With Government just weeks from officially getting funding for its Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) 2022 plan, the business community is questioning the delay in setting up promised support and monitoring committees.
Additionally, President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Anthony Branker is calling for “an early seat at the table” when it comes to negotiations on economic issues with the administration.
In response to the concern and call, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has promised continued engagement with the private sector and assured the committees will soon be established.
Both were speaking on Tuesday at the BCCI’s annual business luncheon and discussion forum, which was held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre under the theme Strengthening Barbados’ Economy Through Collective Partnerships.
Branker said while the business community was “thankful” that the country’s debt was being lowered and economic growth was returning, BERT 2.0 placed a great deal of emphasis on private sector-led growth and, therefore, engaging with the Government early was absolutely critical.
“We appreciate the role the private sector must play as the engine of economic growth and export expansion. However, as we go forward, economic development has to be based on a more inclusive and expanded public-private sector partnership. We need a seat at the table from early in the negotiations,” he said.
He insisted that “transparency and accountability have to be the pillars of this relationship to drive confidence in order to secure the investment”.
Having reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund at the end of September, officials are expected to go before the Washington-based institution’s board on December 7 for final approval for financing of the BERT programme under the Fund’s Extended Fund Facility.
The BERT 2022 plan speaks to the need for private sector investment to be increased from the current 8.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $975 million annually to about 15 per cent of GDP or about $1.96 billion annually.
In addition to a targeted five per cent annual growth rate, it also speaks to the establishment of a public/private sector growth council and delivery task force to promote and support the implementation of the growth strategy.
“As a member of the Barbados Private Sector Association, we have not heard anything on the establishment of these working groups to date,” said Branker. “The Chamber fully embraces the concept of what gets measured gets done, and so we look forward to the establishment of these working groups.”
Mottley, who is also Minister of Finance, sought to assure the BCCI head that he “need not worry about the level of engagement and consultation” since “what Barbados must look like over the next five to seven years requires all of us at the table”.
“I am truly amazed when I hear this Government has not consulted enough,” added Mottley, who is expected to engage citizens on Wednesday night on national issues and meet with private sector officials next Friday.
She pointed to a number of decisions taken recently, including the capping of freight costs and Value Added Tax on some items which she said was done following consultation with the private sector.
The Prime Minister said her administration would be establishing a fiscal council by the end of March next year. She said work has already started, through the implementation of various pieces of legislation, to encourage greater transparency and accountability.
“We need an independent fiscal council to be able to send a message to all and sundry, locally and internationally, that what we say we will do we do and to be able to independently assess what the Government is doing in terms of the public financial management,” said Mottley.
The fiscal council is expected to have one representative from the international community and the rest sourced regionally and/or locally.
Mottley also promised the implementation of a public-private sector growth council soon to monitor the investment and growth targets under the BERT plan and the promised task force to hold government agencies and members of the private sector accountable for what they commit to doing.
Insisting that her administration will take an approach to economic growth that caters to the needs of residents, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the task ahead will be difficult and would need an all-hands-on-deck approach.
She said it will also require major private sector investment in a number of areas, with support from the Government.
Mottley singled out areas such as the renewable energy sector, tourism, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, health and wellness, housing, enfranchisement, the heritage and creative economies, and agriculture and food security.
She added that Barbados must use its geographic location to its advantage and become a hub for knowledge and innovation.
At the same time, Prime Minister Mottley pointed to the need for improved productivity in the public and private sector and methods to curtail brain drain while increasing the population.
She acknowledged that as the BERT programme takes shape in the coming years, the country will have to contend with some hurdles and constraints including climate change impacts, crime, chronic non-communicable diseases, long-term effects of the COVID-19 virus, and effects from global economic developments such as high inflation and low economic growth.
Government is expected to receive funding for the BERT plan to the tune of about $1 billion in the form of budget support, with $366 million coming from the IMF, $300 from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and $200 million from the World Bank.
BERT 2.0 is expected to also be largely financed by another $1 billion for specific projects, facilitated through a number of funding partners including the Export-Import Bank of China, the IDB the Caribbean Development Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF).