Govt is surely broke!
By Clyde Mascoll | Thu, September 20, 2012 - 12:01 AM
The government of Barbados is broke and there is nothing irresponsible about this truthful statement.
This is the first time in our post-Independence history that such a statement is appropriate, given the prolonged period over which the Government has had to borrow large sums on a monthly basis simply to meet its current obligations.
If the Government had been unable to force the Central Bank of Barbados to double its overdraft facility, which it did at the end of September 2011, it would not have been able to meet its obligations.
According to the Central Bank, despite some improvement in the fiscal numbers, “Government has been unable to make some payments on schedule”. These are not my words.
As far back as September 2011, the Central Bank wrote: “The drawdown of the policy-based loan should have eased the financing constraint, but the bank believes that Government should have access to contingency funding to enable it to clear any short-run financing hurdles.”
Public knowledge of the policy-based loan from the Inter-American Development Bank only came to light in March of this year. But the bank speaks about the drawdown of the loan eight months earlier.
In confirming the major cash flow difficulties of the Government, the Central Bank suggests that “over the medium term, the bank is of the view, that the pressure to finance Government can be attenuated only through:
(a) increased fiscal consolidation; (b) use of the domestic financial markets; and (c) the use of judicious external borrowing”.
The recent admission by the Minister of Finance of a cash flow problem in Government is a reaction to the truth put in the public domain by the Opposition. By the way, all governments do not have cash flow problems and our Government’s cash flow problem is major.
In its move to increase the limit of the Government’s overdraft facility at the Central Bank of Barbados in September last year, the bank stated that “these limits have generally proved adequate when combined with debt issuance on external and domestic markets. However, Government’s significantly larger deficits over the past two and a half fiscal years have increased their borrowing requirement”.
Not only does the current Government have significantly larger overall fiscal deficits but these deficits are predominantly on the current account, which is the reason for the cash flow problem.
If only the Minister of Finance had taken time to understand the nature and consequences of Barbados’ fiscal condition, he would not now be admitting a major cash flow problem.
In light of the problem, sources at the Urban Development Commission (UDC) and Rural Development Commissionalso admitted that the two institutions have cash flow problems as well. This brings me to the use of the Catastrophe Fund to aid these institutions.
It makes no sense for apologists of the Government to argue for financial resources from the fund to go to the two commissions in the absence of a catastrophe. The UDC has received almost $5 million and, in the circumstances, the money will be used to meet current obligations, not help the remaining 300 households affected by Tropical Storm Tomas.
It is remarkable that arguments are now being used to expand the criteria in the fund to accommodate every affected household.
The Catastrophe Fund was designed to cater to the needs of a particular class of poor people and, by definition, for the objects and reasons of the fund to be met, it had to have financial limits. To now suggest that the criteria be ignored is an attempt to confuse balance and fairness.
If the Minister of Finance is charged with taking money from the fund to prop up the UDC, then it is a justifiable charge in the face of Government’s cash flow problem.
It is fair for the minister to be given every chance to put his case but it is not balanced to try to prosecute the Opposition for raising legitimate fears about the fund. The minister’s actions are on trial, not the legitimate concerns raised by the Opposition.
There is a difference between fairness and balance that is not always appreciated. Being fair does not require one to be balanced but being balanced requires one to fair. It is fair to treat unequals unequally!
A minister of Government therefore has a bigger burden of proof on issues of public policy, which is fair without being balanced.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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