ALL AH WE IS ONE: Business speaks
One of the main political by-products of the 2012 Barbados Budget presentation and its ensuing discussion has been the emergence of a stance of more overt and deliberate political criticism of the Government by business interests.
Until recently, the dominant and collective position of the business sector was to support the Government’s call for restraint and sacrifice (on the part of workers, of course), and to agree with the view that the avoidance of large-scale layoffs was paramount.
Despite the prolonged and sustained nature of the negative economic environment, the Government-business consensus appeared relatively firm, with little evidence of hostility and tension in the relationship. Indeed, the closure of Almond Beach Hotel, with the attendant loss of 500 hundred jobs, was the first major instance of the Government’s failure to protect Barbadian jobs in the face of the global crisis, and prior to this, the business sector appeared committed to a stance of patience and quiet toleration, avoiding any hint of enmity to the Government and its policies.
With the 2012 Budget, however, we witnessed a decisive shift in tone. Several of the business spokespersons were unabashed in openly claiming disappointment with the proposed measures. To date, the CEO of Banks Holdings, the president of the Barbados Bankers Association, and the president of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association have all dismissed the Budget as having nothing substantial that will significantly address the challenges which they face.
Significantly, the baton of stinging criticism with which the outgoing president of the BHTA ended his term, appears to have been smoothly passed into the hand of the incoming president who has hit the track running with the continued claim of Government’s failure to fundamentally address the challenges facing the tourism sector.
There is no doubt that one of the (perhaps, unintended) consequences of the sum of the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Government’s policies has been the drastic reduction in domestic spending power and demand. Local business is an obvious casualty.
With an approaching election which always carries the likelihood of change, and which renders the existing administration to “lame duck” status, the business sector appears to be both more relaxed in its political interventions, and more driven to seek to influence events to reverse its current fortunes.
None of this provides comfort to the ruling administration. Alongside the signs of public displeasure as revealed in the Wickham Poll, it cannot help the DLP’s re-election cause to appear to have alienated the business class.
It was indeed worrying, therefore, that members of the Government front bench appeared so overwhelmed by the business fallout, that they devoted significant sections of their Budget contributions to “answering back” the business sector.
Re-election will not come by fighting business. The sector is too complex to satisfy and too hurt to please.
Silence, alas, would have proven a wiser response.