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BARBADOS IS IN a severe financial crisis. We may not be acting so; indeed we may not even believe this is really so.
Patronage at the fast food outlets, the frequent trips to Florida and New York, the ocean cruising whether in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean all suggest otherwise to the casual onlooker. The increasing number of luxury vehicles on our roads and the full support offered on every occasion to the various entertainment packages point to a Barbados rolling in the good times.
But the money woes facing this country are real. It doesn’t take an Adam Smith or Paul Samuelson to know how serious things are; neither do you need a degree in economics or accounting to appreciate that it is a serious time for this little island nation.
Government’s inability to pay its bills in a timely manner is a classic point of reference; be it the refunds for personal income taxes or value added tax or paying those who have provided it with goods and services.
That is why the country’s political leaders need to take some tough decisions regardless to how unpopular such actions may be. They need to stop pussyfooting and using cold blankets. What’s best for the majority of the people and the country in general must prevail over what’s best for a minority.
The reality is that the country’s fiscal deficit is going in the wrong direction; the persistent downgrades by the international rating agencies are painful, and there is uneasiness within corporate Barbados and indeed citizens of the country.
There is need for action to be taken in a number of areas including severely cutting back or curbing the financial transfers from central government to statutory corporations. The money-losing state agencies cannot be allowed to continue to bleed the treasury dry. Those which should and can be cut off from the public purse should be allowed to go and urgently too.
Yes, there has been talk and promises of action in this regard, but in effect very little action has been taken by those in authority. Despite all the high-powered committees and review groups there is nothing positive to show; at least the general public doesn’t think so. Yes, the status quo remains.
There are no new buses for the Transport Board’s fleet, no new compactors for the Sanitation Services Authority, all because the money isn’t there. The National Housing Corporation seems incapable of getting tenants into its housing units or houses and there has been no clear indication on how many people have gained lots at $5 a square foot.
In the meantime, the country is inching its way towards what many with the experience and knowledge of how the financial intricacies unravel, fear Barbados is at a precipice from which there can be a free fall into an abyss with only dire consequences for many years to come. Jamaica and Guyana are the classic examples we have within the Caribbean; Greece is an example beyond this region which we could follow.
In all of this is a word of reflection for our trade unionists who in stout defence of their members will shout no to privatisation. Instead, the unionists should look at the cooperative business model which is so successful in Canada, England and Israel to see what their comrades in those places can teach them about worker cooperatives.
It may be an opportunity in the midst of divestment to ensure that the workers can become much more than mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. This may also give the union a new economic base while empowering its members in a truly significant way.
The Social Partnership was a saving grace when it was formed in 1993; this may be an opportunity to be innovative once again, this time giving economic power to a wide cross section of the working population and freeing government from the legacy of an unsustainable social welfare system.
This is the time for creative solutions in the island’s best interests.