COLUMN – Another package of fiscal pain
From its best days under the visionary leadership of founding father Errol Walton Barrow, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has always sought to position itself as the party that champions the interests of the average man and woman in Barbados. By pursuing empowering, democratic socialist policies, and consistently defining the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) as pro-business and anti-working class, the Dems cemented themselves in this politically advantageous position in the minds of the masses.
After this week’s Budget presentation, which inflicted an additional $200 million in taxation on an already overburdened population whose disposalable income has been consistently eroded over the past seven years by punitive DLP tax measures, the Dems have erased any remaining legitimacy, especially after the experience of the last two years, to the claim of being an ally of the working class.
Indeed, the impact of these budgetary measures is not only likely to put the recovering Barbados economy back into recession because of a further dampening of demand, but also lead to further pauperization of already struggling families, some of whom may very well now go over the brink.
What is particularly ironic is that this current DLP administration is the most working-class Government ever in Barbados’ history. It is headed by the son of a St Philip domestic who has publicly acknowledged that he owes his current status in life to the progressive Errol Barrow/Cameron Tudor-led DLP policies, especially 100 per cent publicly funded education from primary school to university, which his Government has dismantled. Then we have a Minister of Finance who grew up in the suburban community of Goodland/Deacon’s Farm, which is as working-class as you can get.
One would expected, therefore, that a predominantly working-class Government would have demonstrated a consciousness and a sensitivity towards working-class issues and concerns, especially seeing that this demographic historically has represented its political base. But that has not been the case, proving right the saying that when your own dog bites you, you are well bitten.
If the present crop of DLP leaders were sufficiently close to Barrow and Tudor, they would have acquired a full understanding and appreciation of the philosophical underpinnings of cornerstone DLP policy and would not have so easily repudiated it, regardless of the circumstances.
Ironically, it was Opposition Leader Mia Mottley who came across as a true champion of the working class in her passionate reply to the Budget. Her presentation emphasized the human dimension of the fallout from these DLP policies, especially from the standpoint of personal suffering and deprivation. This is the same Mia Mottley whom the Dems have stridently denounced as unsuitable for national leadership because she happened to grow up in upscale Sandy Lane.
Didn’t Errol Barrow and Cammie Tudor also come from bourgeois backgrounds? Notwithstanding, their commitment to advancing the interests of the working class was unquestionable.
Apart from setting the stage for higher food prices, perhaps the cruellest cut of all that was delivered, from a working-class perspective, was the elimination of the annual tax credit for mortgage interest which was introduced to promote home ownership among ordinary Barbadians. It is a prescription for the destruction of the Barbadian dream of home ownership which has always been central to working-class empowerment, along with getting a good education.
Indeed, owning a home is the biggest asset most Barbadians will acquire in a lifetime. In an environment where high land and property prices have pushed ownership further out of the reach of the average Barbadian, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure fair access for all.
More likely than not, this policy will backfire on the National Housing Corporation (NHC). Anyone driving around Barbados will notice quite a few completed NHC units at various locations which remain unoccupied. If the NHC was already facing challenges finding buyers for these properties, it is likely that the situation now will only become worse.
Many working and middle-class Barbadians, the NHC’s market, may not now be tempted to buy in the absence of the tax incentive. The NHC, therefore, may end up having to rent those properties, defeating its stated objective of getting out of the home rentals market.
Given the disappointment expressed by the domestic private sector, it is quite clear that another major fallout is likely to be further loss of confidence. The private sector is not at all pleased, seeing that the thrust of the Budget is generating more revenue for the Government instead of promoting economic growth. In his presentation, Sinckler reiterated the point that the DLP sees the private sector as the engine of growth. The question is: how can the Government expect the private sector to perform this role when it is not providing the right policies to create the enabling environment?
Based on available evidence, it seems this Government is discriminating against the domestic private sector in favour of foreign investors. While local businesses are saddled with increased taxation, foreign investors are given generous tax breaks as we saw in the case of Sandals. Home drums are no longer beating first.
In the first Budget presentation in the history of Barbados, on June 26, 1962, Errol Barrow, in his role as Minister of Finance, remarked that confidence was “the most important question in all financial matters” pertaining to the economy.
The lack of confidence, he said, can sometimes be induced “by irresponsible actions on the part of our politicians”. It seems his words have fallen on the deaf ears of his political inheritors.
I am convinced that the “irresponsible actions” of the DLP have landed us in this crisis. In 2012, the signs of a deteriorating economic situation would have been obvious, including the skyrocketing deficit which would have necessitated swift intervention. At the time, however, the DLP was more preoccupied with ensuring its survival of the polls.
When it finally acted after the February, 2013 general election, the situation by then had sharply deteriorated, necessitating the draconian policies that have punished the population. What we have now is a situation where Peter is paying for Paul and Paul is paying for all.
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur spoke like a true statesman last night in his contribution to the debate, sharing invaluable insights from his vast experience as an economist and Minister of Finance. Freed of the partisan yoke, Arthur was able to tell it like it is, pointing out potentially fatal flaws in the current economic approach.
If Arthur is considered good enough that his expertise is in demand by other regional countries to craft a formula for ensuring the prosperity of their economies, why can’t Barbados also use his services? It may be a bitter pill for the DLP, which is so bereft of economic expertise, to swallow, but the national interest must come first.
It is time for the sick economy of Barbados to be placed under the care of a new physician. In a 2013 year-end analysis for Barbados TODAY, I called for Sinckler to be relieved of finance and economic affairs because he is a major contributor to the lack of confidence among Barbadians.
I reiterate that call today, even though I am conscious that if the majority of Barbadians have their way, their preference really would be for an early general election. Such is the magnitude of the loss of confidence in this Government.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)