Outspoken Government minister Donville Inniss says he is not about to dismiss the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report.
At the same time, he has taken strong offence to the position taken by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in response to the November 22 Article IV Consultation report, complaining that in one breath the BLP was saying “things are bad” in the country and the Freundel Stuart administration’s policies had failed, and, in another, promising free tertiary education and a repeal of taxation.
“I am saying you know what, it is election season but it does not mean we as candidates must lie to people or mislead them,” Inniss said today, while suggesting that “the conversations about the IMF Article IV Consultation need to be pulled away from the spectrum of pure party politics and look at what is the best interest of the country”.
Earlier this week the IMF issued a warning to the Stuart administration that the likelihood of it achieving its fiscal deficit target this year was slim to none, while suggesting there was need for “urgent” corrective action.
The Washington-based financial institution specifically recommended urgent reform of state-owned enterprises, as well as structural reforms to support growth and improve the overall business climate in the country.
Reacting to that report yesterday, BLP candidate for Christ Church East Central Ryan Straughn said he was concerned about the direction in which the country was headed.
The noted economist said he was particularly worried that despite the introduction of a $542 million austerity package by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget, the island simply was not achieving the desired growth with its reserves having fallen below $600 million at the end of September, the national deficit said to be in excess of $300 million and the national debt currently hovering above 100 per cent of gross national product.
During an Opposition press conference yesterday, another economist, BLP candidate for St Michael South Central Marsha Caddle was also critical of the DLP administration, saying the IMF report suggested that “Barbados is even in further decline” and that the latest fiscal measures had “failed on every front”.
However, while conceding that Government needed to “redouble” its efforts and “do what has to be done to get Barbados on a sustainable growth path”, Inniss, who is the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, was adamant that he did not need the IMF to tell him that.
“I don’t need the IMF to tell me where we have gone wrong or where we are going wrong or where we have gone right or where we are going right in Barbados. I am not for one, going to dismiss their perspective, but the Government has outlined a plan forward. It is being reworked and I hope in a few weeks’ time the Minister of Finance can more frontally address some of the concerns that may be raised,” Inniss said.
At the same time the outspoken St James South Member of Parliament said he agreed there were several areas in need of urgent attention, including public sector reform and the overall business climate in the country.
“I have always contended that the public service in Barbados is too large in size, but more importantly it is woefully inefficient in many respects, which causes additional internal pressure on the public servants themselves and the public service and to the customers and the folks out there,” he acknowledged, adding that “I would love to see the level of taxation in Barbados fall, but it can’t happen unless we make some significant adjustments to the size of the public service and the public sector goods and services and inefficiencies, and unless we really make that commitment to grow the private sector.”
Inniss, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the opening of the new Standard Distributors store in the Millhouse & Home Complex in Cane Garden, St Thomas, said he was equally bothered that there was “still too much of an anti-private sector thinking in this country”.
He suggested that Barbadians were yet to fully embrace the notion of the private sector as the engine of growth with Government providing an enabling environment.
Suggesting that the public sector was sometimes guilty of frustrating private sector individuals, Inniss warned that they could take their investment elsewhere if they were not getting results.
“I pick up too many anti-private sector sentiments in the public sector. It is like, ‘oh, they have money, they can do this or they can wait’. No, they have options, they can take their business elsewhere too.
These are the realities that we have to face,” Inniss said.