Minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss is questioning the motive of Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Charles Herbert, suggesting the business executive was “hiding behind” his office in order to engage in party politics.
Inniss is upset at Herbert for stating that the Freundel Stuart Government achieved nothing last year, and for calling for a general election so there can be “a Government with a new mandate” to tackle the economy.
The minister said he was not sure if the private sector boss was simply advocating that a poll be held immediately – the general election is due by the middle of this year – or if he was calling for a change in Government.
However, he said Herbert appeared to have a hidden political agenda.
“He is entitled to his view, I am not quarrelling with that whatsoever. I am quarrelling with those who hold these offices and then take these positions, hiding behind the offices they hold, when in truth and in fact they seem to want to be more politicians than those who are politicians,” a skeptical Inniss said.
The Member of Parliament for St James South took issue with the fact that Herbert’s “very strong statement” was made in his capacity as the BPSA head, stressing that it was important for leaders of such organizations to put aside “personal biases” and engage the administration.
And even as he said he empathized with those calling for an election, Inniss also implied that comments like those made by Herbert could have consequences for the organizations he represents.
“[I wish] to have leaders of non-partisan organizations continue to give Government their candid views without indulging in party politics,” he said, adding that: “This can have a long-term negative impact upon their organizations no matter which party is in office.”
“My to Mr Herbert is, are you speaking in a personal capacity as an unapologetic supporter of a political party, or are you speaking as chairman of the BPSA?”
Herbert, who has been lamenting the slow pace of implementation in some cases, and, in other cases, the apparent abandonment of various policies intended to correct the country’s economic woes, had told Barbados TODAY last week that the Freundel Stuart administration had not achieved a single thing in 2017.
Also, in a story in the last Sunday Sun newspaper bearing the headline, ‘New Gov’t ‘Needed’, Herbert was quoted as saying, “the sooner we have elections, the sooner we will have action, and it’s not a political statement. We need a Government with a new mandate which will implement decisions quickly”.
Insisting that the authorities knew what needed to be done to correct the economic and social issues but refused to take decisive action, Herbert had also bemoaned Government’s apparent inability to meet with the Social Partnership for detailed and regular updates on matters of interest, including the performance of the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and the proposed Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan 2017.
However, Inniss told Barbados TODAY he considered this comment to be “offensive”, while seeking to link Herbert to the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader Mia Mottley, who has vowed to repeal the tax should the BLP win the next election.
“To come and say that a Government has not achieved much, then he ought to say what were his expectations of the Government in some of the most trying circumstances,” Inniss added, while seeking to justify the onerous levy, which quintupled from July 1 last year, jumping from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of imported and locally produced goods.
“I hear Mr Herbert talk about he would like to see the removal of the NSRL. Mottley has said the first order of business, if she attains the office of Prime Minister, is to remove the NSRL,” he observed.
The minister told Barbados TODAY he had difficulty with the tax – which he had said during the Budget debate would have been painful for his constituents – as well as the overall level of taxation here.
Notwithstanding, Inniss made it clear there was no alternative.
“When people come and say remove all these taxes, these are the same people who will keep noise when their constituents cannot access essential medicines in Barbados. They are the same ones who would keep noise when they realize they cannot meet the payroll for the public sector in this country,” he argued.
“Our health care system is still intact. Law and order in Barbados is still functioning. The social services on the whole is still functioning. There is not anarchy in the street. The economy, yes, we have had our challenges, but you know what? When I hear people talk about the state of the Barbados economy, I say, ‘tell me where in the Caribbean they would like to go and live now’. All they [do is] cry down Barbados,” he said.
However, in a swift response this afternoon, Herbert told Barbados TODAY he had no hidden or political agenda.
He explained that his call for a general election was made on the premise that there was work to be done to drag the economy back from the edge and the current administration had very little time left to get anything done.
“Really, what I am saying is that we need a mandate that needs to make the decisions that need to be made to negotiate. We need a Government who has a term ahead of it. It could be the existing people or it could be a new group,” he said.
“There is no hidden agenda. There is no political agenda. It is just that there are big decisions to be made. How can a Government with only three months to go have a restructuring or recovery plan? How long will the plan be in force? So I am simply saying that the decisions that we are making need to be made by a group that can see them through. It is simply about a mandate and the term ahead for a newly elected Government. It is not about who is the newly elected Government, it was not a criticism of the current Government”.
Following the story published in the Nation newspaper, businesswoman Ram Merchandani had expressed disappointment at Herbert, saying the private sector was not a political body and should not act as such.
“As [chairman] he has no right to talk in this manner without the consent of membership. I would like to know who authorized this,” she said.
However, Herbert told Barbados TODAY Merchandani may have spoken after reading the headline, and without first fully understanding his statement.