Economics before politics
When Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler stands to deliver the Budget on Tuesday he will have two major tasks before him. His tasks will be political and economic; and at this stage the economic tasks will be the more important, even if only marginally so.
He will have to convince his audience, both within and without the Chamber, that he has the right diagnosis and prescription for the economic malaise which confronts the country and that his medicine, bitter as it might be, is to be preferred to a more drastic approach which might be required and imposed if his corrective measures are not taken now.
He will need to engender confidence in the people that what he is proposing is right and in this context his political skills will be required. But the greater scrutiny will be reserved for the content and proposed application of his proposals. Content, more than rhetoric and fine speech, is what will be required.
In a sense, he will be facing three audiences, which will consist of his colleagues, the electorate and corporate Bridgetown, as well as those lenders and others overseas who might be approached for loans if, as he has hinted, the Government goes to the market later this year.
In practical terms, he will have to curb expenditure while maintaining or increasing revenue and generating growth, all at the same time. In the midst of all this, the promise or suggestion that no public servant will lose his or her job will no doubt have been on his mind and how he reconciles this with the need to trim expenditure will be eagerly awaited.
This Budget Debate may mark an important turnin point in the fiscal landscape and in our country because whatever is done will change how things are done. Productivity and privatization, however called, will have to be on the table as part of the future stratagems of the Ministry of Finance.
Further, the proposed creation of a centralized revenue authority has already caused some misgivings on the part of the National Union of Public Workers; while the Barbados Workers’ Union has pulled out of the Social Partnership, an entity which has shown itself to have been of enduring utility in holding this country together in times of fiscal stress.
All these matters will have weighed in greater or lesser degree on the Minister’s mind. The working public must buy into the idea of greater productivity, not only because of the current fiscal crisis but because this country suffers from a level of productivity which is nowhere near the desirable level.
In fact, as Prime Minister of St Vincent Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on the signing of the latest loan for LIAT, too many people in the region fail to recognize that progressive societies are not built on leisure but on efficient production.
The Minister has his work cut out, so to speak, but he will be only the principal speaker in a debate in which we suspect the public will hang on to every word which falls also from the lips of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur and Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick.
We anticipate a lively political debate; but this must be a Budget in which economics will have to trump politics if any sort of fiscal equilibrium is to return to our public finances.