24 hours is really not enough to dissect the first national budget that will underpin this country’s economic recovery over the next fiscal year.
But one can hardly ignore the emerging debate over the diet of sweet morsels, the harsh but necessary medicine or bitter gall – depends on who’s debating what – as the nation pores over the far-reaching changes needed to stay the course, as we have been so admonished by the Prime Minister.
We can at least agree, with near unanimity, that Barbados is not out of the woods, not by a long chalk.
And while most may be austerity-weary, there’s little choice but to press on if we desire to have an economy in which all can benefit and contribute to further development – or at least rising above par with the sick man of Europe, Greece.
As Mottley reminded us: “What we must not do, Mr Speaker, is to blink, is to forget the prize and give up too soon. We must, Mr Speaker, above all else, stay the course.
“The economy is no different from when you have an infection and you have to go on a course of antibiotics. You start to feel better after three or four days – the temperature is down, the pain is not as intense and the fever is going but you can’t stop taking the antibiotics. And God forbid – you certainly cannot yet go for a drink. If you do, you are back where you started.
So we press on, with a little less rhetoric perhaps but that much more elbow grease.
We can surmise that the Budget appears geared towards reviving badly needed growth, stimulating business activity in a sluggish economy and changing the way we do business.
And there are goodies that we can all smile about.
After years of silently bearing the heavy burden of personal income tax, the middle class can at least look forward to the Mottley administration’s detailed plan to broaden the base.
Not only will workers earning under $35,000 a year be exempted from paying income tax, but eligible taxpayers will see a notable decrease in their tax deductions, putting more money back into their pockets.
Taxpayers who have been anxiously awaiting their returns as far back as 2011 are to receive their refunds.
Barbadians, too, were no doubt pleased to hear that domestic water rates will remain the same.
They would also have been heartened to learn that new capital investments are set to generate hundreds of jobs are on the horizon.
But as there is no pain without gain, so Barbadians must take their collective dose for the proverbial purge.
The $1.50 hike in bus fares is perhaps the toughest pill to swallow.
There can be no mistaking that an urgent overhaul is needed at the Transport Board and that current $2 fare was simply inadequate to the task of replenishing the rolling stock.
But the $3.50 fare will bite, not only because citizens have been patiently enduring austerity for a while now, but particularly since bus services remain abysmal at best.
We approve of the Government’s promised discounts to those who have to rely on public transport, and we await keenly the details on possibly a similar initiative for those commuters on routes serviced by Public Service Vehicles.
But the poor service and dwindling fleet must be addressed immediately. If we are required to pay more towards the real cost of travel, at the very least we deserve proper service.
Also in the realm of bitter medicine, the hike in room rates is concerning for the tourism industry as well as is the increase in commercial water rates.
Tourism players have been asking for relief in these areas and the new hikes could have an impact on the sector’s competitiveness.
Adding to concerns is the tax on e-commerce transactions set to take effect from May 1. Government still needs to level with consumers on how this taxation will really work.
So 24 hours is not enough. The debate on the budget will no doubt continue for weeks to come. So we humbly propose that the Government listen to us all, partisan and patriot, acolyte and agnostic alike.
Barbadians accept there is no quick fix to our present economic woes and we believe they are prepared to shoulder the necessary load, aided by sufficient filips, in hope that sacrifice will be rewarded with a brighter future.
For this is the way we live now.