ONLY HUMAN: The devil is in the detail
The Throne Speech caught me off guard. Though I expected an upbeat outline of Government’s programme for this new session of Parliament last Wednesday, the wide-ranging nature of the proposals bowled me over.
Why? Because in that speech the Government stressed, “This parliamentary term commences in the midst of the worst economic and financial crisis the world has witnessed in well-nigh 100 years,” and stated it would have a “disciplined macroeconomic framework [and] focus on reducing the fiscal deficit”.
Yet the initiatives proposed – though positive – seem extravagant in the current environment.
It has left me to wonder how Government will be able to achieve many of the proposals presented in the Throne Speech and still reduce the high fiscal deficit. I wonder, too, what impact implementing these proposals could have.
I am now anticipating even more the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure next week as the details of Government’s programme as outlined in the Throne Speech are supposed to be discussed in greater detail then.
A highlight of selected proposals best demonstrates my concerns:
Government proposes to establish additional campuses of the Barbados Community College (BCC) and the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJPP) in the northern and eastern parishes to cater to students who otherwise would have difficulty travelling to St Michael.
Establishing two satellite campuses is a good idea that is long overdue, but how can Government adequately finance these when presently it struggles with finding enough qualified instructors, acquiring the most modern equipment and other resources to ensure the smooth functioning of the main campuses? And how will this move impact funding for the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, which Government owes nearly $150 million?
That said, there is room for some BCC and SJPP subjects that do not require a great deal of equipment to be taught at secondary schools in the north and east, and this should be pursued.
However, wouldn’t the $5 000 income tax deduction accompanying proposal for those pursuing tertiary education/training at an overseas internationally recognized institution not undermine enrolment at UWI? Wouldn’t such overseas enrolment lead to spending precious foreign exchange?
Government intends to accelerate its efforts to restore the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) as the premier health care institution in the Caribbean and will construct a new hospital. Also, each household with an elderly member will be entitled to a tax credit of up to $2 000 for approved safety modification.
Again, good ideas, but if you can’t get enough nurses, equipment and finances to manage the QEH, how can you contemplate opening a new hospital? Where will the funds come from to build it, and what’s the plan for infrastructural challenges, like public transport, if the facility is constructed at Kingsland, Christ Church, as was stated?
Would it not be better to reorganize the QEH’s services, while better equipping and staffing specific polyclinics and have them open 24 hours to take pressure off QEH?
The tax credit here is also commendable. The public needs to recognize, though, that for every tax deduction, something has to be increased to offset the revenue loss, or cut to decrease spending. One therefore has to get the total picture before there can be any rejoicing over tax breaks.
Government reasserts its commitment to meeting the targets of the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS) and is prepared to make the necessary adjustment to public spending to realize those targets to help bring down the high fiscal deficit. It will achieve this by, among other measures, reducing the levels of transfers and subsidies in line with the MTFS targets.
As wages and salaries account for the high transfers and subsidies, is Government proposing to cut jobs to meet the MTFS targets? If not, how does Government plan to reduce such spending without impacting jobs?
The devil is always in the details. That’s why the Estimates presentation next week has to be carefully monitored.
• Sanka Price is an editor at The NATION.