Pride, industry and hypocrisy
After a two-week break, I am back, having noted the observations, reactions, outrage and usual commentary surrounding the many things that manifested themselves economically, socially and otherwise over the past three weeks.
I also noted with peculiar interest that each situation actually highlighted the urgent, but continuous action required by each of us; but again we seem to have taken a back seat to our pride, lack of industry and growing hypocrisy in the face of serious circumstances facing our nation, socially, economically and morally.
So I asked myself what the commentary and narrative could have been had we all opted to take a very different approach to each situation.
Yet another downgrade!
On June 2, Moody’s downgraded our Government bonds by three notches citing a range of drivers, including:
Widening fiscal deficit and fiscal inflexibility;
Large debt stock, increased reliance on short term debt and gross financing needs in excess of 30 per cent of GDP;
Expected continuation of decline in international reserves.
Now we have no control over Moody’s methodology nor its interpretation of our current position and therefore the chosen severity of its downgrade. I do however believe that we need to stop allowing these international agencies to write and even dictate our story; and I think we have collectively fallen down in this area as a Government and a people through very poor communication and public relations.
Despite this reality, our responsibility and focus must remain on addressing the continued fixes for the drivers outlined by them and not verbally or otherwise fighting Moody’s, S&P, et al.
The Government’s fiscal adjustment programme, even if not perfect or widely accepted, is in play and needs to be given time to work, and in this regard I found the assessment by Moody’s to be harsh, as our economic recovery will even take longer than the 19-month programme. Additionally, the wage bill and transfers and subsidies have been and are currently being addressed with a view to bringing them further in line.
Moody’s and other rating agencies have issued downgrades, yet lament that we have become dependent on short-term local debt –– our country still needs to survive and despite our economic woes we have not defaulted on our commitments however hard.
I am not debating the risk or the challenges right now, but we simply have no choice until we can correct our fiscal imbalances and restructure our economy.
Our foreign exchange reserves continue to be a central focus for all and so they should be. In the absence of a second quarter economic performance reporting, it is a good indication that they have remained stable, suggesting a fair winter season that likely covered our disbursements for the same period.
The additional motorsport activities over the last six weeks would have also provided a much needed boost, and our continued focus as a country must be on creating these innovative and industrious ways of earning foreign currency, and positioning Barbados to earn in the future.
This is what our commentary needs to be about, not a Credit Suisse loan which we had no choice but to obtain to maintain our standard of living and meet our obligations. It is not the loan that is increasing our interest rate, but rather the circumstance we are seeking to work our way out of.
Common Entrance Exam results. I recently wrote a three-part series on education, and the debate and varied comments following last week’s results release highlighted for me again the dire need for the reforming and redirection of our educational system at all levels.
1. We need to bring all secondary schools up to the same level, in terms of teaching staff, facilities and curriculum, with a view to subsequently creating schools that offer all categories of subjects and that may be utilized of community centres, if learning outside school hours in a more structured manner; resource allocation is important.
2. We must address the deficiencies in developing our basic skill sets in maths and English (language and comprehension). It is again made clear for me that a better system of assessment is required at pre-primary and primary levels to ensure that our children’s needs are being met.
3. How does our primary and secondary education tie into our tertiary education and more importantly the needs of our economy and society and at what costs?
Our focus has been on getting our children to the top schools, not because of educational needs, but more so because of pride, prestige and status, rather than ensuring their educational needs and development are being nurtured and developed, and that they are being well positioned to be the leaders of tomorrow in every aspect. Are the needs of our children being met by the system as it currently structured?
Each of us is required to fulfil different roles in society, but in each one a sound education as a foundation will lead to success.
Ongoing labour disputes. Our industrial relations climate still remains on edge and, from recent statements, appears it will remain so for the near future. In the circumstances I believe all parties should be anxious to see the Employment Tribunal functional and working as efficiently as possible, so as to set a precedent and make it clear that it will not be dysfunctional when most needed.
The important issue here is not the final outcome, but that regardless of the case or parties to the case that our systems are functioning.
It is unfortunate that a necessary exercise in our restructuring has hit this roadblock due to poor management, but we need to see a return to high morale amongst our entire workforce as this country needs productivity at all levels. Additionally, I look forward to seeing our unions, at all levels together with their members, not only fighting for their employment rights, but working together to create employment solutions for those misplaced, coordinating training and retooling exercises, promoting entrepreneurship and taking steps that will engender growth at all levels of our society and to the benefit of their and all citizens.
As a country we need to stop seeking every opportunity to criticize, but allow some opportunities to assist us in moulding and creating useful and meaningful solutions. What we cannot afford at this time is the persistent fear-mongering that is becoming so commonplace.
Barbados is not on its deathbed. If we opt to return to our principles of pride in self, pride in country and industry in all we attempt to do, we shall rise again.
(David Simpson is Immediate past president of ICAB and a director of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), and serves as co-champion of its finance pillar.)