For ten years between 2008 and 2018 the then ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) reminded Barbadians ad nauseam of the obvious, that Barbados was more than an economy, it was a society. It seemed part of a lame excuse not to take decisive action on the economy for fear of inflicting further unwanted pain on the island’s lower and middle class and damaging the party’s general election prospects. The Government of the day failed to find the correct economic balance, dawdled at the wheel and a combination of astute political opposition, population disenchantment, trade union and private sector collusion, led to the DLP’s annihilation at the May 24 polls. One would be disingenuous to suggest that the self-confessed sleeping giant and his cohorts did not get what they deserved.
Today, just over 14 months after a new administration has taken over the governance of the island and as it attempts to crunch numbers in the effort to rectify existing economic problems, one gets the impression that there is still a lack of balance in the International Monetary Fund-driven programme being administered by the Mia Mottley government. Indeed, the DLP’s vapid mantra has seemingly been switched, where Barbados is now more than a society, it’s an economy. And lower and middle-income earning Barbadians are those feeling the crippling pain.
One anticipated that there would be a measure of economic hardship, but sacrifices are seemingly not being made across the board. And Government is facing little or no opposition irrespective of whatever it does. We apparently have a situation where once vocal social commentators have contracted collective laryngitis and a major section of the media appear compromised by circumstances best left unsaid. Two developments, in particular, cry out for ventilation.
Three months ago hundreds of pensioners were financially bruised by a Government that reduced their monthly intake while referring to long-existent pension legislation as the basis for the decision. However, according to knowledgeable trade union experts, Government has miss-stepped on this issue where many persons are being deprived of disability allowances to which they are entitled having been discharged from Government on medical grounds. And Government seems to be at odds with itself on the issue. While Minister of Labour Colin Jordan promised almost two months ago that the situation would be rectified and these moneys returned, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn this week revealed that this would now be done in August. But the irony of this scenario is that as recent as last week there was no public indication that reimbursements had even been approved by Cabinet.
But it does not end there. More than a decade ago, hundreds of Barbadian workers who received significant pensions, inclusive of voluntary pensions to which they would have contributed since the 1980s, invested their moneys in state debenture certificates with mutually agreed contractual terms. Some took out 15-year debenture agreements where the principal would be returned and there would also be biannual interest payments. In some cases, depending on the size of the investment, an investor could be entitled to biannual returns of approximately $6 500 and $7 000 before deduction of withholding tax. It was a vote of confidence in the Government by persons probably conscious of what befell those who had invested in entities such as Trade Confirmers, and in later years, CLICO and British American Insurance. Barbadians, mostly those close to retirement or retirees, who looked to benefit from the interest payments in terms of paying their mortgages and accessing affordable medical care, trusted their Government. But they were in for a rude awakening.
The current administration introduced the Government’s Debt Holder (Approval of Debt Restructuring) Act, 2018, and basically threw existing arrangements through the window. The years prior to 2018 basically meant nothing. Government changed the arrangement that saw the individuals who were receiving the previously mentioned payments before withholding tax was deducted, now getting quarterly payments that totalled about $2 000. The reduction has led to many voluntarily retired persons being made to seek fresh employment or those who were contemplating early retirement being forced to continue working. Some have lost their medical insurance and life insurance or are faced with the loss of their homes because payments for these services and possessions were tied to the level of returns from their original debentures. Amortization plans have led to reduced, drawn-out returns on investments.
When one juxtaposes the massive largesse being raked in by under-employed state MPs, or entities such as White Oak Consultancy in England, as well as other highly-paid consultants and ambassadors across the length and breadth of government, to the hardship of pensioners, would-be pensioners, and retrenched workers, the idea that BERT’s economic pain is being equally shared is drivel on stilts.
With the cost of living rising in every sphere despite the repeal of the National Social Responsibility Levy, increased taxation, massive public sector lay-offs, not to mention significant incentives being given to big businesses, is this the type of environment to be stripping the flesh off those already emaciated? The patient suffering from brain cancer who has his head removed has not been cured. He is dead.