We look once again at the task Government faces in reducing its public spending and breathing significant life into Barbados’ flagging economy. If one takes into consideration that Barbados has been in a recession for the past decade, or euphemistically speaking, not doing too well, then the Government cannot afford to play to the political gallery or pay lip service to the task of dragging the country out of the mire.
We start by acknowledging that Government does not have an easy task. We also accept that some unpopular decisions will have to be made and they should be made if they will redound to the benefit of the country in the long-term. Government must be willing to demonstrate – as it has already shown – a willingness to listen to its public and to adopt policies that have at their core the restoration of Barbados to some semblance of economic viability, sustainability and eventual prosperity.
Recent parliamentary debates in the Lower House suggest that the Mia Mottley administration is still in general election mode. The Barbadian electorate spoke with a clear voice on May 24, yet speaker after speaker uses that platform in the absence of representatives of the former administration – and the traditional Opposition – to criticize the defeated Democratic Labour Party. It is perhaps difficult to engage in robust debate in a political context when there are no opposing faces across the floor to receive the verbal assaults. Thus, one might have to act as though the opposing faces are actually there. But the time for that has passed, indeed, it is completely unnecessary. The Barbadian electorate has spoken louder than any voice in the Lower Chamber. This is the time for those sitting on the Government benches to present ideas and possible solutions for some of the problems that affect Barbados.
Substantial debate must be directed at cutting public spending. Much has been said about Prime Minister Mottley’s unnecessarily obese Cabinet which even includes the resurrection of the previously retired career politician Dame Billie Miller to the – we assume – paid position of Ambassador at large and plenipotentiary. We will not belabour the point, but Barbadians must be able to make their own considered evaluations, whether they do so with political blinkers in place or not.
However, within the context of Government’s spending and seeking areas to reduce the practice of propping up state entities, a number of agencies must come under the microscope. We have previously addressed the Barbados Defence Force and certainly, entities such as the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the Sanitation Service Authority and the Transport Board will draw the attention of Prime Minister Mottley. It is almost certain that these three entities at some point also drew the attention of the previous government.
The state-owned CBC has been a white elephant to successive governments for decades. Long before the technological explosion that has threatened to make local television irrelevant, CBC has proven to be a financial drain on the state. But successive governments have been reluctant to divest it, and for long periods of time were unwilling to provide it with competition by granting television licences to other entities. CBC’s more than four-decades-old monopoly has brought little to the Pine and Barbadians in terms of financial profitability.
In 2011, then Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler went to Parliament to raise more than $40 million to consolidate CBC’s debt obligations and finance its capital expenditure programmes. At the start of 2018, a resolution was passed for $9.2 million to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund to supplement the 2017/18 Estimates, to pay off CBC’s debts to both overseas providers and local contractors. What has been gained by the country as a result? The government has been CBC’s milch cow for too long and in the prevailing environment, it is a luxury that taxpayers can no longer afford.
The General Post Office is another entity which ought to come under the Government’s microscope. Though Prime Minister Mottley might not contemplate divesting it, there could be a considerable scaling down of personnel and operations. This era of technology has made much of the traditional post office’s functions irrelevant. Yet, significant state funds are pumped into that entity annually.
Prime Minister Mottley spoke recently with permanent secretaries, managers and financial controllers at a closed-door meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. It is understood that high on the agenda was the drain that a number of state corporations were having on Barbados’ porous Treasury. But will action follow these meetings or will it be the proverbial “business as usual” in practice, even if the opposite is frequently trumpeted? Miss Mottley has put forward a three-phase plan to cut spending by ridding the state of some entities, cutting jobs and slashing transfers of money from central government, among other measures. It will call for intestinal fortitude to introduce unpopular measures while keeping eyes focused on the Broken Trident rather than the ballot box. Miss Mottley has been quick to state, “I got this”. The months ahead will determine if she really does.