Be frank, minister
We begin this lead article today by stating our hope that those who read do not get the impression that we are apologising for the position we are about to take.
We certainly are not!
It is important to point out, however, that while the concern we are about to raise may be seen as critical of the Government, it is intended to be constructive criticism. We hold to the view that we have long passed the general election stage and while some of us might not have voted for the party that’s in power, it is the Government that has been elected and it is the Government of all the people.
That having been said, we would advise the Government to do all within its power to ensure that all the people have justification for believing that the current Government is their government, even if party bonds are so strong that some find it hard to accept such a position.
We say all that to say this. When we look at the wording of the Budget that was presented to the House of Assembly last week by Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler, we can’t help but get the impression that each word was specifically crafted to give a particular impression. Yet what appears to be occurring in Barbados today does not square with that impression.
If we have come to the wrong conclusion, we would willingly afford the Minister of Finance any amount of space or length of video to explain where our error is occurring.
And we get to the meat of the matter. In his presentation the minister gave much detail about the challenges facing government finances, and the need to “implement measures aimed at reducing current expenditure by $285 million over the adjustment period [and] target some of the expenditure areas most known to consume large amounts of government revenue, such as personal emoluments, subsidies and transfers, grants to individuals and organizations, specific areas of procurement and tax expenditures”.
He then listed the following: 1. Effective immediately there will be a total freeze on all new hiring in the central public service and across all statutory entities. Deviation from this policy will only be countenanced in cases of extreme criticalness and will have to be approved by the Prime Minister and Minister of Civil Service before execution. 2. The above policy will also extend to the hiring of substitutes, temporary and/or casual workers as replacements for appointed staff proceeding on leave. 3. Departments and Boards who breach this policy will not receive any resources to cover the salaries of these persons if they cannot be accounted for in the system. 4. There will be an immediate freeze of all non-critical established posts which have not be filled in the last six months and are unlikely to be filled in the near term. 5. There will be a strict policy of limiting supplementaries to within budgeted expenditure targets. Ministries and departments have been advised that the Ministry of Finance will not accept any requests for supplementaries where commensurate savings from their overall budget cannot be found, virement employed, or except in cases of serious national emergency. Special exemptions may be made on account of such areas or public health, national security, child and elderly care.
What appears to be taking place, however, is that a number of non-permanent public employees who are on contracts, are not being rehired at the expiry of those contracts. It is one thing to say there will be a freeze on hiring, but unless we are wrong, most reasonable people already in a job will not automatically take the continuation of their daily work as a new hiring.
We are not saying that Government is wrong — or right — in taking such steps to bring about sustainability with its current expenditure. What we are saying is that it is wrong to couch a move in language that gives an impression other than what was intended or to let stand an impression that is different from what you know the reality will be.
As we have said, and as we suspect every Barbadian has long been aware, we will not get over the current economic hump unless we are all prepared to bear some pain. But in setting out the prescription, Government has a duty and a responsibility to be brutally frank about the side effects — because they will come.
We therefore return to our opening statement: The current Democratic Labour Party Government is the one we chose as a country and we all have a duty to work with it to overcome our challenges, but that duty cuts both ways. It is time to come out and say what the projected cuts translate into in terms of jobs and exactly where. Thirty-odd workers here finding out today they are about to become jobless, and 40-odd there tomorrow, cannot lead to the kind of work environment we want to create nationally in order to raise productivity. Spell it out clearly, Mr. Sinckler, and let us get on with the job of rebuilding Barbados. Demonstrate trust in the people who are being called on to make the sacrifice.