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Election wish list

With one week left before the 2013 general elections, the manifesto launch of both political parties is now imminent. Last week I made an appeal for our political aspirants to present their visions for Barbados and embark on an enlightened debate of the best policies and programmes to improve Barbadians’ standard of living while creating a more prosperous, egalitarian and compassionate society.

Over the past year, a diagnosis of the challenges confronting Barbados and the opportunities before it were outlined in this column. Great effort was also made to proffer solutions, policy recommendations and stimulate constructive dialogue. Indeed, the primary objective has always been to contribute to the body of educational public discourse.

Not all of my policy recommendations have been heeded. Some of them have been discussed at the highest level of decision making, some have been rebuffed and a few have been pursued; after all many of them were not novel. Last week’s column was intended to draw attention to the most pressing challenges which a new political administration will have to address.

Since another week has been squandered on the altar of political self-indulgence, with little in the way of competing visions or policy prescriptions, I will now offer my election wish list on the eve of the infamous manifesto promises.

Our beloved country is in need of an inventive, home-grown structural adjustment and development programme. The most immediate challenge is to restore fiscal sanity and economic growth. It is my hope that the DLP and the BLP will present a programme to achieve responsible fiscal deficit reduction and economic growth.

Accordingly, I wish for a lucid package of stimulative tax reform and current expenditure reductions. I wish for a commitment to roll back the “temporary” VAT increase and create a more progressive income tax regime. I wish that among other things Barbadians will be offered more robust tax administration and compliance, and more timely tax refunds to individuals and corporations.

I wish that both political parties would tell us how they are going to reduce current expenditure on tertiary education, tertiary health care, public transportation, sanitation and public broadcasting while maintaining or improving services. Alternatively they can tell us what they propose to do to reduce or constrain the rising cost of delivering those aforementioned essential services.

In some cases, restructuring the delivery institutions or the method of funding may be the best solution. In other cases privatisation or value for money efficiency targets will be more appropriate. For example, CBC is a prime candidate for privatisation; however, privatisation is not the solution for achieving reliable, comfortable and affordable public transportation.

The provision of enviable public transportation will require route rationalisation, attractive pricing options, proactive management, recapitalisation and single entity service delivery (of the nation or transport geographic zones). The current two-tiered systems of Transport Board buses and PSVs is a failed cocktail of poor transportation, an undesirable sub-culture and a conduit for the wastage of public finances and cronyism.

Institutions like the Sanitation Service Authority may only require value for money efficiency targets to eliminate wastage whereas a new funding formula will be required to sustain the gains in tertiary education and health care, and pave the way for better education and health care services.

Indeed it is also my desire that workable short-term proposals for revitalising tourism marketing and development will be forthcoming tonight and in the coming days. Specific proposals for upgrading the incentive, regulatory, legislative and treaty framework of the international business and financial services sector should also be on the agenda for the next eighteen months. If Barbados is to regain and retain its comparative and competitive advantages such initiatives will be paramount.

What I wish for over the next two to three years is comprehensive reform and restructuring of the public sector, the judiciary and parliamentary governance. I also wish that the DLP and the BLP will lay out a plan for business facilitation and wide-ranging immigration reform; reform that guarantees our security while managing the scale and class of immigrant labour needed to supplement the domestic skills and experience necessary for building a modern economy.

I would like to see less ambiguous criteria for qualification for work permits, permanent residency and citizenship. Application and qualification benchmarks should be strictly enforced. During this period I would like to see new legislation that is designed to mitigate domestic violence and child abuse. In addition, there is nothing stopping the next Government of Barbados from substantially improving traffic management by introducing ticketing, a demerit system, breathalyser testing, emission standards, etc.

For the longer-term, my election wishes include a comprehensive energy policy that aims to replace the second rate diesel that is imported into Barbados; reduce the cost of energy; reduce Barbados’ dependence on fossil fuels; promote conservation; and incentivise the integrated manufacture, use, and research and development of alternative energy.

I also wish that the education system will be reformed to place greater emphasis on early childhood education; special needs education; problem solving and critical thinking skills development; science, maths, engineering and IT; and post-secondary technical and vocational skills in order to ensure that Barbados produces the calibre labour force that will be needed to succeed in the future.

Between now and election day, I would also like to hear long-term proposals for the creation of the following: (i) an innovation fund and/or innovation tax credits and (ii) a development finance institution that invests commercially in order to subsidise access to risk capital for budding entrepreneurs. This institution should also invest in new frontiers of economic activity.

The next Government will be expected to create an enabling environment that facilitates access to high quality and cost effective: capital, land, labour, entrepreneurship and energy. National productivity, growth and competitiveness depend on it.

Fellow Barbadians, I bid you a happy Valentine’s Day. I hope that during this time of Lent you will exercise restraint, seek spiritual edification and engage in purposeful introspection as you seek personal development and community cohesion.

* Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience.

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