“Barbados is in a position where there is a definite craving for leadership and clarity. It is therefore good for people to feel that freedom to move across the divide because at the end of the day we are too small a country to, because someone is a Dee [member of the Democratic Labour Party], they are an idiot or because I am Bee [BLP], I am smart. There has to be more to it than that.” Prominent Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim, reacting over a year ago to news that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur had accepted an offer to lead Government’s economic advisory team.
It was just over two years ago that an official offer was made by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on behalf of the Freundel Stuart administration to former Prime Minister Owen Arthur to serve as Government’s chief economic advisor.
At that time the economy was performing, by Central Bank estimates, at well below one per cent growth annually, with the deficit in excess of six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), the island’s foreign reserves below the required 12 weeks of import cover and Government up the proverbial creek.
By then, Mr Arthur, the former leader of the Barbados Labour Party, was sitting as an independent member of Parliament, and on the basis of his economic track record alone, he was asked to replace the retiring Sir Frank Alleyne as head of its “independent” advisory council, which was first impaneled by late Prime Minister David Thompson back in 2008, to both review and recommend economic policy for the final approval of Cabinet.
Mr Arthur, then 66, had willingly agreed to accept the offer to head the 14-member council, knowing full well it would raise national eyebrows, but equally too that the economic challenges confronting the country were very serious.
“Clearly, it [the offer] says that they [the Government] think I have something to offer,” he had told Barbados TODAY at the time, while revealing that he had also been approached earlier by Senator Darcy Boyce to work with Government on the Caribbean Commission on the Economy.
But lo and behold politics got in the way, and certain forces within the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) were so riled up over the prospect of doing things ‘the Arthur way’ that they would do their utmost to ensure that the arrangement never saw the light of day.
For these spectacular DLP yardfowls, who would find fellowship with an equally specular group of bitter Bees who were still seething over Mr Arthur’s decision to quit the BLP, it was simply too much to accept that the same stone which the builders rejected would now become the head cornerstone.
Indeed, they had by then become accustomed to publicly vilifying Mr Arthur over his said policies; therefore they would determine that it was much easier to continue to curse and mock him at every turn – to the point of even wishing he were dead – than to yield to any of his advice.
What a shame, especially given the fact that we are now worse off economically than we were two years ago, even after Government would have laid off 3,000 plus public servants, and piled on taxes on top of taxes in its last two Budgets in particular.
With the reserves now at their lowest level in 22 years at $410 million, or 6.6 weeks of import cover, and our national debt still at the dangerously high level of over 100 per cent of GDP, one cannot help but wonder whether we would have been in such a sorry state had our Government not opted for political expediency at a time when the country seemingly needed ‘Arthur more than ever’.
Like him or loathe not, he was the Prime Minister who led us through 14 years of economic growth.
And when we peel away all of the political tomfoolery, his economic experience and competence are unparalleled nationally for weathering a major economic storm of the magnitude of the one we are currently facing.
It is therefore disappointing to say the very least to hear the Stuart administration – after two years of impassioned and well-reasoned appeals by Mr Arthur for this or that action to be taken – now seeming to finally come around to his way of thinking on the way out.
After ignoring Mr Arthur’s warnings, we have lived to hear Mr Sinckler, in virtually the same words as the former Prime Minister, caution us last week that not only is there need for an urgent national discourse on the economy, but that our complete list of social entitlements must be reviewed and that it cannot be business as usual within our 63 state-owned enterprises, which have been benefiting from over $1 billion a year in Government transfers.
To our surprise Mr Sinckler, who has been the key henchman of this Government, has also seemingly come around to Mr Arthur’s thinking, and that of other well-respected economists, that there can be no running away from the question of a formal arrangement with the International Monetary Fund. The only caveat issued by Mr Sinckler, who has been bitterly opposed publically to such a suggestion up until now, was that such a move would have to come with a new mandate from the people.
It begs the question, how much further ahead would we have been today economically had we heeded the wisdom of Mr Arthur and others of like mind?
As far ahead perhaps as Grenada, which took on board his advice over the past two years and are now well on the road to recovery.
We have to agree with Mr Pilgrim that our country is in too much of a volatile economic position for its best resources to be ignored strictly on party political grounds.