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.