Mottley: Estimates an exercise in fiction
The sacrifices Barbadians made over the last 19 months under Government’s fiscal adjustment programme have all been for naught.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley took that position today as she described Finance Minister Chris Sinckler’s presentation of the 2015/2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, in which he declared the measures successful, as “an exercise in fiction”.
The Barbados Labour Party leader charged that Government was not giving the full story of the country’s economic situation and Sinckler’s picture did not reflect the realities facing Barbadians.
“He wants todeclare victory when he has lost by every measurement that he set on his own . . .This is a Government that is out of control on a mission that is out of control,” she said as she led the Opposition response to the Estimates.
As evidence of the programme’s failure, Mottley pointed to a $100 million dip in foreign reserves in the last 19 months although Government borrowed to shore up those reserves; a fiscal deficit of 7.2 per cent of GDP when 2.8 per cent was the target; and rising debt.
All this, she said, after “heinous” measures including public sector layoffs; removal of the reverse tax credit; introduction of new taxes such as the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, the Consolidation Tax; cuts in subsidies to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sanitation Service Authority, Transport Board, and the University of the West Indies (UWI); and the introduction of tuition fees for Barbadian students at UWI were imposed on the Barbadian public.
“What have Barbadians borne that sacrifice for? Only to find out today, at the end of the 19 months, that your reserves are still $100 million worse than when you started, in spite of the fact that you borrowed $450 million, and that your deficit is twice as bad as when you set up on this journey.” “You cannot have a situation which is twice as worse as you said it should be and then tell us we are on the road to recovery.”
What’s more, the St Michael North East MP said, Government continued to rack up debt to the tune of $11 billion, a significant jump from the $5.6 billion it found when it came to office in 2008.
“This Government has borrowed the equivalent of $15 million a week every week for the last seven years and has nothing, nothing, nothing to show for it!” she insisted.
“If we were to take their numbers, with a Sam Lord’s Hotel, with 25 per cent of that debt this Government should have been showing us at least five 300-room hotels . . . but instead all it can show us is liability to pay.”
The Opposition Leader argued that in order to create the “optics of success rather than the reality of a mission out of control”, Sinckler had spoken about Government recording a primary surplus for the first time since 2011, not taking into account the interest payable on Government’s debt.
To exclude that payment she said, was “to live in a false world”.
“Every Barbadian knows that they can’t tell the bank they’re not paying the interest. If you don’t pay the interest the bank is going to take up your house, the bank is going to take up your car, the bank is going to take up whatever asset you used as security,” she argued.
“If the Government of Barbados can move to a situation where in these Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue it can ignore the liability to interest which has now grown to almost $700 million – almost twice what it costs us to support the health sector – then we are living in a false world and this is an exercise that will only fool those who want to feel good.”
Mottley charged that this Democratic Labour Party administration was surviving only because of the credit of the private sector, the lendings of the National Insurance Scheme and the printing of money by the Central Bank.
She contended that if the weeklong Estimates debate was to mean anything and make any difference, the reality of the economic problems had to be acknowledged and not redefined or contorted.
“Let us confront our problems as they are in a way that allows us to set some simple goals to reduce the cost of our debt on an annual basis, to be able to restore investment grade to this country, to be able to truly protect the vulnerable . . .” she said.