A month ago, his name was being dragged through the mud over his alleged ownership of a $2.5 million house at Rolling Hills, St George, which turned out to be a hoax.
Prior to that, there were even more vicious rumours circulating, which, if proven to be true, could have landed him behind bars.
However, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has been taking it all in stride, even with the proverbial economic monkey now seeming to be permanently strapped onto his back, amid a worrying national deficit in the order of five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), dwindling international reserves of less than $600 million and worrying debt in excess of 100 per cent of GDP.
Instead of going away, these problems appear to have ballooned over the past year, as did the chorus of discontent against the Freundel Stuart Government and its economic and financial policies.
In the midst of the difficulties, Sinckler – the man most people love to hate – has publicly maintained a rather brave face.
He has even joked on occasion that “everyone hates Chris”, a term borrowed from the sitcom that chronicles the misadventures of teenager named Chris as he grows up in 1980s Brooklyn.
The way he put it in Parliament recently was to say that he was being blamed for everything in Barbados, adding, facetiously, that if Opposition Member of Parliament for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds got horned, “they blame me for it”.
Be that as it may, there could be no running away from the impact of his May 30, 2017 austerity Budget, which has adversely and singlehandedly impacted every household and every business in this country.
Sinckler’s $542 million package of tax measures were piled on top of an already over-taxed country in which salaries – except perhaps those of senior Government officials, including himself, who got back earlier this year the ten per cent pay they lost back in 2014 at the height of austerity – have been largely stationary over the past decade, while the cost of living has been on the rise.
The Budget included the increase of the now infamous National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which jumped from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of both imported and locally manufactured items, effective July 1, 2017.
Since then, both the NSRL and Sinckler have been at the centre of virtually every conversation, be it about the high cost of living, local food and other prices, a shortage of foreign exchange, rising unemployment, the real threat of devaluation of the Barbados dollar or the economy in general.
So controversial were Sinckler’s tax impositions that even some members of Cabinet initially found them hard to swallow.
In fact immediately after they were announced in Parliament, both Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick and Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss took exception to the levy, which is otherwise referred to as the NSRL, with Estwick warning his own administration that it simply could not “tax its way out” of its economic problems, and Inniss seriously cautioning that the NSRL would result in a rise in the cost of living, as he echoed the call by Opposition Leader Mia Mottley in her Budget reply, for provisions to be made to assist vulnerable citizens.
“All I ask is that we ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not placed in any more of a disadvantageous or uncomfortable position,” Inniss had said at the time, while also pointing to concerns raised by the manufacturing sector over the increase in the NSRL.
“When they sell to other manufacturers the National Social Responsibility Levy is not applicable as far as I understand. But when the manufactured goods are sold to the retailers, the National Social Responsibility Levy is applicable, and therefore that leads to an increase in the cost of goods manufactured in Barbados. But it also places us in a position to be less competitive on the local market,” he said.
However, by the time the measure was put to the vote, both men appeared to have stifled their consciences as they voted in favour of the resolution.
With elections around the corner, analysts also said it was a last ditch attempt to save the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) from any needless public fallout.
However, based on a random survey conducted by Barbados TODAY in all 30 constituencies since then, it remains to be seen if anything will be able to pull the current administration back from the brink, given the significant backlash Sinckler and the Government as a whole have been receiving on account of the onerous tax measures.
Apart from calls for him to resign, many Barbadians who we came into contact with on the streets generously used colourful and unpublishable language to describe Sinckler, who was also blamed by supporters of the incumbent DLP for their decision to turn their backs on the party.
In fact, many openly declared their intention to stay away from the polls on Election Day, while others were undecided.
As an even stronger indication of public discontent, in mid-July, thousands of Barbadians took to the streets of Bridgetown to urge Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to reconsider the dreaded tax increase that had sparked a string of protests by workers.
The Barbados Private Sector Association and leading trade unions organized the joint march to demonstrate against the hike in the NSRL.
Protesters held signs reading “People of Barbados Need Relief”, “Government Must Not See Black or White” and “Today We Endorse the Fellowship of Partnership” during the march.
Police estimated the turnout at the peaceful protest from Queen’s Park through the streets of The City to be as high as 20,000.
However, as the year drew to a close there was still no evidence of relief from the tax measures, even with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) strongly warning Government that its chances of achieving its deficit target this year were slim to none.
Following its two-week Article IV Consultation in November, the IMF team, led by its deputy division chief Judith Gold, also cautioned that Government’s programme was much too “ambitious”, while pointing out that the overall deficit was likely to fall by a mere two percentage points by the end of this fiscal year.
Back in May when Sinckler announced the programme he had said that Government was aiming to wipe out the deficit of $537.6 million and achieve a small surplus of $4.4 million.
However, Gold and her team warned that without divestment proceeds, the deficit would only decline to 4.1 per cent of GDP in financial year 2017/2018.
“The larger than expected fiscal deficit is increasing funding challenges,” Gold warned.
In terms of the performance of the actual measures, which included the steep rise in the NSRL, an introduction of a new sales tax on foreign currency transactions and a hike in the excise duty on fuel, the IMF reported that due to exemptions to the NSRL, lower-than-expected non-oil imports, shortfalls in some other revenues, and high transfers, Government was likely to fall short of its overall target.
The lending agency also warned that the country’s international reserves, which stood well below the 12 weeks benchmark at just 8.6 weeks of import cover or $549.7 million at the end of September, were likely to dip even further by year end as Government continues to service its debt, and private foreign inflows remain weak.
But with the Stuart administration currently not entertaining suggestions of a borrowing relationship with the Washington-based financial institution, the Fund said it welcomed progress in formulating the Barbados Sustainable Recovery Programme (BSRP), while emphasizing the need for immediate structural reforms, as well as reform of state-owned enterprises, which it said should include improved management, mergers, closures, and privatization.
With that said the new strategy, which was due to be laid in Parliament in December 2017, is still pending; so too the sale of the Hilton Barbados Resort and the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL ) which Government has been banking on to help shore up its dwindling reserves.
In a show of frustration last month over how slowly the process has been going, Sinckler publicly turned his fury on the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) which was at the time deliberating on its decision on the BNTCL sale to the Kyffin Simpson-led Sol group.
“I believe the Minister of Commerce [Donville Inniss] has indicated . . . gently I am sure . . . to the FTC, that the issuing of its final decision on the state of the sale of the BNTCL is now long overdue and must be done expeditiously, whatever that decision might be,” Sinckler told participants at the annual conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados.
“It is simply taking way too long in my opinion and frustrating all parties involved and potentially jeopardizing our economic plans,” he said, while seeking to make it abundantly clear that at this stage, he was less concerned with what its decision would be, than the fact that “after near nine months [and] no decision has been made”.
He stressed that the FTC needed to issue its ruling “so we can move on”.
However, the conditions attached to the FTC’s approval last month have proven to be a further setback to the sale, while Government also patiently awaits the court’s decision on a legal challenge brought by attorney-at-law and social activist David Comissiong to the development of a Hyatt hotel on Bay Street, St Michael.
By year end, Sinckler’s hands appeared to be have been tied on these matters, but not on the appointment of a new Governor of the Central Bank.
On December 28, he publicly announced that Acting Governor Cleviston Haynes would be confirmed in this position in January after his bitter fallout with the former Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell back in February that ended up in Worrell’s sacking and Sinckler being hauled by the Governor before the court.
In late February the Court of Appeal threw out Worrell’s injunction blocking his dismissal from the top post.
However, Worrell’s attorney Gregory Nicholls has warned that the matter is far from over since Worrell intends to challenge, all the way to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice if necessary, the minister’s right to dismiss him.
That matter is still pending.