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THE HOYOS FILE: Stranded in New York

Patrick Hoyos

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Usually, our holidays are planned to a T: get there, do the things you planned, have a couple of free days, then back on the plane and home, in my case, to my deadline-oriented editor.
I guess you could say that’s a vacation on a treadmill, but we enjoy it, especially as we always go to New York City. Yes, we are that boring, I fear.
Suddenly, this year, we find ourselves with nothing to do for more than a week, having been stranded in New York by the overcautious policies of the airlines, which took their cue from the similar stance of the Bloomberg administration and most other officialdom along the East Coast of the United States.
No problem with that: in the prevention business, success is gauged by what did not happen rather than what did.  
But the upshot of thousands of flights being cancelled meant that everyone on those flights had to rebook. Including us.
JetBlue was unhelpful. They sent me an email cancelling my flight and their website showed unavailability of flights for days even after the storm had passed. Calls were taking half an hour to be responded to by humankind.
When I finally got through to them, the earliest booking the airline could manage was September 11, two full weeks after my original and JetBlue-cancelled return date. However, they let me book on condition that I could cancel without penalty should I find an earlier flight on another carrier.
A few hours later I called American Airlines. They were able to book us a few days earlier, via Miami. JetBlue paid us back the cost of the return flight.
Now, being stranded in New York is probably not the same as being lost in Outer Mongolia. I will also probably not get a lot of sympathy for being able to take off a whole ten days of work on the grounds that there was a non-hurricane in New York City.
But it is really strange being cut loose from the usual routine for a while.
Apart from being stranded among friends and relatives, I also realize that I am in the company of the Barbados economy, which has been stranded at No. 25 to 55 Water Street in New York’s Financial District since at least June.
It was then that Standard & Poor’s upheld its slightly better rating for Barbados’ national debt in spite of a downgrade by Moody’s.
The administration now dares not run afoul of the formidable S&P, which is a shame, because all of the latter’s policies are geared to assessing a country’s ability to service its existing debt, not on gauging that country’s effort to stimulate and thereby grow its economy through more borrowing. You know, by undertaking major infrastructural projects, and by freeing up entrepreneurs to invest more.
But that is exactly what President Obama will have to do despite the United States’ own S&P downgrade, and it is what Mr Sinckler failed to do with his Budget, despite promises relating to loans for entrepreneurs, and non-fossil fuel energy incentives.
Mr Sinckler last month also formally declared that he had given up the ghost in terms of lowering the cost of living.
He said: “Unfortunately, due to the prevailing international economic climate and its impact on the Barbadian economy, the Government is simply not in a position to subsidize the cost of these (oil-based) products for any sustained period.  The cost to the Government of nearly $200 million in seeking to shield consumers from these price increases was significant.”
That is a cop-out, because he does not explain why last November, on top of the increase in oil prices already hitting consumers hard, he raised the Excise tax on fuel by 50 per cent, as well as VAT by 2.5 per cent, and removed allowances on middle income earners, resulting in a tax increase of up to $5 000 per year per person.  
Now we are hearing that the shortfall to the Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) because of the last administration’s subsidies still has not been rectified, three years after the present administration allowed domestic prices to fully reflect what BNOC had to pay for oil.
So without any transparency or accountability, we are paying more for fuel and electricity and more Government taxes on them as well.
As his speech was ending, Mr Sinckler offered up the standard “straw man” argument, giving the impression that what his critics (including me) have been calling for is, almost by definition, over-the-top and self-serving: “While we would have liked to offer every Barbadian everything which they might desire to see, we knew that our constrained fiscal and other circumstances would not allow us that luxury.”
It was this administration’s determination to borrow and spend much more than it earned in the first three years of its life, despite all the signs that the recession would not go away quickly and might deepen before getting better, that helped put our economy in this mess.
The medicine the minister is forcing down our throats betrays a desperate attempt to convince Standard & Poor’s not to lower our debt rating any further.
To do this, it is remorselessly taking every possible extra dollar out of the citizens’ pockets. The goal here is to slow foreign imports in order to reduce pressure on the reserves, in the process drying up any room to manoeuvre on the part of the country’s entrepreneurs.
We will be back shortly after this column appears. As for the economy, who can say when it will be coming home?

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