Pain and opportunity

It’s over! The Budget debate for 2013, that is. We suspect that like media workers who were involved in coverage, many Barbadians are happy they no longer have to listen to the voice of the politicians — if for no other reason than that their viewing of Days Of Our Lives no longer has to be interrupted.

We do hold the view however, that regardless of your political colour, or lack of it, the annual exercise serves a useful purpose, and every citizen should make it his or her business to take in some of the debate.

You may disagree with the message, or the style of delivery, or both, or it may be that you just don’t fancy the speaker, but anyone who takes the time to watch or listen to the debate and walks away without being more aware, regardless of how you measure awareness, would have to be strange indeed.

At this most critical juncture in the life of our country as an independent nation, with so many of the factors that have made us who we are challenged, it would be incumbent on every citizen to follow closely the pronouncements of those who lead us — and there were a whole lot of pronouncements between Tuesday evening when Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler delivered his Budget, and last night when he wrapped up the discussion.

All that aside, however, we wish to place on record our pleasure with the fact that the debate did not degenerate into the level of personal abuse and character assassination that has characterised the event in recent years.

It could be that both sides recognise that a general election is five years away (at least based on the constitutional schedule), that the Barbadian public has grown tired of the mud slinging from the floor of Parliament, that times are so dread and Bajans are so on edge that now is not the time for politics as usual, or some other reason.

But whatever induced the added sobriety to this week’s debate, long may it remain present within the atmosphere of the House of Assembly, except for the occasional quip — which in most cases was tolerable — Barbadians had no reason to be offended by the tone of the debate.

Whether the content did, is another matter, for it is now certain that whether or not the Government wishes it, the debate on whether it was necessary or prudent to ask Barbadian students of the University of the West Indies to pay tuition fees will rage on in the public arena for some time. Where or how it will end is anybody’s guess.

What we also found interesting about the debate was that for the first time within our recall, finance took second place in a Budget debate to a socio-political subject — university tuition fees. For certainly while the measure was introduced under a fiscal heading, the debate that followed in and out of Parliament was anything but fiscal.

Imagine, a minister of finance introduced sweeping public sector cuts that will have implications for the delivery of a number of critical public services to the population, cut a reverse tax credit, placed a freeze on public sector hiring, and essentially did not have to defend them.

On the converse side, Minister Sinckler introduced a number of “stimulus” measures but yet they really did not factor into the debate in any major way. Nothing elsetook centre stage once tuition fees entered the discussion. We are not suggesting that the debate went in a wrong direction, only that the tuition fees, for the time being, left the minister with a clear path for everything else he introduced — or failed to so do.

All the talk aside, it’s now about implementation, and based solely on the Budget presentation, Barbadians are about to experience a mixture of pain and opportunity. We believe it is important that as we set out to weather the storm we remember the Biblical injunction to be our brother’s keeper.

The social agenda will not be advanced if, while some go hungry others openly and insensitively flaunt their lifestyle of affluence.

Two Barbadoses in a time of hardship may not bring out the best of human character.

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