The ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is promising Barbadians that it will not privatize the transport system if it were to be elected for a third straight term next election.
Seizing on a suggestion last week by economist and Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for Christ Church East Central Ryan Straughn that Government should privatize the Transport Board, the DLP today charged that such a move would be akin to giving up on the people at a time when the economy is in shambles.
“We were a bit surprised the other day to learn of the statement coming from Mr Straughn, the economist, at the Tom Adams lecture. Basically, what is being advocated was the privatizing of transport in Barbados in terms of getting away from the Transport Board.
“We must be careful in this country that when we go through these times we are prepared to throw out the baby with the bath water. And that is precisely what was suggested by Mr Straughn. Even in advanced countries it is recognized that state transportation still has to play a role,” James Paul, the DLP’s chairman of committees and Member of Parliament for St Michael West Central told journalists at a press conference.
Straughn trod into the issue which both the BLP and the DLP have viewed as toxic, when he told the eighth Tom Adams Memorial Lecture at the Barbados Workers’ Union headquarters last Wednesday that it was time that Barbadians realize Government did not have to own buses in order to deliver subsidized fares.
While suggesting that the economy was at its lowest ebb and that the Transport Board was operating as a burden to the state, Straughn, a private financial consultant, contended that divestment “would provide much higher value for money for you the taxpayer, than if we continue with the current system as is”.
The BLP’s Jeffrey Bostic and General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott have both distanced the party from Straughn’s recommendation, insisting that the rookie politician did not speak for the Opposition party on the issue.
This has not satisfied the DLP, with Paul – who spoke before Walcott had reiterated his party’s position – describing Bostic’s rejection of Staughn’s advice as a demonstration of “the kind of desperate politics which we are likely to descend to”.
Paul suggested that Government’s role in the public transport system should be modified, but said the state must still be involved.
“To let a key activity in a country, a key factor that facilitates economic development, that helps to transport people . . . to give that over to private speculation suggests that we are giving up on our people. Basically, the main rudiments development that is there that would help facilitate development in the country, we are giving up on it and we are leaving private enterprise to take charge.
“We cannot support these type of things,” he stressed, while warning that Barbados should not pander to the whims and fancies of the international financial institutions which may recommend privatization and let go of those things which have made this country great.
Privatization of the transport system was a major campaign issue in the last general election, with the DLP charging through a television commercial that the BLP would force pensioners and students to pay bus fare by placing the Transport Board in private hands.
Political pundits credited the advert for the DLP’s victory which few saw coming.