When all eyes are firmly fixed on Chris

We know he is not yet ready to reveal all he has in store in his proverbial black box, but still we cannot help but wonder what mood our Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler will be in tomorrow as he prepares to deliver his latest ministerial statement.

We note that a similar such statement was delivered by the very same minister around this same time last year –– December 13, to be exact –– and that far from being good, the news was not what anyone would have wanted.

Back then, Mr Sinckler had said that, based on information supplied by the Ministry of the Civil Service, there were 16,956 public sector posts in Central Government and another 9,000 spread across the various statutory corporations. In the General Service, 15,333 posts were considered to be “established” and 1,623, temporary.

Further, there were 5,341 temporary employees in the Public Service, composed of 1,082 in temporary posts and 4,177 in established posts.

After laying bare the employment stats, he then went on to outline the Government’s plans to achieve $143 million in savings in a full financial year.

What this actually turned out to be was rather bitter medicine for some 3,000 public officers who were sent home.

But as Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss rightly points out, the decision was not Chris Sinckler’s alone.

In fact, Cabinet had also agreed back then to institute a strict programme of attrition across the central Public Service, filling posts only where it was absolutely unavoidable, over the next five years, ending 2018-2019.

“This attrition is expected to reduce Central Government employment levels from approximately 16,970 to 14,612 jobs –– a projected loss of 2,358 posts, and savings of $121 million. Over the current 19-month adjustment period public sector employment would be reduced by an additional 501 jobs with a projected savings of $26 million.

“We have also agreed that effective January 1, 2014, there shall be enforced a freeze on the payment of increments for the next two years,” said Sinckler in announcing the dreaded cuts.

A year later, and with the Government now short of some 3,000 public sector jobs, the economy remains a major concern. But most troubling has been fact that the medicine both tasted awful, and did not work.

For even as the Minister of Finance would have us all not panic and trust in his every word, the state of Government’s financing remains unsettling, to say the very least.

And lest we forget, our Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell has issued more than enough caution signals of late.

His latest one, a mere two and a half a weeks ago, came as he addressed the luncheon of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE).

From that platform Governor Worrell maintained that the island’s Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy was working, though not fast enough.

In fact, he suggested that additional measures would be needed to bring the deficit down to a “comfortable” level in the second half of the fiscal year.

“[From] here on in is going to be a structural process accompanied by real reform of the Government services. A reform which is going to bring greater efficiencies in the delivery of those services,” said Dr Worrell, who had earlier released a less than favourable October economic review, in which he reported that the country’s fiscal adjustment programe was off the mark by $174 million.

The Governor has further cautioned that another two per cent or so of GDP still needs to be found in terms of further adjustments.

If that is not caution enough, we only have to hearken back to recent reports of the International Monetary Fund or Moody’s or S&P, for that matter, on the state of our domestic economy.

Granted, the language may be a bit more palatable in one or the other context, but at the end of the day, it all adds up to the same result: that is, even with tourism showing signs of looking up, our economy is not yet out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, and more adjustments will have to be made.

Certainly, it is not an overnight thing –– both the Governor and the Minister of Finance have said as much. So we just have to wait and see what Minister Sinckler has for us this year in his Christmas stocking.

From all indications, there will be few goodies –– if any at all.

We can only hope and pray at this stage that our Minister of Finance isn’t as much of a Christmas Scrooge as Dr David Estwick’s recent letter to the Prime Minister would have suggested. Otherwise, God help us all!


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