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Talk to the people

The only thing more depressing, or perhaps annoying, when one is faced with a personal crisis, is to hear someone you look to for comfort and assistance say “I told you so”, or “Don’t blame me, it is your fault!”.

Today, 24 hours after the announcement that Barbados’ credit rating has been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s, we suspect that many Barbadians are still trying to understand what it means — what are its implications for the country generally, but for them in a personal way.

Based on some of the conversations we have overheard among ordinary Barbadians, it is clear that many don’t really comprehend the intricacies of what Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr. Delisle Worrell, said during his press conference yesterday, but they know that something is wrong, perhaps gravely wrong.

And while the governor did well to remain calm and to appear in charge while he fielded questions from reporters, we do not believe he was as effective in comforting Barbadians as he believes he was, or as he intended to be. There are still to many questions to be answered, and some of them appear quite obvious, on the face of it.

For as long as many adult Barbadians can remember, we have prided ourselves on our AAA rating. We boasted about it, and when we placed it on the pedestal beside our sacred two-for-one exchange rate against the United States dollar, we thumped our chests with pride. In many ways we used our ratings to make ourselves seem superior to our neighbours, especially the Jamaicans and Guyanese.

How come now that pedestal has been kicked from under us we can shout it is nothing — life goes on.

We don’t believe we are qualified to argue economics with the governor — he is an expert in the field. We also concede that he may very well be right in concluding that S&P has incorrectly and unfairly downgraded us; but they have, so don’t tell us it means nothing now.

Tell us if, as suggested by some, it will mean that even private sector borrowers could be faced with more stringent terms. Tell us if it is accurate that there may be loans already in place, whose terms were based on the previous ratings, and if they can now be subject to renegotiation at the demand of the lender as a result of the S&P action.

A non expert may ask whether a project like Four Season could be affected by this downgrade, even as the principals get ready to get it up and running again. There may indeed be little to worry about, but convincing the man in the street may take a little more.

We take note of the fact that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler took a similar stance, telling the country there is nothing about which they should panic, even as he pointed to some of the “positives” contained in the same S&P report.

As is the case with the governor, we suggest that the minister spend a little more time talking to the people about this. If the Government wants people to accept that there is nothing to bother about they have to do more than simply say: “Don’t panic!”

It is time to properly sell your message to the population if you want them to believe you.

And one other thing Mr. Sinckler, remember, there is a time and place for everything. The sombre and uncertain mood in which the S&P announcement would have left so many Barbadians at the close of the day yesterday meant it was not the time to shout: “Don’t blame me!”

You were absolutely right when you said yesterday that “when the previous administration had the opportunity to diversify and restructure this economy, they did not do so…” Clearly they must shoulder some blame in the grand scheme of things for where we are now, but blame will not get us out of this hole and it does not engender confidence.

We believe we are right when we say that at this moment Barbadians are more interested in where we are going than where we have been. So take the lead, please!

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