Time Govt went to the people
WITH THE ANNUAL BUDGET less than a month away, it is time for Government to come to the people and offer/seek ideas on how to administer the imminent dose of medicine needed to rescue the Barbados economy.
And I suggest this be done in the form of one or two town hall-type meetings where Barbadians across the political divide can speak frankly and put forward their views of what’s happening on the ground. And if they feel a sense of betrayal or vindication, feelings will become secondary to urgently finding a way forward.
I say this because talk on the perilous state of the economy has occurred in boardrooms, but has not truly involved public interaction. Politicians talked at us for hours from election platforms just five months ago; the Barbados Private Sector Association virtually read the ‘riot act’; a national public/private sector consultation was held at the Hilton; the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association lambasted Government at its annual general meeting, featuring no less a person than the Opposition Leader; the Governor of the Central Bank was brutally frank in his second quarterly report last week; and noted economists have had their say via traditional and social media.
The good thing is, though, that all the above are speaking from the same page, and the reality of a worrying deficit, which can only be treated by cuts in Government spending and possibly privatization, is no longer the subject of mixed or partisan interpretation. It is what it is.
Some members of the public have listened to all of the above and can respond with suggestions of their own; while others who have not should now be given a forum where they can be quickly apprised of the state of the economy and then given a chance to air their views.
A suggested series of meetings with the public is not meant to be a panacea, but at this time I see no option for Government except to go to the people. In fact, it is along the highways and byways that the ravages of Barbados’ economic slide will be seen first hand.
It also saddens me to repeat that the Democratic Labour Party, at least in the last two decades, has not adopted the good habit of levelling with the people. This weakness contributed to Barbadians feeling betrayed in 1991 after being told “we never had it so good”, and while this Government has not lied, it made promises to its own detriment, such as: no layoffs in the public service and no privatization of state-funded entities like the Transport Board, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Barbados National Oil Company.
The “privatization” promise may be particularly interesting since, instead of selling state-owned agencies to private entrepreneurs, the functions of those agencies can be outsourced, as is being exemplified by the National Cultural Foundation’s privatizing of its products which includes shows like Cohobblopot and Sweet Soca.
Meanwhile, the people of Barbados showed during the recent general election that they were willing to listen to a Government and leader who had adopted a strategy of occasional silence. But in the face of a huge deficit that needs to be cut by $400 million and possible looming devaluation of Barbados’ currency, this is not the time for silence but for Government to speak directly to the masses.
While the Opposition is already doing so by interacting with wayside vendors and others, Government can do it more directly via its constituency councils, followed by one or two town hall meetings led by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. But they must be done now, since next month, Budget month, will be decision and implementation time.
The bitter pill, according to the Governor of the Central Bank, may be best administered quickly. Coming from one who has carefully monitored the Medium Term Fiscal Strategy – a form of drawn-out austerity measures – Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell knows in his heart of hearts that it makes no sense lagging before coming to the public in 2017 and telling them, again, that the medicine has not worked.
Ironically, former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford implemented front-loaded measures which, by the time the smoke had cleared from the no-confidence motion against him, had already jump-started the economy.
The milk of human kindness may lead one to agree on a phased approach to the $400 million cuts, but would it be practical?
There are people out there with a multiplicity of solutions. Let them have their say.
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION. Email: [email protected]