Beyond the gripes

For many Barbadians, 2012 has been an exceptionally challenging year. As the year closes there is still much trepidation that is likely to be carried into the New Year.

As one writer noted in another section of the media last week, “the most that a government can offer in times of difficulty is hope. To continue on an undeniably difficult path without relief, and to reject any suggestions of an alternative, is to deny hope”.

Today, all across Barbados, many are speaking in terms of hope denied, and in terms of a poorly performing DLP administration – regardless of the factors contributing to such dismal results – as the current is always adept at pointing out the vagaries of an international recession, or any shortcomings that possibly may be attributed to the previous BLP administration.

Most residents in the island do not believe that Barbados can recover quickly from the current debilitating economic conditions. This feeling of futility has been fed by the DLP, so much so, that Chris Sinckler as far back as in his 2011 Budget presentation, alerted Barbadians that “there is no doubt that Barbados has serious challenges”; and further, because Barbados “a small, fragile and highly vulnerable economy and society, it will not take a whole lot to unravel and destroy the very social and economic fabric of this country.” Barbadians have, to some growing extent, come to accept the DLP’s position that little if anything can be done to appease the situation or, better yet, to position Barbados for recovery as the recession is no longer global if it ever was.

Barbadians do not see the escape routes that the DLP hints at but never divulges the details; they see little or no relief from the socioeconomic paralyses that they have been experiencing, and especially over the last five years – things have seemingly gone from good at the beginning of 2008, to bad by 2010 and Thompson’s departure, and now worse with at the threshold of 2013.

Thousands of suffering workers in the country have reached into the last few cents of their savings in order to cope with the impact of a rising cost of living and high inflation, which all can be calculated to be the severe internal devaluations wreaking havoc for both merchants and consumers. Would you believe that a similar but formal money-smasher tool called internal devaluation is being courted by Moody’s as an inevitable austere policy option for Barbados?

I shudder to believe what should happen if the same macroeconomic managers remain in place by the time the next financial year starts on April Fool’s Day!

Meanwhile, the finance minister is adamant and hopeful that the people will join the DLP Government and its pockets of selected support so that collectively they could “continue to stay the course on our fiscal consolidation programme, seek to improve our levels of productivity, and move ahead hastily with our programme for restructuring the Barbados economy”.

The big problem is that the Barbadian people do not know the details of the restructuring plans, nor has there been a clear and unambiguous vision expressed by Prime Minister Stuart.

Indeed, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, addressing an audience comprising elements of the Barbados Diaspora, rightly said that: “Downturns or recessions are not unlike a forest fire: though painful, they can clear space for new growth to take place and reach up to the light in the canopy. In a free, open economy, a downturn or recession forces all those who produce goods and services to become more creative, more efficient and more competitive in terms of quality and price, for purposes of survival. It also makes space for innovation.”

Seemingly without the necessity for platitudes and clich?s, the sometimes unintelligible Prime Minister who often comes across as not being aware that the people are listening for him to announce his administration’s plans for returning Barbados to a healthy socio-economic state, has yet again provided an approach but never the vision.

One has to be pragmatic and realise that there are concerns continuing to be raised in Barbados by ordinary people and by investors. The fact is that already the private sector is indicating that two substantial things will occur very early in 2013, unless speedy and drastic interventions are made by the Barbados authorities.

Firstly, there will be lay-offs of numerous workers that will add to the thousands of Barbadians out of work but actively seeking employment. Secondly, several companies have gone out of business in 2012, and several more have now iterated that they have come to the end of their ability to tether the ideal with the painful reality – firms will permanently close their gates.

The first matter of unemployment some say is debatable and leaves room for some dubiety regarding the unemployment figures. This aspect deserves a small point of both elucidation and clarification. Recently, there was a statistical decline in unemployment to 10.8 per cent; this is taking into consideration the full context of the methodologies used to arrive at such figures in which the numerical values of all unemployed persons are gauges rather than counted measurements.

The minister responsible for the Statistical Department, said in defence of the touted unemployment figure, that the political classes “cannot impugn the integrity of workers in Barbados — Government workers – and in this case particularly the Statistical Services”. Esther Byer-Suckoo added that “whether one is in Parliament or not, I don’t think it is satisfactory to be impugning the integrity of the Barbados Statistical Service”.

This writer agrees, and while there is no intent to deride or reject the comments made by the ruffled minister, Barbadians must be given clarity on this and other issues.

It was just over a year ago, that the Governor of the Central Bank raised issues of inaccuracies regarding data emerging from the said governmental institution.

Barbadians are curious that around the October 28, 2012, Dr. Delisle Worrell was citing an unemployment rate of 12.5 per cent and this figure was accounting for a period ending September. The Central Bank Governor revealed that it was with the best hope for a good tourist season which could have the sufficient and positive impact for reversing Barbados’ ailing and “stagnant” economy.

Furthermore, it was Worrell more than a year earlier that questioned the veracity of data being reflected on the Statistical Services’ website which prompted a quick removal of the unemployment date from the site. The issue of credibility or integrity was raised not as an attempt to vilify public service workers, but because Barbadians well remember Worrell’s stance in relation to those figures that resulted on the Central Bank offering its self-obtained data as being accurate.

Certainly, Byer-Suckoo must tell Barbadians if there is a case in Barbados wherein the NIS is either: no longer paying as many benefits out to the unemployed, less people are actively seeking occupation although remaining “voluntarily” unemployed, or whether the public sector has absorbed several persons whose employment in the private sector came to an end?

To answer these questions would provide the clarity that Barbadians are seeking given the drastic change from 12.5 per cent to 10.8 per cent in the unemployment statistics at a time the country as a whole is seeing no growth potential or economic release from the grips of ineffective policy-making and implementation.

Barbadians are not scolding the public service but they are asking for transparency and accountability on these matters, and by extension, that ministers tell the full story rather than partial and targeted truths. Many voices in the private sector would have echoed that said by REDjet as it fell through the crevices in 2012. Key spokesperson, Robbie Burns said it was “imperative that the investment climate that was promised by the Government of Barbados is delivered so we can keep investments on course.” There is no more REDjet, and numerous persons are affected given the high costs of regional travel.

It is suffice to raise a topical concern in which ample information is indicating that Pine Hill Dairy is another business whose current failings are in some way attached to and predicated upon the belief that the Barbados government would have kept its pledge of financial or other input to stave off mass unemployment and other forms of collapse in the national economy.

At least Barbadians may want to know if the Government of Barbados has made good on its promise of a million dollar injection into PHD so to put that firm in a better position to fairly treat the dairy farmers.

These things have to be put in the open as we enter 2013. To be forthright is not to ridicule the DLP Government. However, it is to be stated and demonstrated that there are too many things of internal machination which can derail the best efforts at economic recovery.

The private sector will fail because without adequate assistance from government, either through subsidies or policies, it becomes fool hardy to continually rack up losses month in and month out, and unabated do not seek regain a profitable footing. In essence, Barbados’ private sector has figuratively been at its knees for the past few years, and the sector has literally been left behind as the current administration props up a burdensome public sector that is in serious need of substantial reform, resizing, and restructuring.

In terms of the restructuring and as much as one can discern amidst the confusion and duplicitous talk emerging from within the ranks of the DLP, and compounded by the BLP’s oppositional stances, 2013 will be a year in which the griping of 2012 will continue in spite of any impactful changes to personnel and policies.

Perhaps Sir Courtney Blackman’s assessment can be helpful for those intending on the pathways which have failed to net good catches, and for those confident of receiving a new mandate in which previous performances could be once again attained but his time surpassed.

Sir Courtney said on June 30 last year, that the DLP administration “underestimated the severity of the crisis, and has not been as forthright as it might have been with the public as to the likely duration of the crisis, treating it like a typical 2-3 year recession when, in fact, it could very well last 5 years or more”.

“They chose a Medium Term Fiscal Strategy Plan, which is essentially a traditional development plan that is useful only in relative calm periods — not in turbulent times such as we now face; it covers the waterfront but does not focus on the truly strategic issues. It sets out a number of ambitious measures that Government intends to enact, but does not say very much about how it intends to execute them.”

Here’s wishing a prosperous, healthy, and uplifting recovery for all Barbadians; and, Happy 2013 Barbados!

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