OUR CARIBBEAN: Big surprises at period of a deep crisis
SURPRISES SEEM to be the order of the day as Barbados’ economic future and, relatedly, that of the Democratic Labour Party administration of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, hang in the balance.
The biggest surprise was that of a week ago today when Finance Minister Chris Sinckler made his shock announcement that some 3 000 public sector workers would be affected in massive job cuts planned for the first quarter next year in view of very serious fiscal challenges facing the government and the need to avoid devaluation of the Barbados dollar.
What made that gloomy announcement even more depressing was the disclosure by representatives of the private sector and labour movement – including, most significantly, the National Union of Public Service Workers (NUPW) – that they had not benefited from any prior consultation of the planned job cuts.
Structured consultations involving the government, labour movement and private sector had become the norm following Barbados’ creation of its laudable “social partners” mechanism to ensure a stable environment in the interest of the country’s orderly economic development.
Why, therefore, did the Minister of Finance choose to ignore the necessity to at least inform the NUPW in particular about the coming 3 000 job public sector job cuts, having completed an economic management agreement, as influenced by officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who had by then departed the country? A series of related surprises were to follow:
For example, last Monday’s meeting between Prime Minister Stuart and a delegation from the NUPW when he said he was not interested in any “band aid” economic fix but wanted to get at “the root of the problem” so that in the medium to long term “everybody is happy.”
For a start, Mr Stuart would have had for guidance what happened in 1994 to a DLP administration under then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, that fell to a no-confidence motion in Parliament, initiated by the Barbados Labour Party’s Owen Arthur, who later became a three-term Prime Minister.
For his part, Prime Minister Stuart is a second term head of government and long enough in control of state power to identify and act on the “root” of the problem afflicting this nation rather than being trapped into an IMF-prescribed programme with massive retrenchment in the public sector.
This development is a most daunting challenge for the NUPW’s credibility and its firing of verbal salvos at ex-Prime Minister Arthur is hardly a qualitative response, given the gravity of the prevailing challenges.
For that matter, nor is the equally surprising suggestion from a recognized political scientist, as reported earlier in the ‘DAILY NATION’, that the government should “reverse the decision to dismiss the 3 000 workers and introduce the plan they claim to have had…” . Apparently he was in a jokey mood, itself a surprise at a time of deep unfolding crisis that’s already revealing cracks within the local labour movement. Stay tuned.
•? Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.