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Sharing the pain

Hopefully, months of speculation about the path the Government will take to get the country out of its economic rut, and which options will be employed along that way, will end tomorrow evening when Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler delivers his Budget.

We suspect that this event in the House of Assembly will be the most anticipated Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals since the days of those presentations of the 1970s and ’80s when the words to follow “… effective midnight tonight…” fill ordinary citizens with dread.

Unfortunately, we don’t believe there are too many Barbadians, if any, expecting wine and roses from Sinckler. As a matter of fact, it would appear many people believe they will be lucky if they get a toffee or even a brown mint as a concession.

But truth be told, we are satisfied that most Barbadians believe that the minister’s options are few and that whether or not we like it, or are ready for it, we must all be prepared to swallow some bitter medicine — and without the recommended teaspoon of sugar to make it more palatable.

Like many Barbadians, we could argue with more than a little reasonableness that poor decision-making — or perhaps more accurately, no decision-making — by the Government contributed in no small measure to where the country is today economically, and that all their protestations about the global economy will not lessen the guilt they must share.

But we believe those are points for the political platform and election campaigns. Right now what should matter is a frank and honest up-to-date description of the national fiscal challenge and unambiguous details about the steps that are proposed to correct the situation.

What we need also is for all our economic and fiscal thinkers to, for one moment, put aside their political hats and give meaningful support or constructive criticism of all the minister says. While he may believe otherwise, Minister Sinckler, by virtue of being human, will not get it all right tomorrow and he must therefore be prepared to listen to and accept opposing positions, whether they come from the economics professionals or his political foes — who in some instances may be the same.

We don’t believe the last few weeks would have been easy for the minister. In fact, we don’t believe that preparing any national budget has ever been easy for a finance minister, but the peculiar circumstances of the current times must be particularly stressful. He would have been receiving advice for months, and as usual we believe much of it would have been conflicting, but in the end the only person who can take ownership of what is presented is the minister.

What the immediate post-presentation period offers, however, is the chance for Barbadians to offer advice and criticism of the whole, as opposed to the bits and pieces that would have filtered out over the last three to four months. A prudent and sensible minister of finance ought to be listening carefully and taking notes, even if he takes the course of most politicians, regardless of political colour, and pretends he is not.

Our point in all this is very simple: Regardless of how we got into this mess, we will only escape if we work together — and while one hand may have a desire to clap, without cooperation from the other, it will be a fruitless exercise.

The road ahead is going to be rough and some Barbadians will emerge from this with some distinctive scars, but as a nation we have the capacity to ensure the pain is kept to a minimum and that the burden is shared as equitably as possible.

It is up to us! But as has been the case, leadership is key. We don’t need any more examples of what can happen when leadership is lacking. It’s your ball, Mr. Sinckler!

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