In the current increasingly dismal environment in Barbados, one thing has grabbed my attention: the lack of leadership, whether it is the economy or the functioning of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
In the past, our leaders reacted to crises by being urgent in their decision-making and taking the public on board.
For example, mini-budgets were delivered to address issues of immediacy. According to all the Government spokesmen, this is the worst economic crisis since the depression of the 1930s. If the rhetoric of the past five years is to be believed, then there has never been a situation that is more urgent than now.
The tourism sector is easily the most important sector in the economy. If a 10-point plan has been hurriedly conceived to arrest its decline, it shows that a full-fledged Budget could have been brought to the public rather than waiting until sometime in August. But there is a lack of leadership!
The emphasis for the Government is still on the public relations. So to prevent the downgrade of Standards and Poors from dominating the headlines, a way was found to announce a plan to help the vital tourism sector. Remarkably, a $20 million plan is expected to rescue the economic elephant in the room.
Unfortunately, the conceptualization of a sensible economic strategy continues to escape the Government. In March, there was to be a $600 million stimulus; by June, the stimulus became a $400 million cut in expenditure. This is indicative of the Government’s failure to plan and execute with specific goals in mind.
Again, the focus of the Government is wrong as the urgency is being couched in relation to the country’s foreign reserves rather than the fiscal crisis. This is part of the political gamesmanship that remains the hallmark of the administration. Rather than have the guts to solve the fiscal problem, the problem is defined in terms of the foreign reserves, which are still adequate according to all the economic spokesmen. But there is a lack of leadership!
The lack of leadership was recently demonstrated in the different positions being held by prominent members of the economic team. Before coming to the public, the size, timing and incidence of the proposed expenditure cuts should have been resolved internally. Instead, the gamesmanship continued with the opportunity being provided for the Prime Minister to ride into town to reduce the anticipated burden.
In essence, a hero is to be created for saving half of the house, after setting it on fire. There is no doubt that perception in politics is as important as truth. This is why it is important to focus on the intent of the message as much as the words.
This brings me to what is happening in the PAC.
The legislative intent of the 2003 amendments was to allow the committee to function even if the members of the Government side refused to attend. This is explained by the quorum of five (5). Once all the Government members attended, they still constituted the majority. Furthermore, the duties of the committee were extended to examine the audited financial statements of all statutory corporations as well as entities owned or controlled by the Crown.
The word “public” in the name suggests the nature and intent of the committee. The notion that the meetings are public and are streamed live on the internet makes a mockery of the media not being able to report the contents to the public. The new position of the Government is simply to hide.
In 2008, the late David Thompson told the public that “on matters of openness and transparency, I am pleased to announce that the Governance Advisory Board . . . is working assiduously on developing a new regime of governance in Barbados”.
He further stated: “In order to improve management in the public sector, particularly statutory boards and companies owned by Government, I am summoning all chairpersons and deputy chairpersons to a governance consultation on July 28th 2008 to deal with issues relating to corporate governance and accountability as well as human resources.”
Perception is more important than fact in politics!
Where is the work of the board exactly five years later? This work would have certainly made a difference not only to the legislative intent of the PAC, but its workings. Unfortunately, there is a lack of leadership to deal with the real issues confronting the country.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.