A caution from Shadow Minister of the Environment Wilfred Abrahams to Government about putting the country in more debt has drawn the wrath of Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs Senator Jepter Ince, who has accused the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) of unleashing “economic terrorism” on the country.
The show down occurred in the Senate on Wednesday night during debate on the Latin American Development Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2017 through which Government sought permission to purchase 1,008 ordinary shares worth $30.6 million.
The share purchase would allow Government to borrow some $15 million. However, given the country’s high debt of over $12 billion, or 138.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at market prices, Abrahams expressed concern about heightened spending.
“My difficulty is that we are coming to the end of the life of this administration at which time the Government will have to face the electorate again for a new mandate, for a fresh mandate. The Government may be returned to office [or] the Government may be replaced,” Abrahams said.
“If the Government is putting itself in a position to borrow more money, then come to the people and say this money will definitely be used for these purposes. The Government knows exactly what the major issues affecting the people of Barbados are. Nobody will shoot them down for trying to address those, but do not leave us guessing.
“Let us be comfortable that we are not borrowing for borrowing sake, that we are not borrowing to spend on an election, that we are not borrowing to buy votes, that we are not borrowing to feather anybody’s nest.
“Let us let the people of Barbados feel comfortable and certain knowing what the next plan of the Government is in respect to this money that it’s going to have access to and then, when you have stated that purpose, let it be done. That has not been the record so far,” Abrahams stressed.
During yesterday’s debate, the Opposition spokesman, who is hoping to become the next parliamentary representative for Christ Church East in general elections which are constitutionally due next year, also complained that the country’s infrastructure was crumbling, its health service was in disarray and that there was no real road maintenance programme to speak of.
“Our roads are a joke. The press has now taken to highlighting potholes. The fact is that everybody is complaining about the state of the roads. Barbados is overgrown [with bush]. There are not sufficient trucksl. We are flooding every time it rains.”
He therefore asked for an account of Government’s borrowing while suggesting that “it is not going to improve the schools, because a lot of the schools are in a mess.
“It is not going to improve the things that Barbadians are crying out for. Where is it going, are we spending the money on the right things?”
Abrahams also pointed to the island’s recurring sewage problem, saying it was “a disgrace”.
“It’s been going on for a while and we hear it is being addressed, it’s being fixed. Recently we heard it was fixed [but] it’s back again,” he said.
“It is not simply a matter of sewage in the street being an unpleasant smell. It has public health implications and these are basic things that we have to get right,” he stressed.
“What about our transport system? The public transport is unreliable and inefficient at best. Many areas have no buses because there are no buses to send there. It is now to the point where Barbados is unable to run properly, people cannot make any plans. It is no wonder businesses are suffering,” he said.
However, the persistent criticism of Government’s record proved to be more than Ince could bear.
In fact, he said, he was amazed that Abrahams eyes “have now been opened” to the spending of money.
“I must remind Senator Abrahams that I would like him to read the financials of the Barbados Water Authority, read the financials of the Transport Board, read the financials of the Central Bank from 2000 to 2005,” Ince said.
“I have said it over and over again that the Barbados Labour Party committed financial terrorism in this country,” he added, while stressing that “it is amazing that Senator Abrahams would want to talk to us about transparency about a sewage project in disarray, our health sector, road infrastructure.”
Ince said when the DLP exited office in 1991, the Sanitation Service Authority had 52 trucks but on its return to office in 2008, the DLP found the BWA “flat on its face and the SSA with 10 trucks to service an entire country.
“We left office and we gave them a Barbados Water Authority that was worth $196 million without debt. The Barbados Water Authority was paying the bills of Central Government. It had no debt. The pensions of the workers of the Barbados Water Authority were paid up and we came to office and found a Barbados Water Authority $126 million in deficit, no credit lines and a Barbados Water Authority at the brink of collapsing; and we increased water rates to save Barbados Water Authority and the vulnerable people of Barbados because if we didn’t do it, the only persons that would have water were the rich and famous on the west coast,” Ince said.
“We came and found the Transport Board functioning on a bank overdraft of $10 million a month at the rate of 9.75 per cent. We had to stop that bank overdraft of $10 million a month.
“They [the BLP] weren’t interested in the people of Barbados. All they were interested in were Sparticus and Rome,” Ince added.
His colleague, Government Senator Patrick Todd, said the DLP administration undertook what he described as a very successful, massive island wide pothole repair programme which was lauded by the masses.
He added that on Tuesday of this week, Government approved millions of dollars for a de-bushing programme which would have employed hundreds of Barbadians.
“The member Is misleading the chamber to suggest that the DLP is seeking to borrow money without plans. I would have identified a number of projects – sewage works, infrastructural development at the bus terminus, roadwork, multi-million-dollar massive road refurbishing, massive Fairchild Street bus terminus and market projects, hundreds of millions of dollars,” Todd said.