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Where does our Government really stand on privatization?

It is often said that Barbadians have short memories and some of our politicians behave sometimes as if they really believe it is so. We see it in the sometimes puzzling positions they take on issues where they say one thing today and something else a few weeks or years later.

A good example is privatization, currently a topic of intense public debate given the difficulty which the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) seems to be having in bringing down the fiscal deficit and the fact that transfers to some statutory corporations are a major drain on Government’s finances.

Hearing some DLP representatives speak on privatization in recent years, anyone who was not around during the structural adjustment period of the early 1990s would easily conclude that the party has always been against selling off state assets to the private sector.

Such, however, could not be further from the truth and it is borne out by hard evidence. A policy document, prepared by the then DLP Government back in February 1994, had stated “Government has set up a Privatization Unit to oversee comprehensive reform of public enterprises. Government’s shares in Barbados External Telecommunications, Barbados Mills and part of its Pine Hill shares have already been sold.”

The document entitled Structural Adjustment Strategy added “steps are underway for the sale of the Heywoods Hotel, the Barbados National Oil Company and the National Petroleum Corporation and the Arawak Cement Plant. Sale of shares in the Insurance Corporation of Barbados, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and Caribbean Aircraft Handling will take place during 1994. Other public enterprises are being evaluated with a view to sale, reform or closure.”

As readers can clearly see, the DLP was an enthusiastic practitioner of privatization. Yet, it has led Barbadians to believe in recent years that it is fundamentally opposed to privatization. This opposition was a decisive factor in the DLP’s 2013 re-election, when it pilloried former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, then leader of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, for being favourably disposed to privatization.

Stoking public fear on the subject, the DLP told Barbadians privatization would cause them to lose jobs and old people would to pay to travel on Transport Board buses again.

“This privatization thing de Bees talking about is a real serious threat to Barbadian citizens, though,” said a DLP 2013 campaign radio commercial featuring a dialogue involving two women. “What we going do, Miss Ruby? We going to vote for the Democratic Labour Party.”

It is the media’s role, in the public interest, to draw attention to such glaring inconsistencies and contradictions where they are known to exist, especially on matters of public policy. Given its record 20 years ago, the DLP owes Barbadians a clear and unequivocal statement on where it really stands on privatization today.

It needs to explain, above all, what contributed to the policy u-turn and to what extent it seriously regards the private sector as the engine of growth. The truth is that had the DLP won the 1994 general election instead of the BLP, more Government assets were scheduled to be sold off to the private sector, including BNOC and CBC.

During a House of Assembly debate in 2011, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said: “Let the word go forth: the Democratic Labour Party [DLP] Government established CBC as a state-owned station. The DLP Government will keep CBC as a state-owned station. Let there be no debate over that.”

While Mr Stuart now seems opposed to privatization, Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss comes across as favourably disposed while Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler seems guardedly open to the idea. Three different stances! That is why it is important for the DLP to state what is its official policy position.

“With the Barbados Labour Party’s constant changes in policy and positions, principally aimed at cajoling and attracting votes, the electorate is now seeing through their several thoughtless twists and turns – classic political chameleons. The good thing is that Barbadians recognize poppycock when they hear it,” said the DLP weekly newspaper column, Douglas Leopold Philips, in November 2012.

Ironically, the same can be said about the Dems too, at least on the privatisation issue.

3 Responses to Where does our Government really stand on privatization?

  1. Ryan Bayne
    Ryan Bayne November 1, 2016 at 12:40 am

    From looking at this picture, Freundel Stuart is clearly lost in a lost world.

    Reply
  2. Tony Webster November 1, 2016 at 12:43 am

    Let the message go forth to the Right Honourable Gentlemam, regarding C.B.C.: it’s not de bate, Sir, it’s de bill for running the only monopoly known to me, which obstinately returns a loss each year to its owners! As it is now, you would have to pay someone to buy it, unionized staff included. It’s a two-legged dancing elephant which has ambitions of flying Sir. The nearest sibling, would be the government’s T.V. Station in D.P.R.K…..or Harare, or Moscow. It is absolutely nothing to be proud of Sir.

    C.B.C. does indeed fulfill with panache, one visible, and obvious, purpose: by its deeds and actions, it shines a bright light on the current administration’s frailty, and vulnerabilities, and insecurity. Contrast and compare with most of our CARICOM siblings, where multiple T.V. stations are long the norm.
    Ergo,, it has purpose….but it is absolutely removed from anything resembling a thing of which we ought to be proud.

    Reply
  3. Sue Donym November 1, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    Privatisation is not a bad word. Privatisation must be examined with reference to the entity or service and decided upon with sound reason with as many facts as are available and relevant.

    Take transportation. There is little doubt that privately owned mass transit has shown a better record of reliability and fleet maintenance than its publicly operated competitor. However government maintains regulatory control over the issuance and renewal of permits as well as the regulation of fares – PSVs and Taxis.

    Now look at education. Clearly the better public good will be served in maintaining state control as it is too precious a commodity to leave the availability, accessibility, cost or quality to the possibility of mishandling.

    The point is that decisions about privatisation could be dynamic, responding to changes nationally or internationally; it could also be considered for sectors of an industry or segments of concern. It does not have to be an all or none approach and it certainly can be that what was ripe for change today might not be ideally so tomorrow.

    But let’s bring it home, Editor. When you put out your editorial, the voice of your publication, does it necessarily reflect the thinking of each of your journalists or of every editor? Is it even guaranteed to be a democratically arrived at position? And does your organisation’s position ever change?

    And more to the point: at times privatisation leads to better regulatory oversight, more efficient services to the public, more rewarding jobs, better public revenue collection and well administered social services. We really need to have a healthy mix of conservatism and reality.

    Reply

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