Bajans taken for a ride
If Prime Minister Freundel Stuart believes that simply regurgitating historical facts without giving them relevance to Barbados’ current economic recession is enough, then unfortunately he would be unaware of the special circumstances affecting our economy. The current fiscal crisis is unlike any other in our history as an independent nation.
It is unlike any other because, firstly, Government has had to borrow money to pay civil servants over an extended five-year period. This is unheard of in this country and, furthermore, the magnitude of the borrowing is unprecedented, with no end in sight.
The Minister of Finance admitted that Government was borrowing $14 million per month to pay 7 000 casual workers. What he did not admit is that it was borrowing much more to pay many more permanent civil servants on a monthly basis.
Prime Minister Stuart, the time has come to stop playing games with Barbadians and let them know the real magnitude of the economic problem confronting the country. While some hosts are impressed with your forthrightness after the fact, it is more important that you speak to the facts rather than the form. In the circumstances, the ride on the current economic roller coaster is therefore going to be much longer and tougher for Barbadians.
In identifying three great Prime Ministers of the past who had to confront an economic recession, Prime Minister Stuart gave the impression, in his recent speech to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, that they all failed to cope.
In fact, none of them failed in taking leadership of the crisis, much unlike what has happened in this recent crisis. And perhaps, this is why more so than any other factor, the current fiscal crisis is much longer than in the 1970s with Prime Minister Barrow, in the 1980s with Prime Minister Adams and in the 1990s with Prime Minister Sandiford.
These three Prime Ministers do not deserve to be compared with Prime Minister Stuart on economic or political grounds. They all held the post of Minister of Finance and led from the front. Even when Prime Minister Sandiford passed on the Ministry of Finance to the inexperienced David Thompson, he led all of the elements in the stabilisation programme with the International Monetary Fund.
It is therefore sacrilegious, based on the evidence, for comparisons to be made between the political leadership provided by these three leaders in previous economic recessions affecting this island and the current leadership.
The failure to take leadership is responsible for the Barbados economy being the only one in the region not expected to grow in 2014. Irrelevant comparisons with Greece and Spain have been used to characterise the ongoing crisis as externally driven. Nothing is further from the truth.
There is a tone of indifference, which some seem to interpret as strength, that accompanies the Prime Minister’s style of leadership that is very unbecoming in the circumstances. This sense of indifference seeks to relegate the present, while elevating the past with a barrage of history that is of only peripheral importance to the present reality. It is as if Prime Minister Stuart does not live in the present.
He is now curiously interested in restoring fiscal balance and not in how many workers will lose their jobs. Such insensitivity to the plight of those losing their jobs is indicative of the attempt to ignore the social effects of such action, while putting the focus on the fiscal numbers. What a quick turnaround, as this contradicts the previously articulated position of his Government that the society is more important than the economy.
It is unbelievable that in this year of our Lord 2014 the intelligence of our people is being so lowly regarded.
Almost on a weekly basis, members of the Cabinet contradict each other and when this is pointed out, there is a determined attempt to show that “too far east is west” or alternatively, that extraordinary ignorance may travel far enough to become common sense. When slogans alone, not intelligent evidence-based discourse, are simply being used to seduce the people, the keen observer only has to wait long enough to sniff out the lack of sincerity.
In this regard, it has not taken very long to find out that Barbadians have been taken for a ride. The morning words of the Government do not match its evening words.
Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.