ONLY HUMAN: Stuart needs to call elections
Wherever one goes in Barbados, most people are asking one question: what date is the election?
It’s as if nothing else is more important than this issue.
One would have thought that the manner in which the transfer of teachers to and from Alexandra School was handled and the impact this could have on the education of affected children would be the main talking point, followed by LIME’s axing of 97 workers and the Barbados Workers’ Union’s plan to shut down that company if it doesn’t rescind those terminations by today.
But no. Though people are offering their opinion on both the Alexandra and LIME issues, they seem more concerned about when Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will ring the mythical election bell by setting a date.
Whatever the electoral implications of this anxiety for the Stuart-led Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration, what is apparent is that Barbados today is beset by labour unrest and social disquiet which need to be urgently addressed as they are eroding any confidence the population, in general, and business people, in particular, may have in the direction in which this country is heading.
Confidence is key to sustaining and growing any economy. It is also fundamental to nourishing a cohesive society. For the DLP to realize its mantra that “Barbados is more than an economy, it’s a society”, the Prime Minister therefore needs to restore some air of confidence in national affairs. And the best way to do this is by calling general elections and letting the people decide whom they want to govern and what direction they want this country to go in, based on the policies presented to them by the competing parties.
It is one thing for Stuart to poke fun at the opposition and keep them guessing about a poll date. That is good for politicking, but in terms of financial investments and projections, it doesn’t help business people know how they can plan.
The raw reality is that there is a low level of confidence in the prospects for our economy and this reflects in the pessimism that seems to pervade Barbados. It is this lack of confidence that influenced people’s reluctance to spend more during the last Christmas season, as merchants reported.
Actually, the factors which affect Barbadians’ seeming lack of confidence in the direction in which this country is going are classic textbook symptoms.
Depressing economic news about the global and national economy has encouraged greater personal savings but reduced confidence. That’s why our banks are flush with money and few people are borrowing.
The fear of rising unemployment, and actual cuts in jobs, plus the reducing hours for workers discourage spending and reduce confidence. The statement from the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) at Christmas that job losses would come this year would reinforce this apprehension.
The increasing cost of goods and services as well as no increase in real wages and salaries equal a decrease in earnings or less disposable income. This reduction in real purchasing power contributes to less confidence. That BCCI statement previously referred to supports this view. It stated: “With costs rising and salaries remaining relatively flat, workers are experiencing an internal devaluation.”
Austere tax measures imposed by Government policies also lessen confidence, particularly in the case of this Government, which continues to borrow millions monthly to keep public servants employed.
As if these factors aren’t sufficient to demonstrate the need for general elections, the comment from Moody’s Investors Service vice president and senior economic analyst, Aaron Freedman, on Government’s economic plan is telling.
Commenting on the administration’s Medium Term Fiscal Strategy, Freedman said it “relies on some optimistic assumptions” and if the DLP were re-elected “there is a strong possibility that it will propose either an alternative to, or some revisions to the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy”.
Though the aforesaid is more than enough evidence to support why there is an urgent need to hold a general election to shore up confidence within the country, there is another aspect of this. That is, whatever the Constitution may say as to giving the DLP administration an additional 90 days in office – which could effectively give it up to May – the Prime Minister himself did not have that original mandate as he was not elected by the people to lead this country.
He inherited leadership after the unfortunate death of David Thompson. His moral authority to contemplate this move, as hinted as a possibility by those close to him, can therefore be questioned.
With so many things going wrong in the country, such a move would again undermine confidence for the future.
So, Mr Prime Minister, call the election sooner rather than later and help stop the drift taking place in this country.
• Sanka Price is SATURDAY SUN editor.