There is no doubt she was the biggest newsmaker in Barbados in 2018—for several historic reasons.
Mia Amor Mottley became the first female Prime Minister of this 166-square-mile independent nation; she is the only person ever to lead a political party to a clean sweep in general elections, with her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) winning all 30 seats in the May 24 polls; and she was the first leader to have secured a Staff Level Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a record time of three months, when some countries have taken three to five times that amount of time.
History would also recall that Mottley presided over a governing party which saw Bishop Joseph Atherley, one of the BLP’s longstanding members, crossing the floor of Parliament, within days of winning his seat, to become Opposition Leader.
On assuming political leadership of this country, Mottley also stepped into a messy situation—a south coast sewage crisis in which raw effluent flowed onto the streets, resulting in a constant offensive stench, some businesses closing their doors, and health advisories being issued by the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
Once in office, she made a series of hard decisions, including: sending home more than 1 000 public officers in order to slash Government spending; imposing a 2.5 per cent Health Service Contribution (HSC); introducing an airline travel and tourism development tax; implementing a new Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC) levy; and introducing a fuel tax to replace road tax.
Her mini Budget on June 11, in which the taxes were announced, was an indicator that the road ahead would be rough.
In September, Prime Minister Mottley announced that she had adjustments to make and she had started to make them. She noted that phase one was the mini budget and phase two and three would follow.
She disclosed then that the Government would be launching its debt exchange programme and affected persons would have until September 28 to accept the terms. While some resisted, the Government was able to achieve its goal. The restructuring of the debt was a key component of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) Programme.
“Our Government must be fit for purpose at the end of this programme. Our debt to GDP must drop to 60 per cent . . . . We must be able to provide services and goods to our people, such that our country is not only stable and safe, but the place of choice for Barbadians and non-Barbadians to want to live and do business,” Mottley stated during the signing of the Staff Level Agreement with the IMF.
She said the BERT plan, which was articulated and developed in collaboration with the Social Partnership, was designed to, among other things, transform the economy of Barbados, generate sustainable and inclusive growth, streamline expenditure and reform the public sector, particularly State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
The Prime Minister explained that while the focus would not be on retrenchment of workers, it was to be expected there would be some displacement. But her promise was that Government would seek to minimize the impact of this displacement through the process of retooling and empowering, retraining and enfranchising the affected workers.
Needless to say, Mottley’s tenure in office so far has not been without repeated reference to the state of the economy that her Government inherited from the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Administration.
And the foreign reserves issue has come in for frequent mention, as recently as earlier this month when she gave her report to the country from Parliament on her first seven months in office.
“Our reserves fell from almost $2 billion down to almost $400 million earlier this year. So, when the last Government began its scorch earth policy, forcing Barbadians to wait an extra 90 days for an election for no other reason than to give way to their friends and give our future away to unscrupulous contractors and further bleed our reserves, so that the new Government would preside over crisis and damnation and the old Government would look less bad, we were quietly planning,” the Head of Government said in her Ministerial Statement to the Lower Chamber on December 18.
“The [BERT] plan has halted and reversed the six-year slide in our reserves. Our reserves jumped from $400 million to just over a billion [dollars]. Indeed, today, as we speak . . . our gross international reserves stood $1.044 billion, the first time since 2014.”
The Mottley-led Government had made much ado—particularly earlier this month during debate on the findings of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament which investigated the operations of the National Housing Corporation (NHC)—about apparent corruption under the former regime.
However, there has been no legal action against any member of the last administration so far.
If Prime Minister Mottley’s first seven months in office is remembered for nothing else, it would be the process by which hundreds of public servants were terminated.
The backlash came from several trade union leaders and commentators. For instance, General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Roslyn Smith accused Mottley of gender bias in the selection of those made redundant. Smith strongly suggested that women, who in many cases were single parents with mortgages to pay and children to send to school, were being picked on. But that assertion was stoutly denied by various Government officials who said the majority of those retrenched were men, particularly from the Ministry of Transport, Works and Maintenance.
The Mottley Administration was also accused of rushing the retrenchments without proper consultation with the unions, resulting in some departments such as Customs and the Statistical Division being unable to function properly due to a severe shortage of staff. Smith has asked to meet with the Prime Minister early in the New Year to discuss rehiring some of the staff sent home from those two departments.
Several of the concerns expressed in various quarters regarding the decisions and measures introduced by Mottley have either been addressed or are pending. These include: a special mitigation unit to ease the plight of retrenched workers; a massive digitization training programme planned for early next year for retrenched employees; an ease for those pensioners whose investments were unfavourably changed under Government’s debt exchange programme; and pending jobs at an upcoming Bridgetown Port project as well as at the Ross University School of Medicine which opens its doors early next month.
The country also got some good news under Mottley’s leadership. For the first time in 15 years, Barbados got a credit rating upgrade. Its credit rating on domestic currency was raised three notches.
Mottley was also able to report that for the first time since 2012, people were receiving their tax refunds in the same year they were filed, to the tune of over $76 million, between November and December.
Her words on the floor of Parliament earlier this month were sobering yet hopeful.
“The truth is, we end 2018 on a positive note. But 2019 promises even more. We hope in the New Year to get our economy fully out of the woods and back on a desired path. I am sorry that, to date, there has been some pain. And the truth is, I cannot promise a rose garden in the next 12 months. But what I can say is that I am confident, that by December 18, 2019, fewer persons in this country would have reason to complain. By December 18, 2019, fewer persons would be without a job. By December 18, 2019, fewer persons would be living below the poverty line. And by December 18, 2019, our infrastructure would be undergoing a major overhaul, and the standard of living of our people would continue to rise,” the Prime Minister assured. (EJ)