EDITORIAL: Unmasking privatization
Does Barbados have an “enemy” of labour, to quote Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) general secretary Sir Roy Trotman?
And if so, who is that enemy: the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, which is espousing the gospel of privatization of some statutory entities, or the Government of the ruling Democratic Labour Party, whose agreement for the US$33 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank last month includes a commitment to “containing transfers by rationalising the cost of personal emoluments”, specifically salaries and wages?
Are both political parties basically saying the same thing?
Whatever the plan – and the truth “will out” at some point – Sir Roy’s strongly worded stance at a media conference last Thursday clearly demonstrates that the BWU will not, and should not, roll over and play dead if large-scale layoffs are being contemplated as the sole remedy for Barbados’ current economic woes.
Indeed, Sir Roy shows that he not only has his ears to the ground but has his eyes to the likely social mayhem of the future, and is not taking political sides in this matter which – whether by privatization or, as suggested by veteran economist Tennyson Beckles, making the public service more efficient through strategic deployment of staff – will still have one result: layoffs.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler explained last Sunday night at the joint constituency meeting at St George Secondary School that the Barbados Water Authority currently employs about 1 000 people, the Sanitation Service Authority just as many and the Transport Board 900-plus.
And he asked, quite rhetorically, which private owner would keep such high staff complements if one is seeking to make a profit from these entities? We cannot help but pose the same query, and add: Where else in the private or public sector will these people go?
“You do the arithmetic,” he told the public.
On the other hand, though, Government has been less than frank in explaining the clauses of the IDB loan which is to shore up its finances. If 75 per cent of all monies used as transfers and subsidies to statutory corporations goes towards public workers’ salaries, wouldn’t any plan to contain those transfers go to the heart of public sector retrenchment?
In the meantime, the Opposition’s touting of some privatization is being tied to the promise to “put money back in people’s pockets”. Should we again ask Opposition Leader Owen Arthur to explain this, along with the promises of his 15-point economic plan? When that money is borrowed, from either the foreign reserves or elsewhere, to put in Barbadians’ pockets, from where will it be repaid without creating challenges?
It is commendable that the head of the island’s oldest trade union and indeed the Barbados Economics Society president Ryan Straughn are unafraid to call for “specifics”.
What also seems clear in Sir Roy’s mind is the intrinsic value, beyond money, of services like health, public transportation and education; the base of this country’s human capital growth.
All parties would do well to emulate him.