by Marlon Madden
First Vice President of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Ryan Walters is demanding that the Mia Mottley-led administration provides answers on what portion of its more than $2 billion stimulus package was still outstanding and why.
Walters said it appeared Government had “aborted” its plan to resuscitate the economy.
“The Government promised economic stimulus in excess of $2 billion dollars, an amount similar to what was promised on April 29,” Walters recalled.
In April last year, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced an unprecedented two-year $2 billion recovery plan, in an apparent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which started affecting the island in March.
And again in September, through a Throne Speech, Government committed itself to a COVID relief package and a stimulus package for the productive sectors.
In addition to a $400 million stimulus package for businesses, there was the creation of a Barbados Tourism Fund, $210 million for vulnerable families affected by the shutdown and more than $75 million health related expenditure.
To target economic recovery, Government had also announced a $40 million COVID relief plan to be carried out over 12 months, consisting of the hiring of school monitors, home help, the establishment of a ‘where am I’ project and agriculture projects.
There were to be over $1.4 billion in private sector capital projects; the establishment of a $250 million Home Ownership Providing Energy (HOPE) housing project, with Government spending $40 million; small businesses to receive $30 million prop up; and a $300 million Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) programme.
Later in the year, an additional $12 million was provided to help small businesses, and an additional $10 million was announced for the Adopt-A-Family programme, which started with $10 million.
Walters said it was about time Government come clean on the progress of all the plans outlined.
“Without any updates from Government, we are unclear as to the success, failure or progress of the stimulus programme. We are left to assume by the Government’s actions that they have reverted to focusing on the traditional tourism dollar even as the pandemic continues to ravage the world,” said Walters.
“The school monitor programme was started and was said to be successful but now school is online for this term what next? Are the school monitors still on payroll or on the breadline? The home help programme, when is the commencement date? We have heard nothing on the ‘Where am I in Barbados sign project’, has that been abandoned?” said Walters.
“When last did we hear from the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security? Are we to assume that the country has suddenly become self sufficient in this area?” he added.
Walters also questioned if the highly anticipated private sector projects were “on pause”, adding that there were “very little activity if any at all on the identified projects”.
“That means we have not seen the 4,500 job creation that was promised to boost employment and we will not see the 3,275 full time jobs post construction,” he said.
Work at the Crane, the Apes Hill Golf Course, Sandals and the Sagicor Retirement Village did commence, while minor work was started for the Hyatt Ziva project on Bay Street.
Walters also raised questions about the HOPE housing project, saying while over 1,000 houses were to be made available to civil servants who earn $4,000 or less a month, he was uncertain if this had started.
In October last year officials broke ground for the construction of some 15 houses in Todds, St George.
Under the programme, officials are also hoping to build low income houses in Lower Burney, St Michael, Chancery Lane, Christ Church, Coconut Hall, and Colleton, St Lucy and Concordia Gardens, St Philip.
“How many has started, when can we expect the first batches of houses to be completed? A project such as this would clearly be an economic driver, facilitating trade and providing much needed employment opportunities,” said Walters.
He said: “We have not heard much from the government about investment in the manufacturing industry in Barbados to help boost our export capability and also drive import substitution.
We can save foreign exchange if some priority was committed to this sector”.
He also cried shame on Government for not ensuring that micro and small businesses benefit from all the funds that were earmarked for them, saying that only about half of it has been disbursed and the sector was yet to recover.
In fact, Walters said: “the sector is suffering in silence”, adding that the current curfew has now presented new challenges for businesses.
“The government should keep to its word. This would go a long way in ensuring there is no further job loss and less dependency on the state for assistance,” he warned.
Walters is also calling on Government to say how much the Barbados Optional Savings Scheme (BOSS) has raised so far and if that money has been injected in the economy just yet.
In relation to the BEST programme, Walters said given that it was undersubscribed, majority of the $300 million could be “redirected to other sectors across the country to boost economic activity”.
“This leads us to the Barbados 12 Month Welcome Stamp. Touted to fill the gap for tourism short-term but can it really bear fruit in the months to come? The Government needs to update us about the Welcome Stamp. Can it be a priority again for tourism? Does it have to be repackaged to become attractive again?” said Walters.
“These were all initiatives laid out by the government to assist the country in the absence of traditional tourism. This was their plan and they need to come and give an account.
“This is the second consecutive time in less than a year that this government has not delivered on its promises to stimulate this economy,” he said.