EDITORIAL: Debate must be free of alarm
The continuing debate on privatization is one of the most important in this country’s politics, and it must be understood by all to be that.
To some extent there is naked politics at play, but it cannot be gainsaid that the engaging discussion by the political leaders and others on a most critical element of policy.
We say critical, because recession or no recession, the Government cannot continue to transfer millions by way of subsidies for the upkeep of inefficiently operated statutory corporations, while it has to borrow to pay the wages and salaries of public servants.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is to be commended for his candour – some might call it foolhardiness – in disclosing that borrowing has to be done to pay those wages, but equally the Leader of the Opposition must be given merit for moving the subject of privatization to the centre of public discourse.
This current development also helps to keep us away from that disappointing stance some years ago by a leading Member of Parliament that a manifesto is not a social contract. We believe it to be such, and that manifesto promises should be clearly articulated and discussed where practicable with the public.
In this way, key policy issues can be fully ventilated, with point and counterpoint being made and answered, with a fair leavening of independent analysis – and all for the better understanding of the public.
It ought to be clear now that the present state of the economy will not permit any “business as usual” approach since the expenditure of Government cannot be allowed to escalate far ahead of revenues. That is an unsustainable position and invites fiscal disaster in the long run, if not sooner.
In past times, there have been too many instances of major policy initiatives being reported for the first time in manifestos a week or so before the election at meetings launching the document. Inadequate and distorted discussion have too often followed.
We live in a small developing former colony, whose economy at Independence had not yet been subjected to the kind of in-depth analysis it now is. Initially much social and financial infrastructural work had to be done by the Government to uplift the society, and in some respects the Government carried most, if not all, of the fiscal strain inherent in such policies.
As the society continues to develop, we must consider how many of those social and other programmes may need to be adjusted or tweaked to ensure competent and adequate delivery of service at reasonable cost. And the issue of whether the private sector is better able to deliver the more efficient service becomes an issue for rational discussion.
Hence the privatization debate.
If democracy is the practice of the Government, on behalf of the people, then it can only be proper and responsible that at this juncture where we are now at, the concept and practice of privatization should be discussed, free from the scaremongering that would accompany suggestions for deep governmental reform.