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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Is it time to let go?


Ryan Straughan

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This is quite a weighty subject sure to evoke emotion across the length and breadth of Barbados.   
In the 21st century, Government should concern itself with revitalizing key systems and institutions that will propel the country forward.
Enhancing both public education and health services will prove even more critical over the next 50-plus years in order to take full advantage of the already sizeable investment made in these areas.
Over the last 50 years, Government’s operations have grown exponentially with the establishment of various statutory corporations while population growth has been less dramatic.
There are two main areas where Government can relinquish responsibility: housing and transportation.  
The National Housing Corporation (NHC) has the potential to earn substantial revenue for Governments but has been mismanaged through political interference. The net result is that state-provided housing stock is grossly undervalued.  
More prudent financial management would have seen the corporation deliver more housing solutions without having to rely on Government transfers.
One possible solution would be a divestment programme that will seek out strategic private institution partners.
Given the collective human and financial resources in the labour and credit unions, Government could effectively engage these resources to provide housing nationally.
The rationale behind this proposal: to remove the political dimension and enable the corporation to achieve its objectives.
The Barbados Transport Board (BTB) is a vexing problem not dissimilar from the NHC. Any privatization or divestment has to be done in the context of fixing the entire transportation system.
Any decision to privatize should not be viewed in terms of how many pensioners or school-age children require state-sponsored transportation today.
Careful analysis of demographic trends reveals an ageing yet increasingly mobile population, thus in 50 years there will be little need to provide this benefit.
At the same time, ever increasing strides in technology could completely revolutionize the delivery of education in 50 years and thereby negate the need for mass state transportation to and from schools.
The purpose of divestment would only be part of remedying the chaotic nature of the transportation system.
In the absence of either a foreign exchange and/or fiscal crisis forcing Government to take these steps as was the case in 1991, a lot clearly depends on the maturity of the electorate’s and politicians’ thinking beyond any pending election.   
The BES contends that revenue-generating corporations should be put on a sound financial footing to reduce their dependence on the central budgeting process.
Failing to do so would continue the drag on the economy and reduce the investment in education and health that would further Barbados’ climb up all the development indices.

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