Taking back the land II
Optimistic Barbados Labour Party leader Mia Mottley, who spent over two hours in an applause-punctuated address, asked some 1,000 delegates on Saturday evening at the BLP’s 76th Annual Conference at the St Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary School Auditorium: “. . . Will you stand to take back the land that we love? Will, you stand tall and rise up in peace and dignity and reclaim your birthright? Will you join me in the walk to freedom? For the longer we wait, the farther we will be from, and the harder it will be to get back, home . . . .”
Below is Part 2 of an edited version of Mottley’s address to party delegates.
. . . And where is the fairness for the Barbadian producers and farmers and fishermen? Will hotels bypass local fish vendors and source fish cheaper from outside? What about those who may want to buy Budweiser beer instead of Banks because duty-free it is now cheaper?
Or what about the Farmer’s Choice bacon from HIPAC? Will they import it from overseas at a cheaper price again? What will happen to these local jobs? Will they run off the DLP’s Pathway To Prosperity to their Pathway To Poverty.
Clearly this legislation required far greater thought than these cavalier ministers were capable of giving. Have they even projected what will be the loss of revenue to the Government at the very time that the Government needs it most to help close this unsustainable deficit? What will be the impact on local jobs in other sectors?
The MOU that has been signed between the hoteliers and the farmers and the manufacturers is not even worth the paper on which it is written! Once again, time will tell. Two Barbadoses!
Let me be clear.
We support the Sandals investment, but it cannot be at the expense of the rest of the hotels and restaurants, or the jobs in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and fishing industry. However, as you will hear over and over from me, it is not only what you do, but how you do it.
This Government may well have scored an own goal and opened a can of worms that will haunt us for years. Cheap shots by ministers like Donville Inniss towards Barbadian hoteliers surely cannot be the mature type of dialogue required on these issues.
How do we sit back and see ordinary Barbadians sucking salt while the not so ordinary ones reap benefits that cause you to wonder how the public interest could be so badly protected? How do we have a young lady from Bush Hall with two young children laid off a few months ago by Government and last Thursday given 21 days to move out of the house she has been renting?
How does Government build low income housing at Country Park Towers at the astronomical price of $348 per square foot and, if that were not bad enough, at Valery at the “out-of-this-world” price of $548 per square foot –– and, to cap it all, not even a fire exit is built for the multi-storey buildings?
How do we get an HIV+ man moving from pillar to post because the Welfare Department stopped paying his rent in December last year after doing so for more than three years, while the Bushy Park Development is given extraordinarily generous tax concessions in August of this year?
How does Cost You Less still maintain these extraordinary tax concessions when their competitors must fight up and pay duties on their imports?
How does Government [give] one contractor its full payment of almost $24 million in one fell swoop for the construction of the Valery Housing Project when [it] will not pay other creditors for months and years and . . . will not give back people or businesses their income tax or VAT refunds?
Investment in social capital. Barbadians see education and health care as basic rights. As a former slave society, education has always been the primary means by which our people have lifted themselves out of poverty. It has delivered major economic benefits to the country while assisting in the maintenance of an orderly society.
In the year 1900, we had over 200 primary schools on 166 square miles. We had six secondary schools and we had Codrington College affiliated to the University of Durham.
With the sudden and backward decision to force students at UWI to pay tuition fees, this Government is presiding over the greatest betrayal of our young people. [Its] rash action will inevitably affect our stability and our economic prospects.
The Global Competitiveness Survey ranks Barbados as No. 15 in the world with respect to its educational system. How do we now sacrifice that sector in which we are the most competitive globally? Are Barbadian young people now to suffer as a result of this Government’s incompetence and lack of creativity?
Are we to throw away our stability and competitiveness because this Government does not know any better, and, worse still, does not know that it does not know?
And as if that were not enough, up comes Minister [Ronald] Jones, not to be outdone! Announcements and pronouncements ––– statements on which the students and their families ought to be able to rely upon and plan out their business. First, 3,000 bursaries will be given. Then 1,500. Then maybe 700 or 800.
Not a word from Ronald Jones now that he has to find the money, having given hope to these students and families. And when The Nation newspaper breaks the story of the unwillingness of the Ministry of Finance to provide the funds for these bursaries more than halfway after the semester has started, still not a word from him! . . .
With this move they have destroyed one of the key planks of Errol Barrow’s legacy. How he must be turning in his grave to see the very people that his policy helped educate push down the ladder of opportunity for the next generation.
And in health care we are no better off. Horror stories abound of persons in agony having to wait for inordinately long periods before being seen, far less treated. Patients having to rely on basic sanitary supplies from their families and friends. Reports of hospital infections out of control.
And when Maria Agard brings a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House of Assembly, the Minister of Health promises the country that the QEH will receive $22 million within two weeks. Almost four months later, the QEH has not even received $14 million. How many more people must suffer before we properly prioritize Government’s spending?
And, as if that were not enough, we are now in the midst of a dengue and a chikungunya epidemic rapidly fuelled by the failure of Government to treat to its cuts from the Public Service in a sensible and sensitive manner. What do you expect when you send home the workers from the Drainage Unit, Beautify Barbados; environmental health inspectors and persons from the Vector Unit?
How can it be acceptable that we still pay political consultants to do nothing other than to fulfil the DLP’s agenda when, consequent on the job cuts, there is only one person in the Vector Control Unit to receive complaints about mosquitoes and investigate? And one person as well with respect to rodents? What can the citizens of Barbados look forward to when the dry season comes?
Recently the BLP parliamentary [group] took yet another decision to offer our services on a matter of critical importance to the national well-being. I refer to the devising of a comprehensive plan to minimize the chances of an Ebola outbreak in Barbados. This disease is too deadly to be taken lightly and has the potential to threaten the very essence of our stability as a society.
There will be no time to play with should there even be the suspicion of a person infected with the virus. The consequences will be too fast and too dire. In that context, I shall be writing the Prime Minister formally on this matter to express our concerns and to request a meeting to discuss how our party can contribute its advice and expertise to the national effort. I trust that on this issue he will find time to reply.
I shall not comment any further publicly at this stage other than to say that we have already made our position known on the matter of the siting of the isolation centre in a densely populated area and right next to where hundreds of children go to school.
Aspiring to home ownership. We told our people in Barbados that the greatest and best investment that they could make was in “owning a piece of the rock”. So much was this central to the Barbadian DNA that we developed almost 100 years ago a mechanism called a foreclosure suit that allowed persons to get title for their land even if passed seed to seed. Now we want to penalize them disproportionately and inappropriately through the levying of a Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
How do we adhere to conventions that state that the “polluter pays” but we focus the tax on the ownership of land alone? How do we do that in all conscience? And what about those who rent (like many banks) or those who have large lots of land without houses, with bush contributing to our current mosquito infestation. They will not pay a cent, but pensioners who live on tenantry land will pay.
This is a bad tax, and the BLP will repeal it whenever we become the Government. We repeat it is ill-conceived and disproportionate. Its timing was paradoxically curious and reinforced both the incompetence and insensitivity of the Government. For no sooner than it had been hurriedly introduced, Barbadians could not get their garbage collected, sometimes for weeks.
This has served only to compound our risks in the area of public health. No one visiting our country today would know that we have had one of the best public health records in the developing world for decades.
Transparency, fiscal prudence and accountability. Barbadians have always been known for maintaining order in the society, doing the right thing and taking pride in what they do. We believe in putting our best foot forward, especially in a crisis.
The notion that you can no longer rely on the accuracy of the data put out by Government is unheard of . . . . Just imagine this: the Central Bank records that our economy has only declined by about three per cent since 2007, while the Statistical Services [has] numbers reflecting a decline since 2007 of 24 per cent –– eight times worse than the Central Bank admits publicly.
What we want to know is why they are hiding the fact that there is such a wide gulf between the data from the Central Bank and the Statistical Services Department? And why does the Central Bank continue to ignore the figures of the Statistical Services Department, which is actually the department responsible in law for the collection of Barbados’ economic data? . . . .
Then there is the issue of ministers and ministries failing to or refusing to follow the sensible and prudent rules that have protected us over the years. Significant expenditure is being incurred without the knowledge and/or agreement of the Ministry of Finance. Persons were being hired without the knowledge and/or approval of the Ministry of Civil Service and Ministry of Finance.
MOUs and contracts are being signed without the required clearance from the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, as was the case when no [fewer] than four Ministers signed the MOU with Cahill Energy for the US$300 million plasma gasification plant . . . .
Legality, lawfulness and due process. Barbadians believed in obeying the law –– in maintaining law and order.
We have known for sometime of the parachute landing of Arnie Walters from the Cabinet to executive chairman of the Barbados Water Authority, a post not recognized by the BWA’s statute; and of the unlawful sale of diesel by the Transport Board to the minibuses and ZRs after the unconscionable and astronomical increase in the price of diesel.
However there are three matters of grave concern that I now want to highlight in the public interest.
In the Central Bank Quarterly Review [last week] there was an admission that in an effort to bridge the deficit the Government drew down on $235 million of deposits from the commercial banks. Now, if the Government had money that could have been legitimately used, there would be no need for the Central Bank to be printing money.
It is clear now that the Government and/or Central Bank has been taking money out of the Government’s Sinking Funds which have been established solely for the purpose of debt . . . .
. . . It is against the law to use these funds in this manner . . . . And it must stop! And stop right away! . . . .
The second matter relates to the conduct of the Police Services Commission. The Constitution Of Barbados guarantees every citizen the right to legal recourse. It cannot be a coincidence that in this instance all of the persons who have pursued their legal rights have not only been overlooked, but, in some cases, have had to revert in rank.
This is preposterous and worsens the morale in an already beleaguered force. I honestly did not think that they could trump their action to suspend and thereafter get rid of the Commissioner of Police more than one year ago.
There can be no justification. We cannot accept that the Police Services Commission, an arm of the Government of Barbados and one so intimately related to the maintenance of law and order, can be permitted to act with such impunity!
Finally, the Barbados Revenue Agency continues to act without reference to the law. Having tried to introduce by circular a requirement for a tax clearance certificate for the transfer of property, it is now refusing to allow villa owners the 25 per cent rebate to which they are entitled under the Land Tax Act.
Living within our means. Barbadians have never believed in spending more than they earned. Indeed, that example of thrift has served us well as an independent nation. Earlier generations of leaders of this country would be horrified to learn of this Government’s borrowing money month after month to pay salaries or to meet its monthly expenditure.
It is this callous disregard for sound fiscal management that is placing tremendous pressure on the stability of our exchange rate. The average Barbadian recognizes the folly of this approach. And the Government keeps introducing plan after plan to correct it. But on each occasion the plans are ill-conceived and ill-fated.
How many more failed plans must we endure from this Government? . . . Why is it that the Ministry of Finance continuously misses all of the projections that it gives to the Parliament and to the international financial institutions and the credit rating agencies? As recent as Thursday, Standard & Poor’s used diplomatic language to describe the Government’s adjustment strategy as being “off target”. That is another way of saying it is not working at all!
Now we are being told of the need for additional revenue and expenditure measures that are more than twice greater than what Minister Sinckler announced last December.
For $175 million in six months translates to $350 million over a full fiscal year. His measures last December when 3,000 were sent home were to save $143 million in a full financial year . . . .
Bajans are in for a massive shock. Many who were outside of the tax net may well find themselves back in. We shall await the actions of the Minister of Finance in his 2014 Budget, although given the pace at which he proceeds it might more accurately be called the 2015 Budget! But it will be interesting to see what Minister Sinckler does in response to the Governor’s clear statement of what gap remains as he stated very clearly on Page 15 of the same Ministerial Statement of December 13 that “as a country we cannot hope to cut or tax our way out of this economic decline” . . . .
[Friday night last week] I received by email from the Ministry of Finance a copy of the IMF Tax Study and we thank him and the Cabinet for breaking new ground and sharing it with us. I commit that we shall review and submit our views in the interest of the country.
Suffice it to say, however, the Government is not only still spending more but by its profligacy and mismanagement it is putting at risk everything –– all that we hold dear.
The NIS has become a beast of burden to resolve Government’s cash flow, and Barbadians of all ages and stations are duly concerned.
The Government has to urgently settle what it owes the NIS which is now at the horrendous level of almost $180 million. This is for unpaid contributions, reimbursement of pensions and the rental of buildings. Of greater concern is the rate at which the debt is accruing –– about $15 million per month!
Left unchecked, this will affect the cash flow of the NIS, which is already unable to meet benefit expenditure from the contributions it receives. It must rely on using some of its investment income to supplement what it receives in contributions to pay benefits.
As if that were not of sufficient concern, there is separately the state of the Unemployment Benefit Scheme. To meet the large number of claims from persons laid off in both the public and private sector, the NIS is paying out $5 million and receiving $2.5 million in contributions. On current trend, this fund will be broke by early next year. Adjustments have to be urgently made for its replenishment. And we expect them to be made according to the law, and with full transparency.
There are so many issues that are affected by this pattern of spending more than we earn. There is great speculation that in spite of an undertaking at the time of the Estimates Debate this year that the Government’s deficit was only so high because the Government was clearing most of its arrears. The arrears are at a level of approximately $800 million. This is almost another ten per cent of GDP, and much of it is recurring expenditure for NIS, NHC, QEH, etcetera. This is clearly acutely unsustainable.
But as we were taught as children, you can hide and buy land but you cannot hide and work it. The media and the public must demand the true state of our finances, as we must know what we truly face as a nation; not just what is being brought to book. We have no monthly Financial Statements from Government beyond December, 2013 and that came [last] week. This is unacceptable in an economic crisis.
Let us be clear. None of the development institutions will lend us money until we achieve some level of macroeconomic stability and fiscal sustainability, or if they are satisfied that we are on course to achieving it. Nor will we access funds from the international capital markets easily in the absence of an independent assessment. The Central Bank is not that independent source.
Typically, the views of the IMF and the credit rating agencies do matter, and cannot be ignored and labelled as “rubbish”. That will not stopping them from reporting to the markets on us!
What is so sad, comrades, is if the Government were ever to call upon the IMF, as Sir Lloyd did in 1991, there will be no help from anyone, including the IMF, until an agreement is reached. Liquidity support typically takes at least six months, and more likely nine to 12 months.
So all who may be calling for the intervention of the IMF must appreciate that the call for help does not deliver to us immediate assistance. It is like being in need of critical medication but whenever you decide to make the call you have to wait for it to arrive from the other side of the world.
You cannot abridge the necessary work that has to be done to reach the terms and conditions of accessing that help.