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Govt can boost trust with fresh approach

Sanka Price

Govt can boost trust with fresh approach

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IF THERE WAS ANY DOUBT as to the serious fiscal challenges we’re facing, yesterday’s Budget would have jolted you into reality.
Though writing this column 36 hours before the actual Budget presentation, I’m certain that some of the measures will be difficult to swallow, and will even be considered harsh.
For instance, if, as was proposed at a Social Partnership meeting, a graduated tax on incomes over certain amounts is implemented, that would essentially be another wage cut. When added to the taking away of the allowances, that means less money in the pockets of middle to higher income earners though daily living costs continue to rise.
If, too, financial institutions are taxed more as is being suggested, then they will pass that on to their consumers, with similar consequences.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler would have explained why the measures he announced are necessary to dig Barbados out of its fiscal hole. And though he might not have said it, Barbadians can look forward to more bitter medicine if yesterday’s prescription proves ineffective.
The next few years will therefore be difficult regardless the depth of people’s pockets. But Government has no other choice but to inflict this pain. No administration would knowingly hurt the people who voted it back into office unless is back was against the wall and it had no other option.  
Therefore, whether one supports the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) or not, all Barbadians should work with this administration and make the sacrifices demanded to pull our country back from the brink.
That said, my concern is what guarantee is there that after making the sacrifices Government asks of us it will stick to its stated programme? After all, all administrations eye re-election, and if this regime begins to see an improvement in the economy, what assurance would there be that it would not squander those gains to regain office?
Remember the number of supplementaries brought at the end of this year’s Estimates debate to cover excess spending months earlier on the summer camps, Constituency Councils, Urban and Rural Development Corporation and so on? What would ensure such pre-election spending doesn’t happen again?
This is the crux of the issue. People must have confidence that Government will diligently work to retrieve Barbados’ precarious situation. They must believe the right steps will be taken and not things done for political expediency. Here, the focal point of such concern is Sinckler, his unenviable record as Minister of Finance, and his penchant for politicking.
Under Sinckler’s stewardship Barbados was downgraded twice, the economy has contracted, unemployment has risen and he has not succeeded in getting any new major projects off the ground, despite many assurances.
Even if one says that Sinckler was in the wrong job at the worst time, would it not be in the best interest of the administration to move him now and let someone else come in to push the programme as enunciated in the Budget? In other words, give this new direction a fresh start.
Here Donville Inniss, a successful businessman in his own right, who has demonstrated pragmatism and a no-nonsense approach as a Cabinet minister would be best suited to replace Sinckler.
Of course, many would see the shifting of Sinckler as a demotion, but for me it would be a case of saving the DLP’s most potent weapon from being associated only with failure. As late Prime Minister David Thompson demonstrated, it is better to retreat, strategize, network, and successfully return, than to continue on a losing streak.
In terms of boosting public confidence in its new direction, the Government should also cut a number of programmes that are clearly political that cost millions of dollars. The National Environmental Enhancement Programme (NEEP) is one. This sub-programme under the Ministry of Environment and Drainage supposedly “augments the capacity of the drainage unit to maintain watercourses and other drainage features thereby preserving the life of the road work”. But everybody knows this is the old weeding programme which is used to hire largely unskilled people. NEEP’s budget is projected to nearly double from the $6.9 million in the 2012-2013 revised Estimates to $11.2 million in the 2015-2016 Estimates.
Government should not continue to fund such blatant political programmes while demanding sacrifices from the public.  
Those who have been living within their means – unlike the Government – can argue, with justification from available Central Bank statistics, that Barbados does not have a revenue problem; it has an expenditure one due mainly to runaway spending. For this administration to engender greater confidence in its proposed economic fixes it needs to be taken seriously. Changing the guard in finance and dumping some political spending programmes would be an ideal start.
• Sanka Price is an editor at The NATION. Email him at [email protected]