‘Hot air’ threat
There has been talk from time to time about the possibility of a serious earthquake in Barbados, but judging from the hot air being emitted from various quarters, we’re much more likely to suffer from an explosion similar to that recently caused by gases emitted by 90 flatulent cows on a German dairy farm.
On the positive side though, it’s good to see the most unexpected people finally admitting that Barbados has been living above its means for years, that the Public Service is too large (by the way, does anyone have the true figure?) and inefficient, and that wage increases – both public and private – were often not sustainable.
But while I’m relieved that at last Government seems to be “sticking to its guns” and doing what has to be done in an attempt to put the economy on a sound footing, one wonders why it has taken so long.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart took us down memory lane in the James Tudor Memorial Lecture, giving us the history of the crises of 1973, 1981 and 1991. He noted that what we’re going through in Barbados today is no different from what Errol Barrow went through, what Tom Adams went through, and what Erskine (later Sir Lloyd) Sandiford had to go through during those events, but that the difference was that this is the longest and most drawn out economic downturn the world has seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
That may be so, but the problem is that we didn’t learn from those recessions, and did nothing to restructure our economy, so what we’re facing now is the result of an accumulation of mistakes and mismanagement. While we bask in the glory of Kofi Annan’s comment that Barbados “punches above its weight”, we should realise that what we’re really doing is living above our means and pretending to be what we aren’t.
As far as I’m concerned, if Sir Lloyd Sandiford did anything right as Prime Minister, it was to introduce the eight per cent cut and stabilisation tax, but unfortunately, instead of allowing this cut to remain in place, the Barbados Labour Party administration even changed the Constitution, making it impossible to cut public sector salaries. So now, instead of everybody getting “half a loaf”, some are getting none at all. Of course, all administrations continued to do their “election additions” to the Public Service which have to a large extent brought us to our present position.
My experience with the Public Service is that, instead of prioritising projects and completely cutting those deemed to be of lesser importance, all projects are kept, but the monies allocated are only sufficient to pay salaries, so there are no materials to work with. No wonder staff allegedly spend their time reading the newspaper, collecting children from school and working in their own businesses.
Apparently the Transport Board will be next on the chopping block, and apart from those interested in voluntary redundancy and those who qualify and opt for early retirement, the procedure will also include those with medical challenges and poor attendance records as well as those whose performance had been unsatisfactory during their employment. Why, pray tell, has it taken this crisis to get rid of these last two categories?
We’ll have to wait and see if members of Parliament carry out their part of the bargain by sacrificing some of their salaries, but judging from the pretty dancing steps we were treated to by Minister Donville Inniss when he was questioned on radio recently, I wouldn’t bet on it.
On the matter of the suggested eminent persons group, I was really disappointed by the Prime Minister’s response, since I don’t recall it ever being mentioned that this group would run Barbados. I thought it was a group of persons, experienced in various fields, who would offer advice on matters relating to the economy. Of course, I would also question why he selected only certain of the Government MPs as being “eminent enough for him”. Mr Owen Arthur’s response to the suggestion is also disappointing since the country could benefit greatly from his vast experience and network of contacts.
Finally, let’s hope that, as the Prime Minister said recently, the same resilience, the same strength of character that saw Barbados through previous challenges, will see Barbados through the present challenges.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]