BLP COLUMN: Costing-us-a-lot
Virtually nothing better summarises all that has been wrong and repugnant about the Democratic Labour Party’s disastrous five-year term than the exposure by Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur of the concessions the Dems granted in secret nearly two years ago (April 13, 2011) to get the Cost-U-Less store to operate in Barbados.
As Minister of Finance for nearly 14 years and therefore very familiar with the history of concessions to businesses, the public can therefore fully appreciate the accuracy of the Barbados Labour Party Leader’s condemnation of the measures approved by Chris Sinckler as “shocking”, “extraordinary” and “some of the most outrageous decisions ever made by a Minister of Finance”.
The public is understandably outraged at the generosity, scope, depth and length of what they are calling “incredible give-aways” [that are] really nothing more than a bigger version of warehouse and other retail operations already functioning here without similar and equal largesse at taxpayers’ expense.
People are equally incensed that the “concessions” had not been publicly announced by Government, even at official ceremonies dealing with the start-up of Cost-U-Less. Thus they have added “scandalous” to the terms being used to describe the situation.
They are seething too at the realization that more than a year later Government still has not revealed the terms of its multimillion-dollar deal with Rihanna, despite the DLP’s having declared in its 2008 manifesto that “there can be no secrets or matters to be hidden from the population”, and promised “the publication of details of agreements and contracts involving the Government and its agencies”.
Businesspeople and others are also seeking to determine if, in keeping with well established law and practice, contents of the Cost-U-Less concessions have been published yet in the Official Gazette, while rejecting Sinckler’s atrocious attempt to, in his usual nonchalant and indifferent style, trivialize this unprecedented state of affairs as “nothing unusual”, much as he recently behaved over the Barbados investment climate’s suffering its second “junk bond” status downgrade, this time by Moody’s.
Sinckler further sought to justify this excessive treatment to Cost-U-Less on the grounds that their concessions were temporary, forgetting that he had also said the VAT increase to 17.5 per cent would be for 18 months, only to say later that it would be effective until further notice.
Furthermore, Barbadians are refusing to buy wholesale Sinckler’s blandishments about the benefits to be seen in jobs, new investment and competition, since they also consider costs to be paid in threats to long-standing businesses and employees because of the unfair advantages to the newcomer.
Especially galling has been the fact that bountiful handouts costing the treasury hundreds of millions of dollars were made when an economically savaged public was made to suffer further by Government’s snatching from them a few million dollars in hitherto tax-free travel and entertainment allowances mattering greatly to their standard of living.
Meanwhile, so-called “specialist expatriate staff” of Cost-U-Less would enjoy the duty free vehicles the DLP had failed to deliver to public servants battling rising prices, increased taxation and no salary raise for four years.
• Beresford Leon Padmore is a pseudonym for the Barbados Labour Party.