Last week, I had a virus of some sort, so I was in no shape to write my article. It’s amazing how something microscopic like a virus can make you feel so ill that your priorities and your focus completely shift. Thankfully I’m feeling better this week so although this may be “old news”, I have to comment on the Prime Minister’s speech last week where he attributed the state of the foreign reserves to the lifestyle of Barbadians.
His comment “When you hear that our foreign reserves are under pressure, it is because of what we import and because of what you all go on the supermarket shelves and see. It is not that anybody in the Government is stealing foreign currency and carrying it and putting it under their bed”, would be laughable if it wasn’t so close to the truth.
While I do agree that we have every conceivable item on our supermarket shelves and there are record number of cars on our roads, I can’t help but remember a training session I attended many years ago where the presenter demonstrated that when you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you.
So while we are partly to blame for the low levels of foreign exchange, perhaps the Prime Minister has neglected to consider that the level of direct investment has reduced over the last five years, which is probably being attributed to the global economy, Brexit and everything else but the lack of confidence in this government.
Add that to the external debt service and we can see what is really contributing to the decline in the level of the reserves. Total imports are actually the lowest they have been in the last five years, largely due to the fall in oil prices so I don’t know why my gas still costs so much. And while there are a lot of cars on the roads, not many are as expensive as the new Mercedes that was purchased for the Prime Minister’s office right after that debilitating budget in May.
And I can’t help but talk about the overruns on the various projects that government has embarked on over the years. If the overruns are attributable to having to pay extra for materials, (we heard that the Grotto ended up being tiled and outfitted as an extra to the original contract) does this not use up foreign exchange too? If these overruns and other projects caused the government to have to seek finances outside of Barbados (when they could), do we not have to pay back the interest and principal out of the foreign reserves?
Perhaps then it is the interest on foreign debt that is sucking vast amounts of foreign exchange out of the reserves, with more to come. Not to mention the sudden imposition of the 400 per cent increase in the NSRL plus the three months’ notice given before the introduction of the foreign exchange fee which motivated merchants to buy their Christmas stock months before September 1? Did the Minister of Finance not think there would be a run on the Central Bank to get foreign exchange before D-Day?
On another note, I’ve been hearing speculation that the Prime Minister will call elections in January before the next Central Bank report is due. I’m inclined to believe that there may be some truth to that because I’m seeing some wide scale patching of the potholes that he had said were the inconveniences of life. As if the electorate can be swayed by patching of roads when we have been sorely abused with caustic remarks and high taxes over the last few years.
I see that the Opposition is proposing to introduce Integrity Legislation if they are elected. You should know by now, that I think six is half a dozen when it comes to the two main political parties, although there are a few exceptions within each party. Should we therefore stop calling for the proclamation of the “hole-ridden” Prevention of Corruption Act and wait for theirs? Then again similar legislation was promised in the 2008 DLP Manifesto and it still has not been implemented. Will this promise by the BLP be more of the same? So we now need to brace ourselves for the politicking, which has already started. I hope that right-thinking citizens are not swayed by it and are disgusted by it. Surely we have more pressing matters to deal with than the mud-slinging platform speeches focus on. I am also so sick of hearing each party crow about the great things they have done for this country while crying down the other for the mess we are in.
We need to forget the former things and not dwell on the past. So I’m not interested in the “great things” that either party will claim to have done in the past. I want to see the new things they are planning to do to pull this country out of the pit that both have contributed to it being in. Anyone who can demonstrate that will get my vote and I really hope that I don’t have to abstain from voting. Looks like I may well have to bring those solutions myself.