Somehow it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Usually by this time, with the high point of the festivities just ten days away, the air would be filled with the distinct and infectious spirit of the season. That, however, seems far from the case this year. Is it only me making this observation or have you sensed it as well in your comings and goings?
If, perchance, you have visited Bridgetown since the beginning of the month or dropped by some of the malls where increasing numbers go shopping these days, the magical feeling of Christmas is noticeably absent. Even in some of the leading supermarkets where it is almost impossible to escape the heightened hustle and bustle associated with the season.
I am also not seeing the happy faces etched with anticipation and excitement that are customary at this time of year. In a sure sign that the economy is in the doldrums, people almost everywhere are complaining. “Things brown. I just don’t have the money to spend this year.”
Christmas, in the Barbadian tradition, is not only about celebrating the birth of the Christ child, the real reason for the season, but also about spending on things that make the season “happy and bright”, to use the words of a popular carol.
The fresh coat of paint to spruce-up the house, the new living room suite, refrigerator or stove, gifts for family and friends, the ham, turkey and other culinary delights, the new shirt, suit or dress to look your finest on Christmas Day, whether you plan to be at church or Queen’s Park. Acquiring all of these things calls for money which is in scarce supply this Christmas.
It’s the impact of an unwelcome early Christmas gift which the Freundel Stuart administration gave us by way of the May 30 austerity-laden Budget. The obvious intent was to leave our pockets emptier by taking away what little disposable income we had left after the hefty tax increases and other impositions of the past five years.
More than any other measure, the grinch which has spoiled Christmas is the controversial 400 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) — denounced as bad medicine by most experts on economic matters. It sent prices skyrocketing on almost everything.
Making the rounds on social media recently was a photo of a locally made leg ham with a $400 price tag. It brought back memories of my days as a young journalist visiting Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica on reporting assignments when their economies were in the doldrums and prices seemed beyond belief. That was back in the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet the Dems are asking us to endorse this unimpressive track record of managing the economy by giving them a third term in the next general election. If a government cannot deliver on the economy to make life better for the average citizen, it is a useless government. We are collectively worse off today than we were a decade ago. That sums up the stewardship of the Dems after two terms.
“How did we get to this point again?” asked a puzzled female friend during a chance encounter in a popular supermarket where many Barbadians flock to stretch their dollar. Now retired, she reminisced on the dismal and painful period of austerity under a previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration back in the early 1990s that should have provided valuable lessons for the incumbent regime.
Back then, the Barbados dollar came precariously close to devaluation because the country almost ran out of foreign reserves. My lady friend, now in her 70s, had suffered an eight per cent pay cut – a sacrifice public servants made to stave off the threat of devaluation which, sad to say, is a with us again as a result of how the Dems have managed our economic affairs, especially in the last five years.
“You mean to tell me all of this couldn’t be avoided?” the lady asked, by now anger obvious in her voice. “Was it really necessary to put Barbadians through all this pain again, especially when the DLP suggested in the last election that they were the better alternative?”
Of course, the current mess was to a large extent avoidable. The regime must accept major responsibility instead of constantly pinning blame on a hostile external economic environment. Part of the reason was a stubborn refusal to accept its own limitations where economic expertise is concerned and heed the many pieces of good advice which many well-meaning, highly knowledgeable and patriotic Barbadians offered in the national interest.
But, as is quite clear, the regime’s position is that it was elected to govern and, say what you may, it is going to do things its way. Perhaps the best way to describe how the regime has mismanaged the economy, as I explained to my lady friend, is to draw a comparison with a hypothetical case of a physician facing a malpractice suit brought by a patient for professional negligence.
The doctor had diagnosed a serious illness which required decisive intervention through a prompt start of the proper course of treatment. However, for whatever reason, he dillydallied until the disease had significantly advanced and then embarked on really aggressive treatment that could have been avoided had he started at the time of diagnosis. As a result, the patient was subjected to really horrible side effects and almost died.
Our economy is the patient, the DLP the doctor and the persistent fiscal deficit is the disease which has been aggravated by Government’s reluctance to rein in spending. Remember back in 2013, months following the general election, when we were caught by surprise with the news that the economic challenges had worsened, and a 19-month adjustment period was necessary?
Had Government acted more decisively back then in addressing the various key issues which are still with us and have become worse in some instances, it is quite possible that we could have avoided the present mess. Now, we the people are paying the price for their errors of judgement which they have tried to correct hurriedly by way of the May 30 Budget which aims to wipe out the deficit in nine months.
Don’t forget that before the last general election, we were told by the regime that things were not so bad and those who said so were disgruntled and unpatriotic prophets of doom and gloom. Well, time has proved who was right and who was wrong and Barbadians today know the answer on the basis of their experience over the last five years.
So that the DLP’s farewell gift to us before general elections is a gloomy Christmas. Little wonder there is no confidence in the Stuart Government’s ability to deliver us from this mess. And, in matters of the economy, confidence is everything when it comes to sustaining an enabling environment for growth to occur which is what our economy badly needs.
The next general election is our opportunity to change the physician because the wrong economic medicine over the last five years has almost killed us along with our hopes and dreams. Despite it all, let’s look on the good side because God still loves us and endeavour, as best as we can, to have an enjoyable Christmas, with whatever we have, however little, remembering the real reason for the season. Amen!