Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s report card is in. And the Government, naturally, has given itself a passing grade. Which government wouldn’t? Supporters of the Barbados Labour Party administration will naturally feel a sense of satisfaction with the report card even if government’s juggling of numbers – and public servants – has not translated into direct improvements in the lives of the average Barbadian. Detractors as well as Democratic Labour Party supporters still licking their deep wounds will scoff at Miss Mottley’s report to the nation because that is the modus operandi applicable in any politically polarized society such as Barbados’.
But from the outset it must be made abundantly clear that the Mottley administration has been in office for a mere six months and it would be ridiculous to expect the country’s economic woes to have been mended or significantly reversed so swiftly. And even if this is the perception that might be understandably promoted – for political mileage – Miss Mottley’s administration deserves to be given the time and space to carry its plans through the implementation process and hopefully towards a successful completion stage.
During her recent report to the nation she had this to say: “We promised six months ago, that we would bring Barbados back to where it belongs . . . in the region, in the world and in the psyche of Barbadians, living at home and abroad. I am proud to report this evening, using every yardstick and every other measure available to me, that this noble mission…has been accomplished. Barbados is punching once again above its weight division.” Of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transition Programme (BERT) Miss Mottley added: “The plan has halted and reversed the six-year slide in our reserves, which have jumped from just $400 million to over $1 billion. Indeed today our Gross International Reserves stood at $1.044 billion – the first time since 2014.” The Prime Minister also spoke glowingly of gross tax revenues increasing by $118 million between April and November this year compared to the corresponding period last year and a drop in expenditure of $322 million. This is all welcomed news. But let’s put aside the vague rhetoric of “Barbados punching above its weight” and look at our situation a bit closer.
Barbados has deliberately defaulted on its external debt payments, which still have to be paid. The economy has been boosted by a financial injection from the International Monetary Fund with more to come – additional long-term debt. Massive 2018 retrenchments with more slated for 2019 have and will result in reduced state expenditure. Additional taxation, especially the brilliantly conceived one at the petrol pump has also enhanced government’s coffers. But what about private and public sector productivity? What about a restructuring programme related to the energy and food imports that devour our limited reserves? It seems that thus far we have had short-term, cosmetic surgery that temporarily stymies the haemorrhaging but leaves some weak areas that are subject to rupture in the future. The Sandiford administration of the early 1990s took somewhat of a similar path without going the full monty in terms of not only restructuring the engines that drive our economy but addressing those elements that burden it. Like Mr Sandiford, Miss Mottley has realized that the public service can often be overpopulated and has sought to address that. But she also needs to look at an overall reshaping of the present constituency and parliamentary complement that is too large and grossly unnecessary on a 166 square mile dot.
We believe that Miss Mottley is driven in her quest to turn Barbados’ dire economic circumstances around and also has the country’s best interest at heart. We also believe that there have been a few missteps especially as it relates to the chaotic retrenchment exercise. One also questions the necessity to be paying four or five economic advisors from the state’s struggling coffers if the major advice seemingly emanating from that collaboration was simply to borrow money from the IMF. That advice could have been obtained freely from a mid-level bank manager. Miss Mottley, however, has been a breath of fresh air in her communication with the Barbadian public. She clearly understands the power of public relations and mass communication and has used them excellently. This was a damning failure of her predecessor who was so seemingly out of touch with his public that he felt quite comfortable referring to himself as a sleeping giant and professing not to read newspapers. Miss Mottley must be given an “A” for effort but should not delude herself nor should the public be deluded into believing that Barbados is back. This is still a work in progress with many of the inherent structural flaws still firmly in place.