Friday the 13th is often referred to as Black Friday and based on the Ministerial statement delivered by Minister of Finance Christopher Sincker, Friday, December 13, 2013 will be indelibly etched in the minds of Barbadians as the day that the DLP finally admitted that it has been misleading us for the past year.
The DLP’s propaganda machine has already tried to shift the debate towards the necessity of this measure, which is a point that I have no difficulty with.
This fact, however, should not distract us from the fundamental issue which relates to a solemn commitment made by this Government and the fact that the country voted based on that commitment.
It is unnecessary for me to repeat the details of this Government’s declared commitment to two key principles that are now being betrayed.
Since September 2012, the DLP made it clear that it was unwilling to consider any aspect of privatization and gave a firm commitment that it would not send home “a single worker”.
This mantra of the DLP was presented repeatedly during the election and was reinforced by the Prime Minister, not once, not twice, but thrice, as he reiterated his government’s commitment to keeping public servants employed and moreover reminded us of the centrality of employment to people’s physical and mental well-being.
These statements clearly reflect the fact
that the Prime Minister understood that the country associated him and his party with this principled position on public sector jobs and genuinely believed that his DLP would have nothing to do with a single job cut in the public sector, far less 3 000.
Against this background, a few of the Prime Minister’s statements should be brought into focus with the first being his reference to the definition of “temporary” and the second implying that he never gave assurances that no public servant would be sent home.
These types of responses and the manner in which the comments are framed, have become typical of a leader who attempts to over- intellectualize simple issues and in an effort to suggest that “we” misunderstood him and “he” did not mislead us.
His arguments do appeal to the intellect but the reality of this scenario is really quite straightforward and equally disturbing.
The last election was a choice between a BLP that proposed a restructuring that could have impacted on public sector jobs and a DLP that promised to continue employing everyone and not to privatize anything.
We voted for the latter so the option that is now on the table is not one that simply cannot be entertained.
Our Government therefore needs to get back to work and implement its mystical programme which it never clarified, but which it promised would develop our economy while preserving its two key commitments to the electorate (no layoffs + no privatization).
As one reflects cynically on the events of the last 12 months it is difficult not to see this as a year defined by this political development which frankly is an insult to our cumulative intelligence. The true state of our economy has been the proverbial elephant in the room.
We’ve known for some time now that the public service was simply too large and was not sustainable, but this Government conveniently avoided the logical discourse that should flow from these observations.
Those among us who expected this outcome are, however, not relieved about this belated announcement for two important reasons. The first and most important is the fact that this act will visit untold hardship on at least 9 000 Barbadians if the 1 in 3 formula holds true.
Barbados has never before experienced this level of hardship which will undoubtedly impact negatively on our way of life, social services and indeed the NIS fund which already carries much of the weight of Government’s debt.
The second major reason relates to the implicit suggestion that the DLP’s programmes to rescue this economy have failed.
Thus far there have been three apparent initiatives, the much-vaunted Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS), the Revised MTFS and the 2013 Budget which skilfully avoided job cuts on this level.
Clearly these have all failed and government has turned to job cuts which imposes pain without any certain knowledge that there will be profit.
This more than anything else should worry those among us who believed that the DLP had a plan. We therefore now rest uneasily as we know not what other unplanned hardships will be visited upon us.
Indeed this Government now has so little credibility that one wonders if the 3 000 cuts might morph into the original 5 000 that were planned and we would of course be told that it was “no less than” and not “no more than”.
Amidst all this rhetoric, our economy continues to be badly in need of restructuring and it will be difficult for this to begin if the architects know not where to begin.
Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). ([email protected])