A blessed nation is Barbados nonetheless

We always say that Barbados is blessed, usually around hurricane season when a windstorm bypasses us. Let us pray we can say that again this year.

However, it really came home to me how blessed we are after having two house guests in the last three weeks.

The first one was my counterpart from the WINC Acceleration Programme in Dominica. She was going on a trip to Miami, and needed to overnight in Barbados because she could not get a direct flight, or a reasonable
connection to Miami from Dominica.

We tend to take things like that for granted, as we can fly from Barbados to many international destinations, even if we have to take connecting flights.

My second house guest, another WINC counterpart, had to come from Montserrat to get a United States visa for her daughter. We often complain about the cost of a United States visa, but imagine having to fly from another Caribbean island to Barbados to get one.

First of all, my house guest had to take a small plane to Antigua and then catch a LIAT flight to Barbados –– she and her daughter. That would have cost over BDS$1,000. I think we Barbadians would do well to count our blessings.

Thus, I am grateful to be living in this strategically positioned island, which for centuries has “punched above its weight”, according to the often repeated cliché. So it really hurts me to see how low we have fallen from our
lofty heights.

Granted, we still have a lot to be thankful for, but I am somewhat concerned to see many of the privileges we have had in the past eroded because of poor use of public funds, and vast amounts of national debt.

Not only have many benefits been eroded, but many resources needed to run many Government entities efficiently are lacking. Then again, when the resources were available, we often still did not see the efficiency we would
have liked.

However, it is a serious thing when the Barbados Audit Office is so short-staffed, due to lack of funds, I presume, that it cannot effectively carry out its mission “to strengthen public accountability by providing fair and independent reports after careful examination of accounting records and use of resources”. Perhaps it is in the best interest of some to ensure such reports do not reach the public domain on a timely basis.

I can’t say I have read the entire report, but as I started perusing it, the first number to jump out at me, as an accountant in a previous life, was the 2015 deficit of $697 million. In fact, the report showed that Government had operated at a deficit for the last five years, and we know it has been longer than that. If Barbados was a company, and the CEO and board had presented such an abysmal financial performance, they would no doubt be fired and replaced with more competent people.

As a result of the deficit, borrowing has increased so that interest as a percentage of revenue was 26.3 per cent in 2015. Bear in mind that is only interest; so we’re not talking total payback.

Auditor General Leigh Trotman stated in his report that “the larger the amount of the budget that is used to service debt, the less resources will be available to provide other goods and services”. We know that well.  Just look at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the University of the West Indies and the Sanitation Service Authority.

Speaking of which, I was never so happy to hear the sweet sound of a garbage truck in my neighbourhood as I was this week. I was about to go out and buy a third garbage bin just to fit the garbage that had not been collected for two weeks –– and I’m recycling!

Getting back to the report –– that whole section on debt was so depressing that I skipped ahead to see if there was better news, only to read that there were 50 state agencies whose accounts were not included in the Government’s financial statements! First of all, I did not even know there were so many state entities; and, worse yet, of the 28 the Auditor General managed to get information from, they had another $1.4 billion in liabilities that could further impact public finances.

As if that was not bad enough, I had to go and look at the section called Loans Receivable –– Private Entities, in which loans from Government to private sector companies were made. In one case, there was no loan agreement; in another, an amount of $950,000 was not, according to the report, “brought to account to date by the Treasury, and this has resulted in the receivables being understated by $950,000”.

The Auditor General believes the company has gone out of business and the loan was never repaid –– otherwise known as a bad debt.

That was up to Page 28 of the 125-page report, and I felt sick to think how money we have worked so hard for has been squandered and mismanaged. I have not even got on to the section on the projects awarded under circumstances not in accordance with Government’s requirements, far less those with significant overruns. I can’t read it at night because I am sure to have nightmares.

The bottom line is that the Auditor General stated: “In my opinion, based on the findings highlighted, the financial statements presented for audit did not in all material respects fairly represent the financial position of the Government of Barbados.”

From my days as an auditor, when you could not express that the financial statements were fairly represented that was bad news indeed. It usually meant there were some undesirable things going on.

The mere fact management of the country has not been wrestled away from us and more stringent measures enforced, only confirms for me we are a people the Lord has blessed. But we should never take those blessings for granted or continue to perpetuate poor stewardship, lest we find ourselves stripped of the remainder of our blessings.

(Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She is the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s  Entrepreneurship Day and the Barbados facilitator for the InfoDev WINC Acceleration Programme. Email donnaevery1@gmail.com Visit www.donnaevery.com and www.facebook.com/DonnaEvery1)

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