Of ayes, nays, absenteeisms and abstentions
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has everything to gain and virtually little to lose in this her third no-confidence motion aimed at the ruling Democratic Labour Party Government.
Some will argue: what is the point? The Opposition Barbados Labour Party possesses inferior numbers in the Lower House, and since this prevailing political situation does not resemble that which confronted the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford administration in 1994, Miss Mottley has no chance of winning the motion.
Still, the St Michael North-East MP will hardly come out of the debate a “loser”.
In her motion yesterday before Parliament, Miss Mottley did not accuse the Government of being in collusion with ISIS or supporting Boko Haram in Nigeria. But she basically accused the Freundel Stuart-led Government of everything else.
Miss Mottley attacked Government on its handling of the island’s economy, including failure of its overall fiscal strategy, which she said was highlighted by the country’s worsening debt situation and its declining foreign reserves position. She said this had contributed to Barbados now having a nominally smaller economy than it did eight years ago.
The Opposition Leader also charged that there had been a dramatic deterioration in the disposable incomes and a decline in the quality of life of Barbadians at all levels, resulting from a wage freeze in the public sector and parts of the private sector. She also accused the Government of imposing more than 33 increases in taxes and fees on Barbadians over the last eight years.
She rebuked the ruling administration for its removal of allowances, imposition of deductions for income tax purposes and persistent increases in the cost of living.
As part of the picture of fiscal mismanagement which she painted, Miss Mottley highlighted the Government’s known cash flow problems, which she said had affected the administration’s ability to pay substantial arrears to Barbadians, including income tax, corporation tax and Value Added Tax refunds. Indeed, the Government has had issues paying salaries and honouring payment commitments to persons doing contractual work for statutory corporations and other Government entities.
The Central Bank of Barbados and its leadership did not escape Miss Mottley’s scrutiny. Despite warnings from creditable experts, she noted, the country’s principal bank continued to print money simply to support Government’s desire not to default on local debt. She explained that the Central Bank now held BDS$1.1 billion in exposure to Government paper that was an increase on the $20.5 million figure in 2007. She noted this placed the exchange rate peg at risk.
Miss Mottley went on to touch on the Cahill project; the use of funds from the National Insurance Scheme; the Catastrophe Fund; the planned introduction of compulsory fingerprinting at ports of entry; and Government’s handling of industrial problems involving a number of stated groups and agencies.
One is moved to say Miss Mottley was thorough in her condemnations, but that would be stating the obvious. The Opposition Leader’s tone, texture and intent were simply to suggest that Mr Stuart’s inclination towards silence had now been matched by his Government’s descent into quicksandy incompetence.
There are many who will argue that Miss Mottley comes over as a potential Prime Minister in a hurry. After all, a general election is due within the next two years, and if her contention is that the Government is incompetent, a “no-confidence motion” would be best debated on the streets during a general election where the vote divide would not be confined to those sitting in the House of Assembly. So why the anticipated exercise in futility at this stage?
The no-confidence motion will provide her with an opportunity to once again force Government to defend its stewardship under the scrutiny of the electorate. And, in this instance, the accusations –– unlike some others in our political history –– are not of corruption, but of incompetence. It is often palpably easier to defend oneself against corruption charges, but incompetence frequently affects John Public in fundamental ways and can prove more difficult to explain away.
Miss Mottley, though she does not expect it to happen, is suggesting to Mr Stuart that he call the general election now, since Barbados cannot survive until the constitutionally due poll under his leadership. She gets the opportunity to present her evidence of this.
We expect any political dissent within the ranks of the Opposition to be put on hold during the debate. But it is well known that there are some on the Opposition benches who would like to see the back of Miss Mottley as much as she would like the see that of the DLP Government.
Would they seize this opportunity to undermine Miss Mottley’s authority either by their vote, abstention or absence? We do not see this happening. But we also did not see the palace coup engineered by the Flagrant Five in 2010.
The Government will defend its stewardship of the economy over the past eight years with reference to the global economic crisis and to national debt inherited from the previous administration’s off-budget spending, much of which the Stuart administration has correctly brought to book.
It is left to see which resonates more with the national gallery –– Miss Mottley’s attack or the reawakening once more of the sleeping giant.