It will not be business as usual at statutory corporations, Prime Minister Mia Mottley today signalled, warning that “serious decisions” have to be made about the structure of Government to save the ailing economy – from accounting practices to job cuts.
The full details are expected to be rolled out shortly, but while leaving no doubt of a coming major overhaul of debt-ridden state agencies, she also promised the Government would not be callous in cutting jobs.
“Within two weeks we will be speaking to the people of Barbados as to what we believe to be the road map for phase 2 and phase 3 under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation Programme, she told Parliament this morning, as she laid the Public Service (General) Order 2018, which paved the way for public servants to receive a five per cent wage hike from this month.
Declaring that Barbados was at the place “where we need to tighten the belt” Mottley however gave her word that no man, woman or child would be left behind in the restructuring process.
A key plank of that restructuring is bringing order to millions of dollars in transfers to public entities.
Insisting that Government could no longer afford the drain on the public purse, Mottley decried the state of affairs left behind by the former Democratic Labour Party Government at the National Housing Corporation (NHC), the Transport Board and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA).
NHC: “They disrespected the rules of procurement. We have a situation where they disrespected the fact that the corporation, by the admission of every single management officer, was insolvent – from the finance officer right through – but yet it was behaving as if it could give out contracts and accept liabilities as if flushed with money.”
Transport Board: “I am told the Transport Board today needs $17 million in subsidies to move forward.”
BWA: “The Water Authority needs $60 million dollars in subsidies and that has nothing to do with the commitment it went and gave to the construction of desalination plants that would add to potentially on a take or pay contract once it becomes operational, another $100 million.”
Declaring that action had been taken to stop the financial bleeding, the Prime Minister told Parliament that state enterprises were now required to present to the Ministry of Finance their accounts for analysis within five days of the previous month.
“There are a few who believe that a habit is not to be developed of this practice and that having done it two months in a row that they should not do it a third. It shall not happen under this Government.
“There will be discipline on the part of all those who will be entrusted with the funds of the taxpayers to manage in this country,” Mottley said.
A meeting is be held next week to further outline the Government’s expectations on accounting to top civil servants and state enterprise bosses, the Prime Minister announced. The officials also had a responsibility to raise the bar on how they manage the process since the Government needed real time information to track its revenue and spending daily, she added.
“There will be a meeting next week Tuesday with all of the finance officers of Government, all of the Permanent Secretaries, all of the chairmen, general managers and finance officers of statutory corporations because regrettably the practice of how we manage and handle our affairs, down to our reporting of banking, has fallen into shambles and it therefore means that the Accountant General is not in a position to give the kind of information we need in order to make the kind of decisions that we need to make in a timely manner,” Mottley told the House.
While stating that there could be no getting away from the resulting job losses, she reiterated that it would not be callous and may include voluntary exits for some workers.
“I am not going to stand here and fool anybody … but will the consequences be more than 5, 000, 6000 jobs? No there will not be. Equally, we appreciate that they are some people who may say, I have reached 60 years old, the circumstances of my family are such that I would rather take my leave now and go into voluntary separation on a platform to be negotiated and settle with the Social Partnership and unions in particular and all of that will be presented to the country,” she said.
Proposals were also on the table to cushion the impact of the expected losses, the Prime Minister announced.
A special unit in the Prime Minister’s office is to work with affected workers, she revealed.
Among the “cushion” measures Mottley suggested were access to Government land for farming and access to licences, and short-term “affirmative action” legislation on Government procurement to benefit those made jobless by the adjustment process.
“We are going to use Government’s capital programmes in a creative way, those projects that exist now, the transformation that we want to see for Government, as well as the powers of legislation and the powers of allocation of Government’s wider resources to cushion the blow as we go through this restructuring process,” the Prime Minister said.
An extra $5 million will be allocated to the Welfare Department which will also be reformed to deliver better quality services, Mottley announced.