WHAT MATTERS MOST: What’s really fair and balanced
Whenever the chief opposition spokesman on the economy issues a Press release, it can only be published with an immediate response from the Minister of Finance – in the interest of balance. The policy does not apply if the Minister of Finance issues the release.
Surprisingly the imbalance is fair because fairness does not imply balance.
Fairness comes from treating unequals unequally and treating equals equally. This allows a tax system to be designed such that those, most able to pay, pay most. This allows a Prime Minister to have more time to speak in Parliament than any other member, if he wants to.
This allows for all similar posts in an organization to be rewarded with the same terms and conditions.
What is not fair is for the story itself to lose balance in the interest of the minister. When this happens, it becomes purely political reporting. There is an institution that satisfies the criteria for such reporting, but continues to boast of being credible, balanced and committed, and is best described as the Cabinet Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Certainly there is no sense of fairness in its reporting, yet it boasts of balance.
While no other institution is capable of emulating CBC, it is important that the “chosen one” is not seen to be given extraordinary privileges. A little, that is privilege, would go a long way if it is fair and balanced.
This brings me to the specifics of the recent episode in which the Minister of Finance was charged with agreeing to a Fiscal Condition Programme with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the contents being kept in secret.
In response to the charge, Minister Sinckler simply said that he announced two separate policy-based loans, one with the IDB. So he might have announced a policy-based loan but did not announce that he agreed to make the VAT increase to 17.5 per cent permanent; he did not announce that he agreed to eliminate tax-free allowances and so the tax on travel and entertainment allowances will not be reversed and he did not announce that there is no hope of reducing the excise tax on gasoline.
In the interest of fairness and balance, it must be noted that the same minister has given the public the impression that he is reviewing the tax measures, when as far back as March 6 prior to this year’s Estimates presentation, he agreed with the IDB not to change the tax measures.
There is no need to protect the minister as he is quite capable of being loud and aggressive, especially when he is wrong. So far, he has ably substituted those two traits for knowledge on the functioning and management of the Barbados economy.
In the interest of fairness and balance, the minister must be made to explain how he could agree to a plan which has funding of US$183 million but is only requesting US$50 million. Furthermore, the component of the plan which he is requesting funds for has already been implemented, so why would the IDB be expected to fund the IMF-like tax measures?
The reality is that the Government is desperate for some external funding which will allow its debt with the Central Bank of Barbados to be reduced. The bank conducts all the foreign financial transactions of the Government, so when the Government receives funding from the IDB, it is deposited with the Central Bank. Why is this important at this time?
Just last September, it was revealed that the bank raised the limit on its printing of money in order to finance Government spending, in light of the stance of the commercial banks and the pressure on the National Insurance Scheme. The new limit was supposed to be temporary, ending on March 31.
Unfortunately, in the absence of some new source of financing, the Government is unable to reduce the balance, which is already threatening the new limit. This makes the US$50 million from the IDB more critical, not to implement policies that are already in place, but to reduce the limit on the printing of money at the Central Bank.
Last September, the Central Bank also noted that the Government was not making some payments on schedule. So in the interest of fairness and balance, there is no reason not to believe Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners on the late payment of staff.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy.