The debate on Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s cabinet reshuffle has subsided apparently and the business of the country goes on unabated.
Inevitably, there was by turns praise and criticism over this round of political musical chairs not seen in over a decade. Speculation abounded about the removal of four ministers and a parliamentary secretary from her large cabinet, the two new ministerial appointments, the timing, the impact and the way forward.
Much has been unravelled by political scientists and pundits with whom the move generally found favour and we remain hopeful that the changes will redound to the country’s benefit.
Change aside, the clear signal from the Prime Minister that it won’t be business as usual is noteworthy.
Indeed, the significance of her announced intention to prorogue Parliament on August 8 and resume with a new session on September 15 should not be missed.
Mottley said Parliament will resume “with a new Throne Speech and with a new direction” as to where the Government “must go in order to meet these extraordinary, different circumstances from the original throne speech of two years ago”.
One thing is certain: life in Barbados is going to be anything but the same after COVID-19. The ripple effect of this pandemic will be felt for months and possibly even years to come.
COVID-19 has turned countries big and small upside down and we are barely just emerging after successfully managing the spread of the contagious viral infection better than our powerful neighbours.
Beyond the seven deaths, 110 confirmed cases and 96 recoveries from COVID-19, the virus has upended our small economic gains. It has led to near a total shutdown of social and economic activity and the International Monetary Fund has already predicted a downturn that will dwarf the crippling 2008/2009 financial crisis.
Here at home, just as there was a sense of renewed optimism, with visible signs of a turnaround, we are now headed in the opposite direction. Estimated job losses are in the thousands. Thousands more are coping with reduced wages and shorter work days. At the end of last month, Government had already paid out $52 million dollars in unemployment claims.
Reopened businesses are so far reporting slow going as people remain skittish about spending.
Anxiety is building for families as unemployment benefits draw to an end and with many forced to rely on their savings over the past few months.
Now more than ever is the time for decisive action to revive the economy and offer hope to affected citizens and businesses.
This is the time when bold, strong action from Government beyond a fiscal repair job with a cute acronym is desperately needed.
Prime Minister Mottley and her new team must therefore be decisive to stimulate economic activity and keep a tight lid on borrowing while ensuring that all families, especially the vulnerable can survive and make meaningful contributions to the country.
We understand and appreciate the challenges presented by this unprecedented global nightmare and are aware that very tough decisions must be taken in the national interest. This requires the support of trade unions, the private sector, the Opposition, other key players and all Barbadians as we seek to emerge from this precarious position.
The route to recovery will not be easy. It would be reasonable to expect that it will be uneven. So, Government must be flexible, transparent and even-handed, allowing for changes and being open to alternative views on its mission to rebuild a stronger, better Barbados.