It is often said to quote former British Prime Minister James Harold Wilson that “a week is a long time in politics,” as Barbados’ most recent political history has shown.
In fact, given all that has already unfolded it is hard to believe that it only two weeks ago that this island elected a new Barbados Labour Party-led administration, which was in its very first week hit by the defection by Bishop Joseph Atherley who took the politically bold and risky step of turning his back on the Mia Mottley-led Government, to take up immediate residence on the opposing side of Parliament.
With that decision, the country has been assured of at least one dissenting voice in the House of Assembly, which is otherwise nothing short of a swarm of ‘Bees’.
This was made pellucidly clear on the very first sitting of the House of Assembly on Tuesday, where were it not for Bishop Atherley’s intervention nary a word would have been uttered against Government’s unilateral plan to amend the Constitution to allow for Senator-designates Rawdon Adams, the son of late Prime Minister Tom Adams, and Kaye McConney, former Consul General to Canada, to take up seats in the Upper Chamber which hitherto had been reserved for Barbadians who have been resident here for 12 consecutive months or more.
In tabling the amendment, Prime Minister Mottley referred to the current provision as “anachronistic” and said it should have been updated “as far back as 1974 when [then Prime Minister, now the Right Excellent] Errol Barrow changed Section 43, which spoke of ‘citizens of the Commonwealth Caribbean” to “citizens of Barbados”.
“Two of our Governors General, [the Right Excellent] Sir Hugh Springer and Dame Nita Barrow, would have served with distinction overseas for many years, and it is important for us to draw on our Barbadian talent no matter where they reside,” Mottley added in defence the appointments.
With that said, it still must be asked, as Bishop Atherley rightly did, why two people resident in the Diaspora were chosen for the posts, and were there not 200,000 people in Barbados from whom the Government could have chosen the required number of senators.
Indeed, the current BLP administration needs “to resist the temptation to abuse its power” given its overwhelming majority in the 30-seat Parliament.
With that said, more concerning to us is the current precarious state of our domestic economy.
And in light of all the dramatic occurrences of the past week in which Barbados not only defaulted on an important debt payment to Credit Suisse – triggering not one, but two significant downgrades from CariCRIS and Standard & Poor’s – whither all the talk of a 4.5 per cent pay increase for public servants?
It is not to say that Government workers, who have been made to wait for the past ten years are not worthy of a pay hike, but how in God’s Earth will this be allowed to fly in the midst of intense negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a balance of payments support programme?
In fact, the IMF said as much in its statement yesterday at the conclusion of its three-day mission to the island for initial talks with the Mottley-led Government on what was required.
The statement was particularly clear on the issue of public spending, saying there was need for major expenditure cuts.
“Substantial fiscal consolidation is needed to place debt on a clear downward trajectory in conjunction with the proposed debt restructuring, and to address balance of payments risks that cloud the country’s future,” the IMF mission said.
And while acknowledging that the level of taxation in the island was already high, it stressed that “the adjustment effort should focus on the expenditure side, including by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, containing wages, and reforming Government pensions”.
As it relates to Government transfers to state owned enterprises, such as the Transport Board, it was adamant that those needed to be reduced “by reviewing user fees, exploring options for mergers and privatization, and by providing much stronger oversight”.
We therefore wait with bated breath to see whether Government’s promises to the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) with respect to a 4.5 per cent pay increase can really be fulfilled, amid a whopping $15 billion debt, it inherited, which amounts to 175 per cent of the gross domestic product and ever falling foreign reserves of US$220 million or seven weeks’ worth of import cover.
For to heed the call of the NUPW and its members at this stage is to ignore the best advice of the IMF.