In the midst of all the domestic goings on this week, there has been hardly a squeak from Government, or anyone else for that matter, about the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) Article 1V Consultation that has been taking place right under our noses for the past week or so.
For sure, our politicians have had quite a bit to say on the Road Traffic Amendment Act which we see as a worthwhile piece of legislation, given the amount of blood that has already been spilled on our streets this year, with 24 road deaths on record, compared to ten for all of last year.
But, as with everything else, you always have to question the political timing of our elected officials, especially since all would agree that one death on our streets is really one too many. Which leaves us to wonder if there would still have been a near tripling of road deaths this year had our Minister of Transport and Works moved to Parliament much sooner with the proposed amendment to the Act which aims to stamp out reckless behaviour on our streets, including by PSV operators who, by the minister’s own account, drive “up and down with [alcoholic beverages] in their hand . . . sometimes stopping at the shop and buying two beers and coming back and driving”.
Apart the road traffic debate, there was little coming out of Parliament this week, except for the cryptic announcement by St John incumbent Mara Thompson that she would not be seeking re-election.
But then again, this is what generally happens when election fever is the air.
Instead of any serious discourse of the nature that Sir Hilary Beckles has been clamouring for on the future funding of our education, or any realistic discussion on the state of the Transport Board like what economist Ryan Straughn attempted last month before he was thrown under the proverbial bus by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, what we get instead is a lot of fluff.
Like the Opposition promising to repeal the National Social Responsibility Levy on Day 1 of attaining office, as well as to restore free tertiary education and to give public servants a pay increase, without having a clue about what they could possibility be faced with; the DLP promising not to privatize the loss making Transport Board, no matter how bad it is in terms of service and cost and both parties tip toeing around the elephant that is already in the room, counting down the days until the election circus leaves town, so that it can finally sink its tusks into this very battered economy, and say good riddance once and for all to Government’s tried, tested and failed homegrown remedies, to make way for the bitter, but effective economic medicine that is synonymous with the IMF.
The Fund’s boss Christine Lagarde said as much yesterday when she tore into Caribbean leaders for allowing “politics and electoral cycles” to get in the way of fiscal adjustment programmes designed to grow their economies.
Addressing a one-day forum in Jamaica, themed, Unleashing Growth and Strengthening Resilience, Lagarde complained that “too often, promising reforms have been cut short by policy reversals driven by political pressures” while suggesting that there was a need for strong institutions and fiscal frameworks to help safeguard and sustain prudent fiscal policy over time.
Interestingly, in that same speech Lagarde singled out Grenada, Jamaica and St Kitts and Nevis as countries where “well-designed fiscal rules” have helped to guide consolidation efforts. And while no mention was made of Barbados by name, it was clear that we fell into the other category of countries in need of well-designed fiscal rules and with some serious reform work to do.
Trouble is, it could be another few months before the election circus leaves town.
But except for the possible approval by the Fair Trading Commission of the controversial Sol deal and the likely sale of the Hilton hotel, we really cannot bank on any serious financial injections to arrest the worrying slide in our foreign exchange reserves or to close the over $340 million deficit.
For all intents and purposes, we are in a holding position, with little choice in the matter but to grin and bear what’s left of a most uncomfortable and seemingly aimless political ride.
Our only hope is that Rome does not have to burn flat to the ground, before Nero puts away his fiddle.