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EDITORIAL – Hard road ahead for us


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EDITORIAL – Hard road ahead for us

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The state of our economy, the state of crime and the way to deal with the many young men who find their way into our prison were topics for discussion during the past week.
Naturally, the economy got the greatest mileage. This was expected because so much hangs on a sound economy growing at a reasonable rate; for growth allows the Government to discharge its fiscal obligations and cater to the vulnerable groups.
When we speak of these groups we mean the aged, the very young and those who are disadvantaged, either by reason of disability or social circumstances over which they have not triumphed.     
It is in everyone’s interest for the economy to perform well because we are only too aware of the spectre of unemployment that looms like a sword over the heads of some of our people whenever there are stresses and strains in the local economic fabric. The battle is always to make sure that the fabric is not irretrievably rent.
For this reason we draw attention to the comments of the Barbados Private Sector Association. It does not believe that “widespread layoffs, whether in the public or private sector, is the answer”, but it feels that the Government “cannot get away from immediately taking serious and likely unpopular decisions on reforming ineffective and wasteful public spending that plagues us”.
This is a responsible statement not to be taken lightly but, if accepted by Government, it may have serious implications for some aspects of programmes that Government thinks are critical to its social policies.  
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has pointed to improvement in the fiscal position while noting marginal growth in the economy.
However, the decisions made are judgment calls of the Government in an economy growing only marginally and vulnerable like other open economies not only to the vagaries of the external conditions, but also to the social fallout of tough times, including increases in crime.
Right-thinking Barbadians will not condone any upsurge in crime, especially when the personal welfare of the victim is threatened, but there is a view that some of those who are disposed to committing crime are more likely to do so when the economy is under stress.
Commenting on the justice system recently, the Attorney General said he did not think the island had a choice other than to go the route of the parole system.
He acknowledged it would mean more probation officers and counsellors, at additional cost to the Treasury, but he believed that locking up young men in their productive years did not make sense if there was a viable alternative.
There is merit in this view, but reconciling the need to contain expenditure with the desire to implement this policy is not going to be easy, given the competing demands for the public purse in the best of times. It is likely to be more challenging now.
The task facing the Government is not easy. It has to tackle pressing problems in a slow-growing economy that has relatively high expenditure outlays; and it is being advised that new taxes are to be avoided for fear of crippling the tentative recovery. At the same time, social cohesion is confronted by the reality of an upsurge in a type of crime that feeds deviant demands for quick cash and threatens the personal comfort of law-abiding citizens.
We support the call by the Private Sector Association for Government to reduce spending not because it is the total solution to our problems, but moreso because it must be part of any solution, given the fact of slow growth in the economy.
 

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