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Conflict concerns

If there is one thing Central Bank of Barbados Governor Dr. DeLisle Worrell deserves credit for since being appointed to that post on November 1, 2009, it is his communication skills.

This respected financial institution has now had six leaders since its establishment in 1972 and arguably none since its first, now Sir Courtney Blackman, have been as eager to interact with the public and media via whatever forum, as Worrell has.

That should not be surprising since it was under the founding governor’s leadership that Worrell, who became an employee of the Central Bank the year after it was founded, pioneered the bank’s research and information capabilities as the first manager of its Research Department, subsequently holding the posts of Divisional Director of Research and Information, Deputy Governor with responsibilities for research, management informations systems and banking supervision.

As a Barbadian professional Worrell has made a name for himself outside of the country as well, including a 10-year stint at the International Monetary Fund ending in 2008.

To many in the economics field he is considered a longstanding crusader fighting the causes of vulnerable small island states against what he and others not so vocal view as unfair and unreasonable economic, monetary and fiscal remedies prescribed by the likes of the same IMF. As an economist he is one of the more published in his profession, producing papers and studies over the years that are still referred to by economics students and others.

In fact, he has continued to publish even after becoming governor, and his embracing of modern information and communication technology to get his and the bank’s messages across is admirable.

Taking all of the above into consideration, Worrell’s muddled messaging on the merits or demerits of government’s controversial Medium Term Fiscal Strategy is unfortunate. This is especially so since the economist has always made it clear he does not have a mandate to speak on government policy.

It started on Tuesday when the Central Bank released its 2013 first quarter review showing the Barbados economic contracted 0.4 per cent in that three month period and was expected to do no better for the remainder of the year.

While the economy not performing better in its traditionally strongest period was surprising, the bigger surprise came in the Outlook section when Worrell stated at the outset: “The fiscal consolidation strategy must be brought back on track, and a new medium term adjustment strategy must be implemented, using the current deficit as a point of departure.

“The Estimates of Expenditure recently approved by Parliament, which includes the provision for capital spending of an estimated $164 million and a deficit equivalent to 5.3 percent of GDP for the fiscal year 2013/14, is a first step in that direction.” But almost as if to distance his Wednesday morning self from his

Tuesday afternoon persona, the governor then confused matters when he told the media that he was not referring to “a new policy”, but “an adjustment of the policy that is already in place in light of what has happened in 2012-2013”.

We are in no way questioning or challenging Worrell’s capacity to advise Government on monetary and fiscal policy or his capabilities as a professional economist of many year’s standing.

What concerns us are implications of his conflicting comments when taken against those of the Government in last month’s Estimates Debate when spokesmen of the current Administration insisted the fiscal fix in place was working and on course.

It has now become clearer that Barbadians will be subjected to further “adjustment”, which will come through the cutting of spending, raising of revenue, or a combination of the two.

And with Worrell now having partially outlined what Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and other policymakers failed to do when they had the opportunity to do so in Parliament recently, we humbly suggest the Estimates Debate was a lost opportunity to take Barbadians fully into Government’s confidence.

That all of this is taking place so soon after the Democratic Labour Party received a fresh mandate to govern in the February 21 general election is also telling. The Central Bank governor has started the conversation, now it’s time for Sinckler and company to follow suit and take the Barbadian public into their confidence.

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