Nation e-Edition

A stand for health, education

By PAT HOYOS | Sun, October 14, 2012 - 12:00 AM

That little dust-up in the House of Assembly recently between Mia Mottley and Donville Inniss must have been amusing to hear, and probably even moreso to watch.

After all, according to the MIDWEEK Nation (October 3, Page 5A), Miss Mottley got up to complain about what the Minister of Health was saying at least six times and declared “she was prepared to stand as many times on a point of order as was required to defend her party’s position, while Inniss told [her] that she had better be prepared to lose some weight in the process as he was not backing down from his position”.

Ah, our Minister of Health – always trying to get us more healthy.

Apparently Mr Inniss was reading aloud from Opposition Leader Owen Arthur’s September 26 speech to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI), using it to contend that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) would cut financial support from health and education were it to win the Government in the coming elections.

Miss Mottley contended that the BLP had not issued a policy statement on either, hence the points of order. To which Mr Inniss contended that “no amount of rabble-rousing will stop us from building a society where education and health are accessible to all Barbadians”.

I am fed up with the Dems continuing to accuse the Bees of wanting to cut health and education expenditure when their own Minister of Finance has said almost the same things about how to deal with them.

Running the Ministry of Health is costing taxpayers $1/2 billion this fiscal year and education $350 million. The total budget, excluding debt service and repayment (which is around $1 billion), is about $2.5 billion. Take a moment and work out how much of our total budget is therefore consumed by these two areas of spending. I got a figure of 34 per cent.

So one third of all our Government expenses, excluding debt costs, goes into health and education.

But because we built this modern Barbadian society on those two planks, politicians are noticeably coy about saying how they plan to deal with them now that they are costing so much to operate.

Mr Inniss quoted Mr Arthur from his BCCI speech. I don’t know which part exactly my friend Donville orated; here is one little snippet:

“It is clear that major adjustments have to be made to the scope and nature of Government’s direct involvement in the economy and society . . . . [T]he state cannot continue to expand its spending on critical areas such as health and education which has helped to create the social capital on which much of our national development has been based.” (Owen Arthur, BCCI luncheon, September 26, 2012.)

Willy-nilly cut?

Aha, you say. He is going to cut these vital programmes willy-nilly or make people start paying more for delivery of services under them. But he didn’t say anything like that.

Here’s another quote on health and education:

“Free education and health care at point of delivery, subsidized transport, refuse collection and others have all been critical to our success as a nation, but will be severely affected if we do not all pull our weight to afford these social amenities.”

Who said that? Was it Mr Arthur? No, it was Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his Budget Speech, delivered last June, probably just a few feet from where Mr Inniss was standing when he read from Mr Arthur’s BCCI speech.

You could transpose the two – that is, put Arthur’s piece in Sinckler’s speech and vice versa and not notice the difference. They both have the same DNA.

In both cases, there is a similar theme running throughout.

Whether you like proposals such as these or not, nowhere in what I have read in the speeches of either Arthur or Sinckler involves just cutting back on spending.

Both gentlemen make it clear in their presentations that the elderly and the physically challenged will be fully taken care off despite what new incentives are introduced. I believe them.

The present Government has already introduced a basic administration charge for getting a prescription filled by the Barbados Drug Service, and Mr Inniss himself was recently quite rightly venting his frustration over the irresponsibility (not to mention the inhumanity) of families leaving their elderly in hospital to be cared for at the state’s expense.

Mr Sinckler has already placed caps on the length of time you can spend at UWI, Cave Hill, getting your degree, and now wants to encourage a “two plus two” programme (two years at BCC and the final two at Cave Hill) for Barbadians because it costs the state less to educate you that way.

They are all looking for solutions, because we can no longer just take free health and education for granted any more.

But I wish the Dems would stop taking potshots at the other party by accusing it of nefarious plots to cut people’s access to health and education when they, as the incumbent administration, are tearing their hair out trying to deal with exactly the same problem of lowering costs without doing the same to our expectations.

• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.

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