Looking beyond Finance Minister’s Christmas stocking
Those who were expecting Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to show up in the Parliament Building yesterday with a giant Christmas stocking slung over his shoulder were, no doubt, as disappointed with his Ministerial Statement as Opposition Leader Mia Mottley clearly was.
In fact, left to her, he would not have been allowed to utter a single word this Christmas, for, as she put it in her statement issued in response to the presentation, “it is one of the few occasions in the last seven years where he could have taken a leaf from the Prime Minister’s book and recognize that silence would have been golden”.
But we are not going to join on this occasion with anyone who would have us believe that the Minister of Finance’s statement amounts to nothing more than an empty Christmas stocking.
Far from it, we think it was an important statement of policy.
Therefore, those who chose not to listen would have missed what we believe is the salient message of yesterday’s presentation, out of which has come the most honest assessment by Government of where we currently stand economically.
“We must stay the course with our programme and complete the job of repairing, reforming and resuscitating our economy,” said Sinckler in Parliament yesterday, while cautioning that “we are not yet out of
the woods”. He also acknowledged the “pain” and “discomfort” that had accompanied his Government’s economic policies over the past year, while promising that his Government would work “even harder” to bring much needed relief to those who had been affected most by these policies.
The minister, who is not always the first to raise his hand when he is wrong, also stood up for the first time to admit that both he and the other members of the Government’s economic advisory team may have been too “ambitious” in setting the fiscal deficit target for the current fiscal year at 6.6 per cent of GDP.
In reality, the economy was currently on course to achieve a 5.5 to 5.6 per cent reduction by March, 2015, Sinckler reported.
“We now have to stay the course with the Fiscal Consolidation Programme and do what is necessary to protect the gains we have made over the last 16 months,” he added, while announcing Government had decided to extend the existing revenue measures that formed part of the 19-month programme for another financial year, or until April, 2016.
Clearly, this should be warning enough of the need to control our commercial appetites this Christmas, even as great as the temptation may be for us all to throw caution to the wind and engage in wild and reckless spending, without care for what’s around the corner in the New Year.
But as we move into our much anticipated holiday season, we can’t help but consider the lot of the recently retrenched at the National Conservation Commission, National Housing Corporation and other Government departments, now numbering 3,000 plus, with no immediate job prospects –– even those who may find themselves in a similar spot come 2015.
Never mind all the long talk about no new taxes, or even the fact the Barbados Revenue Authority has now made provision for a three-month “tax amnesty”, the bitter reality is that the minister’s statement has already resulted in an additional tax burden for us all, when one considers that the Government’s 19-month Fiscal Consolidation Programme, which was due to come to an in March, 2015, has now been extended by one year –– until April, 2016.
It means another year of Consolidation Tax, Bank Assets Tax and Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
And, yes, we do note that the minister did say in his 30-minute presentation that the controversial MSWT would be subjected to a review, but we are not going to break out into any song and dance, thinking it will necessarily mean the end of this rubbish tax once and for all –– especially given the value of these three measures to our cash-strapped Government.
But really and truly, it is not all doom and gloom. So there is no reason for us to all become Jehovah’s Witnesses and not celebrate Christmas. However, hold strain we must; even amid talk of our striking oil. Now is definitely not the time for any out of control spending spree.
For after we brim our plates with generous servings of turkey, ham, pork and the like this season, to the satisfaction our palates, and then wash it all down with delightful, locally grown sorrel or other favoured Yuletide brew, we will still need to face up to what looks to be some more bitter medicine, which we understand Mr Sinckler and his cohorts are contemplating, with a view to having it all finalized and neatly tucked away in that dreaded “black bag” for official release by the end of the first quarter.