1,965 days of fiddling

I have given up on the current Government of Barbados! If, after nearly five and a half years in office they haven’t “gotten it” yet, they will never get it!

A case in point is Minister Chris Sinckler’s recent speech at the annual general meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry. At a time when the whole country is gripped with worry about the economic future of the nation, all that Sinckler had to offer was the usual partisan blaming of the previous BLP administration; intimidation and veiled threats directed at the local private sector; glib promises of future programmes to come; and vague admonitions directed at the private sector and the Barbadian people.

Where was the urgent and detailed discussion about concrete and detailed measures to re-establish the soundness of Government’s finances; to boost the purchasing power of the Barbadian people; to tackle the large food and petroleum import bills; to re-energise the productive sectors of the economy; and to pioneer new spheres of economic activity? There was none!

The Democratic Labour Party administration has been in power since the January 15, 2008 — a period of 1,965 days — and they still do not have a concrete plan for tackling a recession that manifested itself as long ago as the middle of 2007.

Ever since the year 1933, much political significance has been attached to the first 100 days of a new governing political administration. And this is so because in 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the US came to power with his country in the grips of the “Great Depression”, and in the space of 100 days put in place a whole raft of new laws and programmes (known collectively as the “New Deal”) that tackled and ultimately defeated the Depression.

In a mere 100 days after taking office Roosevelt suspended and re-organised the nation’s banks; reduced government spending by consolidating programmes and by cutting public sector salaries and the overly generous benefits of war veterans; enacted an Agricultural Adjustment Act that gave price support to farmers and suspended foreclosures on farm mortgages; established the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Federal Emergency Relief Agency, and the list goes on. All in the space of 100 days!

Compare this record with that of the ruling DLP administration. What truly substantial and meaningful initiatives has the DLP Government taken to tackle the recession in the 1,965 days that they have been in office? You can, perhaps, call to mind one or two inconsequential things, but there is absolutely nothing of fundamental significance that we can point to.

Minister Sinckler is so bereft of economic understanding that his response to calls for the cutting of Government’s annual expenditure bill is to bluster angrily and to threaten the private sector with deflationary Government measures that will adversely affect their businesses.

What Sinckler fails to understand is that Government has to get its finances back in order, not as some kind of catalyst for inflicting a deflationary austerity programme on the country, but rather, as a necessary first step in equipping Government to be able to robustly lead the attack on the recession with pro-growth stimulus measures.

If Government is to be able to provide such leadership, Government must begin by restructuring and strengthening its own finances, because a Government whose finances are in disarray will not be able to lead any serious pro-growth economic fight.

Clearly, there is a need for Government to establish a greater and more acceptable degree of balance between its annual regular expenditure and its annual regular income! And it must do so without dismissing public servants from their currently existing jobs.

Surely, by now — after almost five and a half years — Government should have collaborated with the Congress of Trade Unions and the senior public service management to establish, in each government department, groups of workers whose mandate it would be to devise proposals on improving work procedures , cutting costs and restructuring operations.

And since it is an open secret that the quantity of money spent on public service salaries has to be reduced, the current Administration should by now have set an example by voluntarily cutting the salaries of all Government ministers and backbenchers by at least 20 per cent!

Ministers of Government should also have, by now, disavowed “first class” airline travel, and contented themselves with travelling economy class. Similarly, all the expensive but unnecessary perquisites that ministers, judges, permanent secretaries and other senior public servants enjoy — such as the use of luxury cars — could be temporarily put on hold or reduced.

Indeed, the high level public sector officials should have already sent out a message to the effect that since they are relatively better off than the low level, financially hard-pressed public officers, they will be prepared to shoulder a higher proportion of the burden of adjustment.

Furthermore, the entire country should have, by now, been enlisted in a national energy conservation programme designed to take a huge chunk out of the nation’s collective annual expenditure of foreign currency on fuel imports.

These are a few of the obvious, run-of-the-mill adjustment initiatives that should have been implemented years ago. If the current Administration has failed to take these straightforward measures, what hope is there for them ever coming up with novel and revolutionary programmes to rebuild the Barbados economy?

* David A Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.

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