‘Take charge, PM Stuart’
That’s how former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has described recent fiscal adjustment measures implemented by the Freundel Stuart administration.
In the wake of the just released Central Bank Report which showed that in spite of the measures, economic activity had fallen by 0.4 per cent for the first quarter of 2014, Arthur described the current situation as very serious, while warning that it could take a generation to bring back Barbados.
“When a country goes into this period of prolonged decline, it could take a generation to bring it back, and in our own instance, Barbados is going into decline with very little to fall back on.
“A lot of the measures that have been tried have been last resort measures. We are now into a performance that is worse than the worst case,” he said, while noting that the deficit in the fiscal year just ended was larger than expected at 11.3 per cent, mainly because of a $245 million shortfall in revenue.
The former Prime Minister said the situation called for “every national resource to be mobilized to save Barbados”.
“There has to be a laser-like focus on the key few things that will get this country stable and will save it again,” he said.
“I don’t believe that there is enough enterprising initiative taken to restore confidence and a climate of growth. The Government has to work with the private sector to provide conditions for private sector-led growth,” Arthur stressed.
He also called on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to take charge of the island’s economic and financial affairs.
“It is something that has made some of us as Prime Ministers sometimes appear a little bit like dragons, but a Prime Minister must take charge.
“Barrow was in charge of the economy; Adams was; Sandiford was; Thompson was; I was; St John was as well, because, in many respects, it is all about how you manage your very scarce financial affairs.
“My advice to him [Stuart] is to join the rest of us who were Prime Ministers and take charge. And it is not so much that I am trying to destroy [Minister of Finance Chris] Sinckler, but I am saying Sinckler does not have real authority.
“As Ministers of Finance who were Prime Ministers, our Cabinet colleagues would have been consulted about what was in the Budget. They saw it on the same day because we had the authority, having consulted, to say this is where we are going.
“Sinckler doesn’t have that authority. He has to negotiate the Budget with colleagues and that is why it comes sometimes with so many mistakes in it,” Arthur said.
He stressed that the buck not only needed to start, but stop with the Prime Minister, adding that there was need for Stuart to have access to fresh minds and a fresh outlook.
As for the ongoing retrenchment programme in the Public Service, he said while there was “no nice way by which you fire people”, it was regrettable that the national discussion had become “how best can we find a nice way to fire people?”.
“That really is not going to assuage the hardships faced, nor the degree of suffering; and the sooner we get back and come off this –– how best can we assuage the pain? –– and try to find ways in which to stabilize this country and try to get it to grow again, the better.
“This phase will come to be remembered as the ordeal for free labour in Barbados; that the unions should be ashamed that they are now thinking about how best to advise the Government of the easiest and least painful way to fire people.
“It really is a shameful condition,” said Arthur, who added he had no experience in causing unemployment in Barbados as a Prime Minister who enjoyed many successive years of economic growth.