Hold strain. That’s the message to Barbados’ public servants and unions.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler told the SATURDAY?SUN in New York yesterday: “We believe that general wage restraint in the public service is going to be critical to achieving our goals . . . .”
A hold on salary increases plus elimination of waste in Government and heightened efficiency in state enterprises were some of the key elements of the Government’s strategy to slash Barbados’ fiscal deficit to 5.3 per cent in the next financial year.
Sinckler said a need for wage restraint had already been communicated to public workers’ unions by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
“It’s not a new position and it has been communicated to the unions,” he added.
“The unions, certainly in my pre-Budget consultations, have expressed a desire to work with the Government to see how we can get these matters worked through, both to the benefit of the country and the benefit of the hard-working public officers who have had to carry some burden in this recessionary period and may have to carry some additional burden going forward.”
Asked if the idea of a wage freeze has gone out the window, Sinckler said that nothing had been “thrown through the window” but the emphasis instead was on restraint and fiscal discipline.
Although the preliminary work on the 2011-12 Estimates of Expenditure was completed, Sinckler didn’t disclose any figures but was quick to emphasize that the public could expect:
• A disciplined approach to the management of public finances.
• Tight controls on supplementaries being presented to Parliament, “keeping those to an absolute minimum”.
• Central Government departments and statutory corporations must be “more efficient in the dispensation of public finances and resources”. In essence, a crackdown on waste and any mismanagement.
• General across-the- board discipline in public spending. That message was sent to the various ministries when they met with the Finance Ministry in January.
• A delicate balance between a reduction in expenditure and the provision of essential public services to people across the land.
“All of these things have to be done without depressing the economy and depressing aggregate demand,” the minister said.
“Government is the major player in the market and has some role in ensuring that we sustain our recovery and have growth returns. We don’t want to overkill as has happened in some other countries. We also have to ensure that we don’t compromise the quality or the delivery of social services,” Sinckler said.
“It’s a delicate balancing act but we believe we have struck the right cord between fiscal discipline, the Government’s role as a major sector in the economy, and maintaining that quality level of performance.”
He was quick to reassure Barbadians that the “safety net” which prevents them from falling into abject poverty would remain intact.