OPPOSITION LEADER Bishop Joseph Atherley heading to the House of Assembly yesterday morning, accompanied by his newly appointed Senator Crystal Drakes. (Picture by Lennox Devonish.)
OPPOSITION LEADER Bishop Joseph Atherley has described the Barbados Economic Transformation Plan as bitter medicine for the people of Barbados.
But he is hoping that same bitter medicine will make the country better within a three-year time frame, as promised by the Mia Mottley Administration.
In a 95-minute presentation yesterday in response to Prime Minister Mottley’s Mini-Budget on Monday, Atherley posed a number of questions regarding why new taxation was placed on the backs of Barbadians coming out of ten years of a similar tenure under the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Administration.
The Opposition Leader did admit early in his response to understanding the need for quick action to solve the country’s fiscal deficit, indebtedness and foreign exchange woes, but said the move to save $215 million in the plan’s first phase would bring some definite pain to mainly middle class Barbadians.
“I don’t know anyone who likes medicine. The analysis suggests the Government believes the more bitter the medicine, the better it might be. It’s like the old ad with Buckley’s cough syrup.
It tastes awful, but it works,” he told the House of Assembly in his maiden Budget reply.
He noted, however, that in spite of such an analysis, there was a feeling outside the corridors of Government that an alternative perspective could have been found.
He said Barbadians in some corners were worried about Government’s decision to suspend payments to creditors, since that would affect the long-held reputation of Government never defaulting on a loan to either domestic or international creditors.
“The measures can prove to be counterproductive to revenue-generating commitments,” Atherley argued. “The question is, what will be the net effect?”
He said that as an alternative, the Mottley administration could have considered asking for help with its debt from regional or international countries such as the Cayman Islands, China, or even the United Arab Emirates.
According to Atherley, Government should also answer the question on if Monday’s plan could eventually have a negative effect on employment numbers in Barbados.
The MP for St Michael West asked if the Barbados Economic Transformation And Recovery Plan was a true, home-grown fiscal policy, or if it had been facilitated in its origins through signals from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during a recent visit by the international team from that organisation last week.
“Too few of us have sufficiently considered that answer to the question, how did we get here,” he suggested.
Saying the previous administration doomed the country with its insistence on printing money, Atherley noted that Barbadians should now be even more cautious when considering the painful experiences of the past.
He said the new Government had excited the country with expectations which were not beyond the realm of reality, but the question still had to be asked if Mottley and her team, of which he was a part before crossing the floor, sent sufficient signals regarding the path which would lie ahead.
“We are now embarking upon another regime of enhanced taxation, and the public is hoping that at the end of the day we would have brought this country to a place where our social services are better for it.”
He said what had not been discussed during Monday’s Mini-Budget was a growth plan alternative which could improve the country’s faltering 12-week cover of imports.
Providing another analogy, Atherley said the Budget could be seen through the image of an octopus, with one tentacle taking away the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), and another tentacle adding the fuel tax, and garbage and sewage collection levies.
“The NSRL was counterproductive to consumer spending, but the net effect of these impositions are also likely to impact negatively on spending,” he advised.
He said the aim of the fuel tax was noteworthy, but there would be some instances where persons would spend over $600 annually, where they had paid only $400 in road tax before it was abolished Monday.
He said Government needed to keep a keen eye on the provision of transport services in Barbados.
“A lot remains to be done to further enfranchise the citizens of this country. We need to fight the forces which run private transport in Barbados. Ownership should not be consolidated in the hands of a few.” (BA)