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ON REFLECTION – Not time for PM to speak

Ricky Jordan

ON REFLECTION – Not time for PM to speak

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If you expect a man to speak at the drop of a hat and push his mouth into every single crisis, then when things are good he will gloat as well, because by then he won’t be able to shut up.
I’ve been hearing, ad nauseam, Barbadians across political party lines, classes, creeds and professions call for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to speak whenever something major occurs – mostly on negative occurrences. And I’m thinking this has been a strategy for months – nay, a conspiracy – of the Opposition who got Barbadians accustomed to the Prime Minister being almost forced to speak on and solve any and every problem under the sun back in the wonderful days between 1994 and 2008.
Now, I hold no preference publicly for any political party, but have called for fair play and for giving people, especially our leaders and “servants” of the people, a fighting chance. Amid what many are terming as deafening silence, couldn’t this Prime Minister be bringing a new style of leadership to the table?
Having roused the ire of thousands when he called CLICO’s Leroy Parris his friend, shouldn’t he be showing that he doesn’t have to rush into every industrial, economic or immigration dispute, since he has competent ministers responsible for those portfolios and who are being paid to do that job by the electorate?
The opposite stance by any Prime Minister would show more than a glaring lack of confidence in the ministers appointed by some of the very people, who are now calling on our leader to be almost second in line to the Almighty! If this lack of confidence is what the former administration unwittingly perpetrated, do we want to repeat that kind of dependency in an educated Barbados in the second decade of the 21st century?
Why should Prime Minister Stuart put his mouth into the Shanique Myrie affair when the countries involved, Barbados and Jamaica, are still to get to the bottom of this sordid mess? Why should he speak when he has a Minister of Foreign Affairs who, though being unbelievably dismissive at the beginning of the issue, was given the chance to redeem herself and take full responsibility for seeing the matter through its current stages of investigation? 
Recently and when his late predecessor was ill, many Barbadians wanted Stuart to speak on the economy. He didn’t and has since stated that “treachery” was never his strong suit – with which many now agree.
Let’s suppose that by now, with Stuart having been in office substantively for five months, he had become accustomed to harping on every new development, namely Myrie, Al Barrack, Heathwork, the Opposition’s infighting et al. By now Stuart would be gloating over the 2.8 per cent growth in the economy; a Press conference would have been in order; and as for crime being down, he would have by now begun echoing Police Commissioner Darwin Dottin.
With something to boast about, following upon loud charges of Government’s incompetence left, right and centre, any garrulous leader would be talking like an Energizer bunny, as Barbados shows signs of coming out of a recession that still seems reluctant to loose its painful, crippling grip on the world. 
Our economy has grown by 2.8 per cent! Yet the Prime Minister declines to speak, giving way to Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler, who are wisely warning that we are not yet out of the woods and that cautious optimism should prevail.
No concrete solution
Yes, a reassuring word from the Prime Minister would be nice sometimes, but do we really need it if there’s no concrete solution in words? The leader cannot at this point reassure me that all will be well – not in the face of potentially deleterious economic factors, including the rising prices of fuel, ongoing instability in the Middle East, and the obvious knock-on effect on energy costs that will ripple across our economy into every sector.
Nor can he say what more will be done about the uncomfortable unemployment figures, which showed a drop in December while being 0.5 per cent higher than at the end of 2009.
Had the current Prime Minister allowed himself to be swayed by concerns that he should “say something”, we would have seen him putting his neck on the block in January by predicting the 2.0 per cent growth in the first quarter of 2011.
In this case, however, Dr Worrell has got his due criticism and praise, since the economy grew beyond expectations led by a good winter tourist season featuring a 15 per cent resurgence from the British market, which no one even dreamed about in the face of the Airline Passenger Duty.
What else should the Prime Minister have been treating to? The bitter Value Added Tax increase by 2.5 per cent which, incidentally, has seen growth in revenue by 13 per cent?
The continuation of the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy and the fact that Government must continue to focus on fiscal restraint is not necessarily this leader’s call. And while Stuart is versed on the policy initiatives needed to enhance the reduction of the deficit and the huge food import bill, the average Barbadian who is feeling this in the pocket does not need him to remind us that things will not be easy in light of what’s happening in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.
I would be among the first to put pressure on the Government for any fiscal imprudence of the past, especially with my gut instinct that the last Budget was too little, too late. 
Like the average householder, I’m hurting from the blows of VAT, the increases in utility bills, and most of all, food prices that seem out of control, but calling on a leader to speak at every turn will not help me surmount these bread-and-butter issues.
We have to hold strain and sometimes complain, but in due course Stuart must and will speak decisively on where he wants to take Barbados – as a country and as an economy. Now is not the time.