Minister Owen S. Arthur, Financial Statement (i.e. Budget), August 2001).
The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Government under Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s leadership have been at pains to walk back on even a hint that, for almost 10 years, increased poverty and economic hardship have negatively impacted on larger than acceptable proportions of the Barbados society.
Spin all they want, there is a perception that DLP parliamentarians, including those in the under-performing Stuart-led Cabinet, have been fooling around with the livelihoods of Barbadians. There is unyielding and growing public impatience regarding the callousness of DLP Cabinet members whose performances are notable if only for what appears to be a genuine rock-bottom operational knowledge of the Barbados economy.
Stuart, Sinckler, Sealy, Lowe and other surrogates from within the beleaguered DLP have done very little to inspire confidence. The DLP’s roughshod approach to the management of the economy and the disjointed and illogical way of separating economy and society have shocked and disappointed Barbadians. After nine years, the DLP teams functioning in the legislature and the executive seem not to know how to make the small and open Barbados economy work for the betterment of all the nation’s people.
The Prime Minister continues to endorse the mediocre performances of the Cabinet; he allows Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to do and say illogical things. Stuart has gone so far as to single out a few persons including the scapegoated Minister of Finance as being ‘eminent’ by his standards which, inevitably reflects the prime minister’s low polling on leadership.
The current Minister of Finance has been in place since 2010. Seldom has there been any credible plan on how Barbados will return to levels of more than two per cent annual economic growth. More disturbing is the fact that Sinckler has mangled most attempts at the macroeconomic management of the Barbados economy during and after recessionary times.
His austere domestic policy responses (i.e. taxation and increasing the national debt) have led to deep economic and financial crises. Fiscal measures have been largely occasioned by bouts of high unemployment and a perennial state of underemployment while millions of dollars are printed to save the day. Sinckler’s policy directions have given rise to a sluggish economy unable to return to comfortable levels of economic growth.
Across Barbados, there is low morale and productivity throws up its headaches. Barbados is likely to relapse even more with the constraining 2017 budget measures taking full effect this month. The DLP daily attracts negative responses from its gluttonous tax policies and discourses of contempt which have become commonplace once anyone dares to speak out or be critical of the said policies.
Today, Barbadians maintain that they are overworked if they still have a job and underpaid while constantly living in fear of losing their jobs because of possible vindictiveness showing up under different guises. The accustomed quality of life in Barbados is today threatened, not by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the credit ratings agencies, but by Barbados being pushed along a path of austerity.
Barbadians continuously face new taxes without requisite consideration for the growing numbers of the poor, the aged, and those unable to get meaningful employment. Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, recently stated that following research, there is a ‘strong commitment to protect health and education spending and the most vulnerable during challenging economic reforms’.
This is commendably noteworthy for Barbadians, given that Sinckler appears averse to approaching the IMF but seems determined to squeeze the nation’s people via high and extremely troublesome taxation measures. This, at a time when most of the adjustments faced by Barbadians have already seen cuts in health and education. These cuts were generated by lower government spending and have resulted, for example, in Barbadian university students having to pay 10 per cent of their tuition fees regardless of personal circumstances or family income.
Indeed, Sinckler seems stubborn to the fact that nowadays, small economies such as Barbados must continue with its investment in human capital because enhanced skills and training are necessary for economic and social development. There must be a realistic social safety net that provides resources and allocates income to families if they are expected to survive after having sacrificed a great deal over the last nine years.
In this year’s budget, one easily recalls Sinckler rhetorically calling for our consideration on a question of how much more will Barbados sacrifice: “Given the fact that it is now patently clear that our country cannot continue at current pace to provide all of the things that we have grown accustomed to, and in the magnitude that we desire; given the limitation of our economic resources, are we Barbadians prepared to make the major sacrifices necessary to ensure that we confront and correct this situation once and for all?”
The answer to Sinckler’s prompt was well put in the quotation at the beginning of this column by a previous Finance Minister. The DLP has reached the point where it can no longer hide from the populace or the electorate. Barbados urgently needs a growth strategy. Barbadians must consistently demand from their politicians, growth models and development strategies that will promote economic growth, poverty reduction, and greater productivity and competitiveness.
There must be a successful economic development strategy that focuses on improving the skills of those already in the workforce and necessary training for those that will enter the local labour market. There must be drastic reductions on the cost of doing business and making available the resources business needs to compete and thrive in today’s world of technological progress.
Moreover, there needs to be a strategy that is framed around opening opportunities for the development of the private sector as the main source of growth and job creation in Barbados. The local private sector should never be ridiculed by charges of a parasitic nature, nor should government abandon facilitation through regulatory and other incentives for growth and expansion.
As it stands, despite thousands were tacitly put at ease prior to the 2013 general elections and within months the DLP axed their jobs, Barbados must look to be research-driven in formulating the optimal size of its public service. It is alleged that the size of the public sector will need to be reduced, and this must not be done willy-nilly. There is ample space for privatization but such a programme will need to be put in place not to enrich a few, but to empower the nation.
Wholesome debates on privatization must not be ambushed by the cleverness or deceptiveness of political strategies. A change of government and a vibrant growth strategy are urgently needed in Barbados. The next government in Barbados is likely to be more sure-footed with a new mandate from the people.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)