Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley is questioning whether Government’s much-touted economic recovery plan is reaping any real benefits as yet, and is calling for greater clarity on several aspects of it.
In a statement issued following Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s address to the nation over the weekend, Atherley said, “the Government has been talking much about the problems inherited [from the previous Democratic Labour Party administration] in an effort to justify their actions. But they have said little to suggest that they are about scoring any growth successes.”
He commended the Prime Minister for speaking out on the matter, saying that “it [has been] less than appropriate to delegate the delivery of major statements and comments to economic advisers Dr Avinash Persaud, Dr Clyde Mascoll, and Kevin Greenidge. No matter how involved in the process, this responsibility of major pronouncements should never have been delegated to them rather than our elected and appointed principals”.
He did not believe Barbadians were yet aware of how serious Barbados’ economic challenges were, in that “a $290 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) approval loan on 220 per cent of quota is said by the Prime Minister to send a strong positive message to the investment community and other international lending institutions. However, it is more fully the truth that the failure of Barbados to access the value amounts nearer to 43 per cent of its quota signals the IMF’s opinion that our economic position is extraordinarily poor,” Atherley said.
The Opposition Leader, noted that the IMF’s insistence on a six-per cent primary surplus and the setting of their financial assistance in the context of a four-year Extended Fund Facility, was “further testament to their dismal view of our state of economic health.
“What are the implications going forward for external investor confidence as well as for future potential domestic investment in Government instruments?”
He also questioned why domestic investors had not been consulted on the Government’s debt restructuring plans before they were rolled out.
“Local instruments holders were left without a real choice in the absence of legal recourse. In an undeveloped capital market such as ours, what options remain for potential investors if there is no credible appeal of Government offering after this bad experience?”
On the controversial subject of imminent layoffs in the public service, the Opposition Leader called for clarity on the numbers, and queried how Government would honour its promise of allocating 20 per cent of its purchases to “small operators”.
“We heard Government voices making reference to ‘no more than 4,000’. Then we heard ‘900 to 1,000’. Now we are hearing about 1,500. Is this 1,500 the ultimate number or simply the first of three waves of layoffs? ‘Two years of hope’ beyond layoff time and by way of digitization and involvement of low-level agriculture are both nebulous and un-appealing.”
He continued: “These layoffs not only come at Christmas but at a time of increased water bills, health service levy, fuel charges and the inevitable bus fare hikes. Twenty percent of procurement as an affirmative action initiative is also not a sufficiently certain alternative for retrenched lower level public service employees without capital or political connections.”
Beyond that, in his opinion, not much was said about Government’s economic growth strategies.
“The vision is blurred on the specifics relative to services exports, technology and research and development, energy and the creative economy. Without growth strategies which prove to be effective, we are now adding increased unemployed bodies on top of those under-employed and qualified graduates languishing in frustration over the past ten years without job opportunity.”
He added that the Prime Minister did not speak about the challenges facing the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), nor did she clearly spell out the fate of the statutory corporations earmarked for restructuring, and how the workers would be dealt with under such circumstances.
“There was no mention of the over-exposed NIS investment funds in Government paper. The talk about restructuring the Sanitation Service Authority, Barbados Water Authority, National Housing Corporation, and the Transport Board was rather vague, and what is the direction being considered in negotiations with the representatives of the employees at these companies?”
The lone lawmaker on the Opposition bench, who won his seat on a Labour party ticket before crossing the floor after the general election, said, “One would have preferred that the engagement of our citizens yesterday by the Prime Minister would have been in the context of an interface with the press as opposed to an address to the nation. At the end of the day, much was said, but little of substantive strategy to take us forward was communicated,” Atherley said.