Care needed with the Seasons
The year has opened with a heap of problems on the Government’s plate, all demanding and requiring attention at the same time. There is the international recession casting its ominous shadows over the Barbados economy.
Tourism and international business sectors have spawned their own problems. In the first place, the drop in visitors has the knock-on effect of unearned foreign exchange and lost wages when workers have to be laid off or put on short time.
A shortfall in Government revenues follows, social programmes may have to be reviewed and the safety net financed out of public funds may come under severe scrutiny.
And there is the Four Seasons project. This is one of the Government’s major problems; for the task of getting it restarted is not proving to be easy. Much time and energy have gone into this challege, and while we have been promised a resurrection of the project, repeatedly given deadlines have come and gone.
Still, the Four Seasons may be of immense importance to our economy once we get the numbers right, and the project completed and properly marketed!
Conceived initially as a privately funded development, it was earmarked to bring in vital foreign exchange during the construction phase as investors made stage payments on their villas, and as funds were brought in by developers from their financiers.
The impact of the recession soon put paid to all this, and the project has struggled since in a climate where money is not easy to come by and where confidence in the international economy’s settling down is not entirely strong.
As a result the Government itself has become involved in the project, and funding from its National Insurance Scheme (NIS), as from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as well, is earmarked to get the Four Seasons restarted.
But controversy continues to follow this project, with the International Monetary Fund warning the Government about its continued use of NIS funds as it notes that the NIS’s exposure to the Government is almost 70 per cent – much higher than is prudently recommended.
All the while, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Senator Jepter Ince have been vigorously defending the Government’s decision to invest NIS funds in the Four Seasons, as the prime ministers of Dominica and St Vincent deny any interest of their NISes in investing in the project – as alluded to by Mr Sinckler.
We do not envy Mr Sinckler for his state of difficulty; we covet not the tasks the minister must grapple with. For uneasy lies the head that wears this crown.
If the Cabinet’s view is that the public interest demands that the Four Seasons project be completed, then the highest due diligence must accompany its decision. Government investment in that project must be so protected that it produces jobs for our people and foreign exchange for the Treasury and Central Bank of Barbados.
Nothing less will do.
There may be competing views about any investment in the project, and it is proper that such contesting voices be heard, but, in the end, in our political system it is the judgement call of the Government that matters and we should all respect process.
We therefore call upon the Government, once the funding has been approved by the IDB and the NIS, to ensure the public is kept fully informed on every development of the project and, above all, that in place is every useful mechanism to monitor the use of these public moneys in what is no longer a privately funded project, but one in which the Government and people of Barbados have a major stake.