EDITORIAL: Hard choices and shared sacrifices needed
THE APPROPRIATION BILL has now cleared the Senate and the next major item will be the Budget, which is not expected until much later this year. However, the Estimates debate provided a good guide to the type of policies Government will pursue during the coming financial year.
Much of the debate in both Houses of Parliament gave some insight into the social and political imperatives that inform our social mosaic. It is not possible to please everyone but some hard choices are to be made, but the principal task is to reduce Government expenditure.
Much of the news swirling around many statutory corporations and Government agencies is depressing for many public employees, and much as we empathise with the perilous economic circumstances, the action is necessary if the country is to recover.
So much so that last Thursday during the 70th anniversary conference of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), general secretary Dennis Clarke was moved to indicate his disappointment over the continuing retrenchment even though his union had
“kept faith with the current administration for nearly six years”.
Clarke said the union needed to get back to the table and show its relevance. He also used the opportunity to blast the Social Partnership, which he also deemed to be “irrelevant at this juncture of the economic lives of Barbadians”.
Many social and political scientists always felt that such a formal relationship between labour, capital and Government would be fraught with tension. It was a dialectic that required careful handling when the larger Barbados Workers’ Union withdrew from the partnership last year.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, recognising the importance of the NUPW to the survival of his administration, nonetheless called for its help in downsizing the Public Service, restructuring public administration and promoting the Retraining Fund to assist retrenched workers.
It was remarkable, if not pure hubris, for Prime Minister Stuart to make such a call in the heat of battle – so to speak – and to say that Barbados was warned since 2001 that the 26 000-strong public service needed downsizing, having been in office since 2008 and not having taken steps to do so earlier.
The challenge now is to mitigate the hardship that will certainly follow from Government’s course of action. No doubt, the private sector will try to do its best but the task would not be easy as the economy is likely to contract further before a turnaround in about 2016.
In times like these, strong political issues will contend. Over the past half-century, three distinct visions of the ideal social order have been competing for dominance across the global political landscape: the conservative, the liberal and the progressive. Each of these visions generates its own code of values, and, through these values, each exerts distinctive lines of pressure on budget priorities.
Naturally, those who adhere to each vision will claim that adopting their social and economic strategy is the key to resolving the problems we face in pursuing our common destiny. But the conviction with which their proposals are advanced is not necessarily indicative of their validity.