There is evidence that some degree of confidence is returning to the Barbados economy, particularly with respect to foreign investment in the all-important tourism sector.
In the last Budget, Prime Minister Mottley suggested that the Barbados economy was due for a $2 billion injection over the next three years. These include expansion to the Barbados Hilton, the revised construction of the 350 room Hyatt in Bridgetown, the Polycom group’s renovation of the old Caribee Hotel, the refurbishment of the Blue Horizon and the US $40 million Kooyman megastore to be constructed at Kendall Hill, among others. Provisions within the new Planning and Development Act and the slashing of corporate tax rates are expected to further enhance investment.
In his Sunday Sun article of April 28, Patrick Hoyos quotes Terra Caribbean’s Haydn Hutton as saying: “It would appear that after ten years of sluggish market conditions and with a noted increase in trading volume and sentiment over 2018, we can say that the trajectory of the market appears to be changing.’
The Terra Red Book leaves little doubt as to what it sees as leading to that change of trajectory. It cites, ‘the proverbial bell rang in the form of 30 seats, an International Monetary Fund Programme, successful debt re-profiling and unprecedented tax reform.’
But Barbados tourism faces serious challenges in a highly competitive marketplace. The increased room tax and the high departure tax makes Barbados a highly expensive destination. It may be years before Barbadians can realistically expect high levels of GDP growth. The other engines firing the economy will continue to struggle. There appears to be no let-up in the determination of certain international bodies to limit our sovereignty to determine our tax regimes in our interest, or to appear to be shifting the goalposts to their own benefit. The struggle continues.
The Mottley Administration and Social Issues
The Mottley administration has to confront certain social deficits relating to crime and violence and a pervasive social indiscipline. It is on the latter front, the extent and depth of Barbados’ psycho-social malaise, that I find the greatest cause for dismay.
The BLP administration and Barbadians, generally, do not comprehend the extent of the decay that has eaten into the core of their country. If the number of murders this year is anything to go by, the Mottley administration is yet to prove itself up to the task.
The BLP administration has announced, among other initiatives, its intention to appoint more judges, employ more scanners at the ports of entry and employ the defence force to assist the police in so-called hot-spots. To this latter proposal the DLP has stated that the Government has unleashed the BDF on the Barbadian public. This is the kind of political idiocy that could confine Errol Barrow’s once great party to the political wilderness, if not to the fate of the Do-Do bird, total extinction.
Very early in April, the Attorney General Dale Marshall finally issued a gun amnesty to run from April 7 to 13 and sought to amend the Bail Act to forestall the ostensibly recurrent problem of serious offenders, including those accused of murder, being granted bail. One proposal is that such persons should not be granted bail unless 24 months have expired after the person was charged. Serious times demand drastic measures. Crime and violence should not be a partisan concern.
Regrettably, the political class as a whole may not understand the extent of the challenges to Barbados’ sustainability on the socio-cultural front. On that front, the issue may be one of imposing discipline on nearly every dimension of public life. The operative word there might be ‘imposing.’ No amount of moral suasion, pious sermonizing or grandiose statements of a Vision 20/20, Hallmark Card sentimentality, are likely to effectively turn this country around without the requisite strong punitive governmental action.
Barbadians will quickly tire of the rhetoric and the symbolism if they are not matched by results. What the citizens of this country want to see are
1. an efficient transport system to get them to and from work, 2. an effective garbage collection apparatus, 3. improved roads, 4. a reliable water supply system, 5. a just and expeditious criminal justice system and ultimately, a return to the law and order that once characterized Barbados. These things will not happen overnight.
Now, if you think there are grumblings on the economic front, there will be even more on the psycho-social front as the State tries to restrict the conduct of a people grown accustomed to doing as they damned well please.
On the economic front, hopefully, the initiative of the Mottley-led government is the right one. We must stay the course and stick with Ms Mottley. She may be the only one in the current political class with the energy and the ‘gumption’ required by the job.
Describing her recent Budget as ‘bold, innovative and courageous,’ former Central Bank Governor Winston Cox stated: “The initiatives and the measures they have taken suggest a certain boldness and I feel that the Government and its leader certainly think that they can take the tough decisions. They have moved with a lot of confidence and I am comforted by that.”
It is neither right nor appropriate to suggest that there is a drift in the affairs of Barbados because ‘the promise of an economic growth and development programme being rolled out has not been realised.’ But in today’s Barbados, everything is ‘fast food.’ It is not yet a year since the BLP came to power in very difficult circumstances with the task of making a definitive correction to years of economic decline, administrative drift and social decay.
Beyond the perennial rhetoric of change, no one has spelt out a fail-safe path to either economic growth or social stability. The vision may well get lost in the next few months as we pause to wuk-up and enjoy the fete. Enjoy yourself, it may be later than you think.
Ralph Jemmott is a retired respected educator.