An Election Budget
Before I critique this week’s Budget debate, I want to extend heartiest congratulations to Akela Jones for proudly flying the flag of Barbados at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
I hope that she takes this Olympics experience in the same manner Mr Bolt did with his in Athens and make a conscious determination that talent isn’t always enough to become an Olympic champion. I believe her performances merit more structured support from Barbados and ought to be seriously pursued.
I’m writing this article early Friday morning, but a friend messaged me via WhatsApp on Thursday morning to ask me when the Budget will be. I know sometimes WhatsApp messaging can go awry but that didn’t stop me from nearly falling out of my chair. The premise of the question perfectly encapsulates what so many Barbadians must also be asking themselves.
My view is that the Budget exercise was a clear signal to the electorate, particularly public servants, to get ready for an early election. The promises outlined on Tuesday are eerily similar to those outlined in the DLP’s Pathways to Progress manifesto of 2008 (http://www.caribbeanelections.com/eDocs/manifestos/bb/dlp_manifesto_2008.pdf).
Outside of the clear electioneering, the introduction of the two per cent tax and the hike in the tax on bank assets to raise an additional $160 million out of our pockets, will in fact increase the cost of living for every single person, household and business in Barbados with the exception of the Sandals Hotel.
You know that I must be fair so with a 10 per cent increase in the salaries of Cabinet Ministers following the restoration of the said amount which they took as a pay cut in 2013, they have effectively insulated themselves from the increased taxation being experienced by the rest of Barbadians.
This approach should be familiar to Barbadians as during the previous DLP administration in the early 90s, Cabinet Ministers raised their salaries by 10 per cent and then cut public servants’ salaries by eight per cent, leaving themselves with a net positive increase in salary. The consistency of behaviour is alarming and seems to be an endemic party policy.
I listened to the debate but what hit me for six was the absolute clarity of thought expressed by the Minister of Agriculture who still seems to be interviewing for the post of Minister of Finance. I believe his sentiments were expressed publicly because the Leader of the Opposition called him out, citing correspondence he wrote to the Prime Minister.
I must admit to being drawn to his clarity of thought regarding what must be done to address the problems created by the DLP public expenditure policy. However, I checked myself and said ‘Wait a minute! Dr Estwick is only doing a very good post mortem of the failed policies of the DLP and does not deserve credit for only now catching up.’
If the Barbadian public were brutally honest in their assessment of this matter, we may bring ourselves to admit that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, Dr Clyde Mascoll, Mia Mottley, myself and others were accused of spreading doom and gloom because we understood where the DLP public expenditure policy would lead. So listening to Dr Estwick last night made me realize something very profound; namely, that it has taken one member of the DLP eight years to understand where their actions have taken the country.
I am pretty sure that Dr Estwick will not be accused of spreading doom and gloom but might be treated as an inconvenient truth within the ranks of the DLP. Still the Minister of Agriculture went on to support the Budget despite his passionate speech outlining all the flawed policies pursued by his party over the last eight years whilst also outlining the current shortcomings of the current Minister of Finance in this year’s budget. An incredible display of a lack of conviction that is disturbing at the most basic level!
Barbadians still have to ask themselves, how much longer will they have to wait until the DLP gets it? How much longer will we have to wait until the Prime Minister starts to do the job that he applied for? How much longer will we have to put up with poor sanitation services? How much longer do we have to suffer with the delivery of poor health services? How much longer do Barbadians have to deal with an ineffective Cabinet of Ministers? How much longer will we have to continue paying more taxes whilst getting less and less from our Government?
Many of us are currently engaged in preparing our children for back to school which we know is often fraught with some financial stress as the cost of living has increased significantly over the past eight years. The news that come September 1, 2016, we can expect a further increase in everything produced or imported into country is a kick in the teeth given, as I mentioned earlier, the Cabinet Ministers have restored a pay cut which amounts to a 10 per cent increase in their salaries. This more than anything else should make it clear to ordinary Barbadians that the current Cabinet members are completely out of touch with the day to day reality of living in Barbados.
Dr Estwick’s voicing concerns that the DLP have pursued the wrong fiscal policy without falling on his sword brings little comfort to Barbadians. His speech indicates that he knows better but yet he is satisfied to take his 10 per cent salary increase that will enable him to absorb the two per cent increase in the cost of living which ordinary Barbadians cannot.
(Ryan Straughn is an UWI Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados trained economist who is the endorsed Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)