Recently, Government, or rather our Prime Minister, has been announcing new plans at a frenetic pace, with mixed degrees of long-term benefit to the citizenry.
First, let me express full support for the plan to rehabilitate Highway 1. How we could have allowed one of our main road arteries to fall into such a dire state of disrepair is baffling, to put it mildly. Travelling along the West Coast from the bottom of University Hill to Holetown required great navigational skills and much restraint not to utter a number of colourful, choice words from the Bajan vernacular. One was beginning to wonder what was being done with the millions collected from road taxes, now disguised in the form of high petrol prices. Anyway, all is well that ends well!
The announcement that government agencies are going to be required to purchase uniforms from local clothing manufacturers is music to the ears to someone, like me, who has always contended that schools and government departments should patronise Barbadian businesses, thereby keeping Barbadians employed and saving foreign exchange. Septuagenarians and those older know the quality of uniforms produced on our industrial estates in the sixties and seventies. There can be no good reason why that standard cannot be again achieved and surpassed.
Government must also turn its attention to furniture manufacturers and provide incentives for them to compete against foreign inferior substitutes. Retailers and consumers must wrap ourselves in the national flag and buy Bajan, once products are of a good quality and reasonable price. On the other hand, of course, local manufacturers must reward our loyalty with ‘A’ class goods and service.
I was happy to hear that the administration is preparing to roll out an initiative to boost food production. There is nothing more ridiculous than our country importing over half a billion dollars in food annually, using scarce foreign reserves, while lands grow cow itch and a wide assortment of bush. Many developed countries subsidise their farmers who are then able to dump low grade food items on our market. The Ministry of Agriculture needs to incentivise farmers to grow food crops, and pressure the government to modernise and enforce praedial larceny legislation. I value animal life, but there must be creative ways of keeping the monkey population under control; at present, these animals are threatening the livelihood of persons interested in farming.
On the negative side, why does the Prime Minister continue to make her ministers look impotent and incompetent? Surely, cabinet meetings would be more appropriate for her to ask the Attorney General to launch a review of Police operations than issuing public instructions for him to do so. And can anyone explain why the Minister of Agriculture would think that he is stealing Ms Mottley’s thunder if he were to articulate a plan for increased food production, an area which falls under his portfolio? I know the Prime Minister is bursting with energy and enthusiasm, but the taxpayers are paying ministers to run their ministries, not to play spectator. Ms Mottley, we want to see what your numerous ministers can do; give them a chance to shine!
One could not help but observe the broad hint of pending layoffs and increased taxes when the Prime Minister responded to questions at a recent Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon. Have mercy on us, Ms Mottley! We are already overtaxed and laying off workers at the bottom of the salary scale will increase hardship on working class Barbadians without making any significant dent in government expenditure. Meeting BERT targets should not be of more importance than the wellbeing of people. If you must cut expenditure, consider downsizing your cabinet, the growing number of consultants/advisors and allowances of those at the top of the salary scale. The frequency and size of delegations of overseas trips are also areas for review. Certainly, there is room for savings in plane fares and per diem.
In addition, you should evaluate the performance and usefulness of some embassies. Is it really necessary to have them in every corner of the globe? Might it not be more cost effective and prudent to share ambassadors with CARICOM states whose foreign policies are closely aligned with ours. For example, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados seem to take similar positions on most issues.
We have had enough austerity; it is time to ease the squeeze and let the economy grow.
John Goddard, retired but always an educator