Democratic Labour Party (DLP) President Dr Ronnie Yearwood last evening bemoaned Barbados’ debt levels, claiming the country currently has the largest foreign debt in its history, with hardly any results to show.
His charge before party faithful at a St Michael Central branch meeting was in direct opposition to Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s statements a day earlier that the government has not only been borrowing responsibly but has been paying down its principal for more than a year now.
At a weekend news conference where Mottley outlined that the government had secured US$100 million in funding from the Saudi Development Fund for major upgrades to urban communities, including improved housing and waterborne facilities, she reminded critics that her administration found debt of $18 billion when it came to office and since lowered that amount.
She said: “Our debt right now is about $14.5 billion having gone through COVID, having protected the consumers of this country by capping the VAT [Value Added Tax] on oil prices at the equivalent of $80 a barrel, having also frozen the prices upon which taxes can be paid on all imported goods on December 2019 values because of the disruption in the supply chain and the cost of living issues that came about both from COVID and the Russian/Ukraine war.
“So people tell you what you are borrowing without telling you what you are paying down. We started back paying down principal from September last year.”
But Yearwood rubbished the figures provided by the prime minister, insisting that the then DLP administration left far less debt behind.
“The Democratic Labour Party left $15.8.[billion], current debt is $14.6 billion; external debt when we left office $3.1 billion, external debt is now $5.1 billion; domestic debt when we were in office was $11.7 billion. Now it’s $8.9.[billion].
“So we have now some of the largest foreign debt this country has ever faced – $5.1 billion in foreign debt – and despite the debt restructuring the government did, $2.2 billion that they wrote off and all the things that they did, the debt is still around the same levels that we had in 2018; around the same levels but no results; same debt profile but we are not getting anything for all that money that we are borrowing.”
Yearwood claimed the DLP had much evidence to show, pointing to road improvements, building homes and the construction of the Best De Santos Laboratory, among other things, during its tenure.
“We can’t see anything for the money. More potholes than ever, QEH [wait] times have moved. I remember [when the Democratic Labour Party was in office] people would complain ‘Lord, I at the QEH for half a day or a few hours’. People are at the QEH for five days,
“Yes, there was debt under the Democratic Labour Party, I would not come and tell you no, but that debt was being put for productive purposes in the country,” Yearwood told the DLP meeting.
Prime Minister Mottley had earlier equally defended her government’s spending, declaring, “you see where my debt has gone to” and citing the purchase of new electric buses, over 30 water tankers, new garbage trucks, equipment for the Ministry of Public Works, the refurbishment of Harrison Point, the construction of the new Accident and Emergency Department at the QEH, and the provision of free education at the University of West Indies for all Barbadians over the last five years.
Mottley further pointed out, “This country has not had a single downgrade from the international credit rating agencies with respect to the management of either its debt or its economy. This government, far from that, has successfully gone through the first IMF [International Monetary Fund] programme and we went back into the second one not because we had to but because it was, for us, convenient to do because with nuff cloud overhead globally, it was for us still the cheapest form of money.”
However, the DLP president signalled to party members that Barbados was in need of rescue and the DLP must position itself to deliver change, as he disclosed that the candidate selection process would start soon. (BT)