COLUMN-How much longer now?

todays womanSo the long anticipated Chris Sinckler Ministerial Statement is 48 hours or more behind us! I am still questioning myself on what I learnt.

We have been reassured that the economy of Barbados is rebounding, while at the same time we have been signalled to await a fuller presentation in April when further measures will be disclosed. So what exactly does that mean?

Basically, this Ministerial Statement was presented for the Minister of Finance to declare that the Budget would not have been this week, but in April instead. How does that help the housemother to budget for her family get togethers over Christmas, Old Year’s and New Year’s?

These activities are not just eat up and buy up affairs; they provide the structure for families to share quality time and reflect on their commitment to living and working together. As Barbados continues to be stuck in a financial mire, we should at least pay attention to ensuring that the social fabric of our society is protected.

Economies are cyclical and they repair themselves over time. However, when the social fabric of a society disintegrates, it boasts no process that repairs itself –– certainly not as obtains in economic recovery.

When people become hopeless and lose their pride, the culture of poverty sets in. Individuals become willing to do anything for money; for not much is of any further value, including the law, the property of others and even human life.

Some of the crimes which we are currently seeing in Barbados reflect this hopelessness. What mindset does it take for an individual to break through a store window to claim clothes off six or seven mannequins? What mindset makes an individual load a gun and discharge it at another while the target is holding an infant child?

I do not believe we are doing enough to analyse these incidents. I do not believe that just repeating the notion everything is good will restore confidence in the Barbadian economy. It is much like the mantra that crime is down really not changing the fact that the characteristics of crime in Barbados have worsened, and people and visitors are feeling increasingly unsafe.

I have no idea where we are going form here, and I think that is the sentiment of the average Barbadian. I am not sure if Christmas dinner is on. I am not sure what will happen to the National Conservation Commission workers now that the Employment Rights Tribunal is no more –– in a manner
of speaking.

After the Ministerial Statement we are no wiser. Can oil really save us now that it is at an all-time low price per barrel worldwide? If our Ministry of Environment cannot control and manage the effective collection and removal of garbage islandwide, and if it cannot implement recycling programmes, does it have the capacity and wherewithal to control oil spills and manage the protection of the environment when oil drilling is being conducted?

We have all seen the devastation caused by oil spills even in jurisdictions where there are rigid frameworks to protect the environment and yet many other resources that Barbados cannot boast. Are we really ready to drill for oil in an environmentally safe way?

I can tell you what we are certainly not ready to do. We still cannot collect taxes in a timely and sensible fashion. I visited the Barbados Revenue Authority (the section for road-related taxes) last week. The first time I went, the line was snaked all along the barricades set out; and after ten minutes
I had made no significant progress. I decided to leave and return later in the week.

Why did I do that?! This time the line was back to the door with the guard telling people to sit on the outside and wait until space became available in the line. I took three hours to pay for a vehicle inspection. The more hurtful part is that in a few weeks I have to rejoin the line and wait probably just as long to pay the actual road tax after inspection.

When I heard about the streamlining of entities as a part of the Ministerial Statement, my experience at the Revenue Authority immediately popped back to mind. It seems there is a new name and perhaps a new computer system operating at the Barbados Revenue Authority. However, there has been absolutely no change in the philosophy of customer service and efficiency at the agencies merged. So who benefits?

The Minister of Finance was at pains to indicate that no layoffs would result from the mergers. If three agencies become one and no staff is shed, there is the case where work has to be created for all of the employees left over. Where a computer or indeed a debit card access would make life for the customer much more livable, an old system is nurtured just because it provides “a pick” for everybody.

If we merge entities but do not create more efficiency, we are not enhancing our governance and access to state services.

I am not advocating layoffs; I am advocating creativity. One department may not need to have three layers of bureaucracy compacted into one,
to the pain of the customer, as seems to be the result in the Revenue Authority’s case.

There may be an opportunity for workers to be retrained and moved to other divisions of the Civil Service where there are shortages of labour and
the need for bodies for improved efficiency.

After the Ministerial Statement, what now? More wait and see before the “real real” Budget? How much longer can we afford to run Barbados
in the way we currently are? And even if the economy can withstand it, can our social fabric?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies.
She is a social commentator and community worker.)

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