Damage has already been done
“. . . My ministry, working with the stakeholders and the Ministry of Tourism, will meet and agree very shortly on a short-to medium-term recovery programme in tourism.” – Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s speech to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI), May 29.
“Can we truly be serious about expecting that tourism will be the sector to turn the economy around if this level of lethargy in process and frustration of purpose is allowed to continue?” – Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association president Patricia Affonso-Dass’ report to the BHTA’s annual general meeting, Wednesday, June 13.
Running those two statements one after the other helps to show massive disconnect that exists in this country on economic policy for our most vital foreign exchange earning sector.
On the one hand, you have the minister of finance, nearly half-a-year after 2012’s six per cent fall-off in tourism arrivals, saying don’t worry, we’ve got some great incentives coming up and we are soon going to tell youall about them. And on the other hand, you have a much more realistic assessment from the BHTA, to theeffect that so much has already been lost that any comeback will be even harder to achieve.
This includes Barbados’ loss of competitiveness in the regional tourism marketplace, as evidencedby its falling arrival numbers and hard currency earnings.
According to Ms Affonso-Dass, Barbados’ poor tourism performance requires nothing short of “a restructuring of the sector and immediate action on key concerns that have been continuously raised by this association on behalf of its members”.
Speaking last week at the BHTA annual meeting, M. Affonso-Dass,who is just beginning her secondyear as president, went so far as to suggest that tourism was on the same road to oblivion as was the sugar industry. Giving one specific instance, she said that although Cabinet had approved a list of projects that could benefit from incentives and concessions under the Tourism Development Act, it had not been “ratified” and therefore was not yet in force.
It reminds me of the special incentives announced almost a year ago for renewable energy by the minister of finance, especially for photovoltaic and wind turbine systems, which have not been implemented yet.
In the same BCCI speech, Mr Sinckler suggested these were so important that special legislationhad to be passed to ensure their proper launch into the economic stratosphere. He said: “The (renewable energy) legislation has been prepared . . . (but) they said we should speak with the tax experts in Barbados, just to make sure we have not done anything untoward, and I agree.”
He went on: “Along with the other piece of legislation governing the amendments to the Electricity Act, (which) should go to Parliament in two weeks . . . . This is the most sweeping set of concessions that we have givento any sector, other than tourism, in the post-Independence period in Barbados.”
But the damage already done to individuals, homes and businesses seems to be lost on the “dolittle” administration. There is always the hint that big things are around the corner which will blow all the naysayers away by their sheer brilliance.
There is always the assertion that how far down we have gone is no reflection on their misrule but because of the world economy not playing fair; and that any improvement, no matter how marginal, will be because of their policies, as soon as they are announced.
So this month, perhaps, is the one when Mr Sinckler and “Admiral Dolittle” will sail into Parliament clutching a raft of new economy-incentivizing legislation covering, presumably, the renewable energy incentives, the changes to the law relating to electricity, and that laundry list of tourism projects the BHTA is relying on.
These measures, all their kinksand anomalies removed after exhaustive legal review, will be debated amid emotional scenes and in an atmosphere of anticipation, then passed into lawto the jubilation of the multitude.
And perhaps a mere eight and forty hours afterwards, given their historic nature, no doubt they will be duly proclaimed by the Governor General, and Barbados’ economic resurgence will begin.
Reality check: We have a Government which seems incapable of enacting common sense measures, one by one, bit by bit. They are waiting for the spectacle of the historic new dawn to begin.
Meanwhile, the sectors on which we rely to produce foreign exchange watch as their markets and revenuesgo down the slippery slope. Was there ever, in the post-independent period of this country’s history, ever a wider gap between promise and performance by a government towards its key stakeholders?
• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.Email email@example.com