Bajans are in a mood for answers

On a day when scores of Opposition demonstrators took to the streets wearing white in an appeal for economic salvation from a burdensome tax, more than the estimated 3,000 plus were in the mood for answers.

As political activist David Comissiong rightly said yesterday, there is a general feeling in Barbados right now, today’s march aside, that the country is in crisis; that we are stagnating as a people, as a country; and that we are being held back –– with public demonstrations taking place and more being promised.

Enough “cannon fodder” you would think to rouse any Prime Minister to action.

But not our own Freundel Stuart. The last time he was heard to speak out publicy on any matter was last week when he commented on the absence of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) from the Social Partnership table.

Since last Friday’s Social Partnership meeting, we have had the ongoing furore over the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, and one would have thought the Prime Minister would have broken his silence on that, especially since many have been looking to him to expand the current level of relief.

But there has been nary a word; not even to poke fun at his political opponents who appeared to be degenerating at a much faster rate than they could get the Government to repeal the much maligned rubbish tax.

However, we could excuse him for leaving that Opposition no ball outside the off stump, since it is often thought best for a leader of his standing to stay well above the fray of divisive party politics –– especially given his own experiences with the once touted Eager Eleven.

We wait to see, however, how long it will take our Prime Minister to comment on the latest Moody’s economic report.

It certainly will not be enough for him this time to simply try to downplay the relevence of international rating agencies, without offering a reasonable explanation of the wide gulf that currently exists between his Government’s articulation of the state of health of the domestic economy and that of Moody’s in the first instance.

Certainly, if Moody’s is correct, then our Central Bank Governor is well off the mark, and so too our hopes of a short-term economic turnaround.

In differing strongly with Dr DeLisle Worrell and his projection that light is in sight, the agency reported yesterday, contrary to the Central Bank’s projection of 0.3 per cent for this year, that the Barbados economy was expected to contract by 1.0 per cent in 2014, based on persistent fiscal challenges and economic weaknesses.

“Exacerbating the credit-negative fiscal trends, Barbados’ economy continues to struggle, and was unable to achieve growth in the first six months of this year, extending its subdued performance over the past seven years,” said the global ratings agency.

It said that despite recent positive developments in tourism, such as an additional chartered flights out of Europe, Barbados’ main industry continued to face significant headwinds.

And even with the accelerated effort at fiscal consolidation over the next three quarters, it warned that Government would remain constrained by revenue underperformance, difficulty reining in transfers and subsidies, and rising interest costs.

Moody’s also said that, given the larger budget gap in the last fiscal year, it was now estimating that the Freundel Stuart administration needed a total adjustment of at least $450 million (5.2 per cent of projected 2014 GDP) to reach its deficit objective in the current fiscal year.

Furthermore, Moody’s has adjusted its 2014 budget deficit projection to 8.5 per cent of GDP from 8.0 per cent, about two percentage points above the Government’s target, with risks firmly tilted to the downside.

All this spells major economic worry, which both the Governor and ultimately our Prime Minister must speak to.

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