Enough economic blame for all

It is wrong to believe that frank sentiments and the candour of the mind are the exclusive share of the young; they ornament oft-times old age, upon which they seem to spread a chaste reflection of the modest graces of their younger days, where they shine with the same brightness as those flowers which are often seen peeping, fresh and laughing, from among ruins.

–– Achille Poincelot

Say what you like about Sir Frank Alleyne, you can always count on him to speak his mind –– at times without regard for the occasion, or who feels offended or even the proximity of the affronted. Last Friday, it would seem, was one such circumstance.

Sir Frank, seated as he was at the head table of an economic seminar with no lesser individuals than Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell, did not hide his mouth in declaring that the ruling Democratic Labour Party needed to shoulder its fair share of the blame for the present sorry state of the Barbados economy.

As the younger among us would say, Sir Frank didn’t stutter. Far from it! The head of the Government’s Economic Economic Policy Advisors Committee was strident and resolute in delivering his speech, in which he called on his own administration to recognize that it had made some serious economic mistakes.

“I think that in some respect we shot ourselves in the feet and I, up to this day, make reservations about the generous adjustments in salaries in 2009,” he phrased his open chastisement.

“Also, I continue to be concerned about expansion in hiring, which took place in 2008/2009, and quite merrily in some of the statutory corporations. I understand why it happened; but I don’t appreciate the decision,” Sir Frank added.

It’s in these moments that we wish we could get into Mr Sinckler’s, or even the Central Bank’s Governor’s head.

It would be instructive how they really feel about such statements, beyond the rather plastic smiles that usually signal their assimilation of such critical utterances.

But at the economic juncture where this country now stands, it is well past refreshing to hear a Government advisor seeking to call his own administration to account. Let’s hope other senior Government members and the throng of choristers in the How Great Thou Art Choir will not now seek to hang Sir Frank out to dry, but instead stop for a moment to analyse what he is saying.

It is indeed bothersome, to say the least, having to encounter ministers, who should know better, acting as though they and the present Government are free from any blame –– as if they carry the innocence of newborns, readily harking back to the times they were in Opposition when the Barbados Labour Party held the reins.

This is not to suggest the previous Government is without fault for any of our economic mess. Of course not! Anyone who says otherwise just needs to recall  the wastage that was Gems, the 3S controversy and the millions in cost overruns –– not to mention the Dodds Prisons, Greenland and the $27,000 ackee tree.

In fact, the Opposition would do just as well as the Government at this stage to shut up and heed the current economic lesson which, by Sir Frank’s calculation, adds up to to “22 lost years” between 1992 and today.

As harsh an assessment as it all appears on the surface, Sir Frank does have a point that the economic situation is basically the same now as it was in the early 1990s, when there was rabid talk about the introduction of taxation, of privatization of Government agencies, private sector reform and other revenue enhancement and cost-cutting measures.

If these at all sound familiar, it is because these are the very issues we are discussing at this time.

It begs the question, as Sir Frank rightfully asked: “Why did we drop this ball?”

Yes, the adjustment measures implemented in 1992 returned the economy to “real growth” in 1993, but, in hindsight, it would seem, as Sir Frank further argues, that “the 1992 structural adjustment programme was aborted for no good reasons”.

“When we go back in time, we are just recycling where we were about 22 years ago. I call it a lost 22 years,” he told Friday’s economic seminar put on by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, cautioning Government ministers and other representatives, as if they were his very own children: “If you fool around today, you cannot make up for it tomorrow because new challenges come tomorrow,     and you have to be prepared to deal with them.”

We note, however, that in his address, in which he defended the reappointment of Governor Dr Worrell, he also offered some defence for the Government’s Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy. This is where we part company with the goodly economist –– but not without reminding him of the ruling DLP’s 2008 election slogan (which we dared to adapt): there’s “a fair share [of blame] for all”.

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