Exactly how many people are currently out of work? It is a simple but pertinent question to which the people of this country ought to have a clear answer. There is no other way but to place the matter squarely on the table.
Barbados has been through an extraordinary time as 2020, which portended to be a year of great expectation, morphed into a global migraine. Following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus which hopped from Wuhan, China to Europe and then quickly engulfed the globe, we have been left to pick up the pieces and reconfigure our lives and economies in its wake.
Economic and social planners are scratching their heads to formulate models for a recovery plan in the midst of so much uncertainty. No one is completely sure when or if an effective vaccine will become available; thus, forecasting how deep and long this convulsive period will continue becomes an incredibly difficult undertaking.
Having reliable, accurate and timely statistics is therefore paramount for effective planning at the national, corporate and individual levels. In their absence, one is merely dabbling highfalutin guesswork and hoping for a positive outcome.
When Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Cleviston Haynes offered his first quarter review of the Barbados economy in April, one had hoped that the country would have been given this information, even if it was the employment figure at the end of 2019 when surely the economy had stabilized and consumer and business confidence had returned in a big way. Sadly, no one who engaged the Governor asked the question.
We are convinced that if the unemployment figure is unknown to the three ministers in the Ministry of Finance, then something is dreadfully wrong. Certainly, the Minister of Finance Prime Minister Mottley, her Minister of Finance Ryan Straughn or her Minister of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle has requested this information from the Barbados Statistical Department by now.
It is not enough to say, as Attorney General Dale Marshall noted in Parliament, that at least 45,000 Barbadians had applied to the National Insurance Scheme for unemployment benefits. Someone, please tell us what is the current unemployment rate? Is it 25 per cent, 30 per cent, 40 per cent or even higher? As bad as it may be, the public deserves to know.
Historically, international agencies and multilateral institutions have complained about the Caribbean’s dismal record of collecting and releasing important data on a range of matters, whether they are gender-related statistics, labour market figures or numbers about various environmental issues.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) put it succinctly when it lamented: “Generally, the Caribbean countries have been described as ‘data-poor’ and in the absence of data and information, policies adopted and implemented have been arrived at on the basis of little or no data and less information. The result is years of wandering in the wilderness of development – talking of visions of the promised land of development without the ability to measure proximity to that goal.”
And while ECLAC blamed the situation on issues such as lack of institutional capacity and qualified personnel, lack of coordination between departments and importantly, lack of political priority, we cannot, at this juncture, allow political expediency or any other consideration to prevent our population, the business community or even overseas agencies from obtaining the true picture of our present condition.