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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Time for the PM to act

Clyde Mascoll

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Time for the PM to act

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THE FOLLOWING QUOTE in the DAILY NATION of Monday, March 4, 2013, attributed to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, must be an error: “We can’t sit back and fold our hands and decide we’re going to just wait until things change globally – although we cannot act recklessly. We still have to be circumspect in what we do.
“We have to take some initiatives here which do not imperil our foreign exchange position but, at the same time, give a little life to what is going on locally at the business level and put consumers in a position where, by spending, they can stimulate business activity and so on.”
The quotation truly characterizes the recent general election campaign of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP). In every instance, the DLP spokesmen sought to avoid the issues confronting the people of Barbados. Instead, they embarked on a politics of fear, with the issue of privatization at the forefront.
According to some political analysts, the strategy worked. This observation brings the nature of politics into focus.
Imagine a country is asked to decide on its future in circumstances where people are hurting; businesses are struggling and Government is sleeping, and a campaign spins on irrelevance. The Government’s survival is then lauded on its capacity to avoid addressing the serious issues of the day.
The truth is that the Government could not have avoided the serious issues unless the media conspired with it to do so. Of course, the biggest hypocrite is the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which has become the Cabinet Broadcasting Corporation in every sense of the word.
A Minister of Finance makes very deliberate statements about privatization and the Opposition is not allowed to carry his words in an advertisement on CBC. In the meantime, the ruling party sets up its own radio station. Are these developments not a fundamental threat to democracy in a country that boasts about freedom of expression?
The Prime Minister’s quotation in Monday’s DAILY NATION does constitute freedom of expression, but it also speaks to a severe weakness in the media – the presence of reporters without the freedom to investigate.
There is no lack of ability; it is simply about accepting minimum standards.       
Unfortunately, it also speaks to the state of the economics profession in Barbados. Senior economics spokesmen publicly condemned the Opposition for suggesting the very strategy being enunciated, post-election, by Prime Minister Stuart. What a shame!
Notwithstanding the political process, if the Prime Minister has come to a position where he understands the message, then it is in the country’s interest. He is free to peruse the manifesto of the Barbados Labour Party and embrace the policies and programmes.
One day coming soon the people will wake up! The notion that one economist is biased because he is member of a political party and the other economist is unbiased because he merely supports a political party will be put in proper context. The common thread is that the economist is first and foremost Barbadian and is ultimately a professional.
In view of the recent coming of Prime Minister Stuart, it would be interesting to see the public, not private, responses of the cadre of senior economists who paraded in recent times their objection to utilizing some of the country’s foreign reserves to inspire economic activity and confidence.
The economic principles that undergird stimulating Caribbean economies have been taught by these very individuals for decades and in some cases preached by them. In this regard, the steadfastness of the late and highly respected Wendell McClean is sorely missed. He did not need the choir to be singing his tune to know that he was right. What strength of character!
Barbadians were once described as having short memories, but they do not like to be short-changed.
A time must come when rhetoric becomes reality. In this sense, a statement of intent must be clear about what the issues are, the time frame in which they have to be addressed and the pocket parameters for evaluating the policies.
In the aftermath of the outcome of the general election, Barbadians are still struggling to pay ever increasing food and electricity bills. The cost of gas remains unbearable. The search for jobs is no less stressful.
If ever there was a time to act, it is now. At least, Prime Minister Stuart has one eye open.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy.