As the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) continues its attempts to woo voters for the general election constitutionally due by the middle of this year, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has made yet another major pre-ballot promise.
Stuart announced at a DLP meeting at Queen’s College last night that thousands of public servants who have been working for three years or more would receive their official appointments by March 1, mere days before the life of Parliament is set to expire, unless the election is called earlier.
Dismissing calls by leading economists, including former Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell, for public sector lay-offs to curb spending, the “stench” of which the Prime Minister said he found offensive, Stuart said he would never resort to dismissing civil servants in a desperate attempt to save the economy.
“I do not accept and will never accept that when the Barbados economy gets into trouble that the workers are to be the fall guys in this exercise all the time to bring it back to respectability,” he told supporters.
“We have to find other ways to ensure that we can correct our problems. If the workers have done nothing wrong, why should they be victims to all of this?” he further questioned, while adding that public sector lay-offs were “the easy way out”.
It was a statement that ran contrary to Stuart administration’s own action in 2013 after it secured a second term, having campaigned on a promise that public workers would not lose their jobs.
However, with the economy under pressure at the time, the administration introduced a 19-month homegrown adjustment programme, which included severing approximately 3,000 Government workers, including 200 employees of the National Conservation Commission, whom the Employments Rights Commission ruled two years later, were unfairly dismissed.
In announcing the spending cuts back in 2013, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had suggested that the plan to cut public sector jobs would result in Government saving as much as $143 million.
Sinckler had also said that Government had agreed to institute a “strict programme of attrition” across the central public service, filling posts only where it was absolutely unavoidable, over a five-year period ending 2018-2019.
Four years later, in July last year, Minister of Education Ronald Jones announced that only 1,300 workers had actually been sent home, even though Government had publicly announced three times as many layoffs.
“We used the phrase, ‘we are going to send home 3,000’ [but] you know, we never did,” Jones had told DLP supporters gathered at St Giles Primary School.
“The [actual] figure was like 1,300. We kept all of those things quiet – 1,300 out of the 3,000,” he stressed at the time.
With the economy continuing to struggle and with the island’s foreign exchange reserves slumping to just 6.6 weeks of import cover at the end of December last year, Stuart last night assured DLP faithful that Barbadians “will not live on our knees”.
The Prime Minister also revealed that both the Estimates and the Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan (BSRP) would be laid in Parliament tomorrow.
The BSRP, which Stuart said “is not just cosmetic”, will address growth, fiscal sustainability, foreign exchange and social sectors.
It came out of a meeting of the Social Partnership in August 2017, where three working groups were established to propose recommendations on fiscal reform, growth and sustainability, and social responsibility.
“We have put in place and made provisions for an oversight committee to make sure that continuing oversight is exercised over it, so that the deadlines can be met and Barbados can be a better place by 2021 and 2202,” Stuart said, as he assured party supporters that his administration “was on top of the issues” affecting the island.
The announcement of the public service appointments was the second major pre-election declaration by the administration in two days, after Sinckler announced in Parliament on Friday that more than 1,400 housing units had been surveyed and would be officially transferred to occupants in a matter of weeks.
In making the revelation, Sinckler said 3,032 people, which included about 500 from his St Michael North West constituency, would be “empowered from just tenants to the concept of homeowners”.