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THE HOYOS FILE: The agony and the Estimates

Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: The agony and the Estimates

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We have written letters, held meetings, requested feedback and made some proposals, but to date we are not convinced that there is any real sign of repair to this struggling economy. – The Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, in its statement on the Estimates for 2014-15.
I don’t propose to bore you today with a long “I told you so” with regard to the spiralling down of the Barbados economy, but I can say the severity of the BCCI’s report still hit me like a falling mahogany tree.
Having read every possible Government statement relating to the economy over the past year, said the chamber, it had come to the following conclusions (my paraphrase): Government is spending even more and taking in even less than it had predicted back in the day (last June); the Central Bank must still be printing money; when it goes to Credit Suisse for another US$75 million, Government will be letting us know just how bad things have gotten; we have tried, tried and tried, but Government won’t do anything we say.
Well, you could just hear the skies opening up and the purple rain starting to fall. All we hear from the Government side is things like “the private sector needs to privatise”, which may be an inside joke on the Government’s current mantra that the private sector just loves to suck on the teat of the Government instead of getting out to the marketplace and competing for consumers among themselves.
This is coming from an administration which, mainly because it has no money, is handing out BOLTS left, right and centre. Those, of course, are builder-financed projects which end up costing far more to the taxpayers over time than getting a loan from somewhere else and securing the lowest tender.
Beggars can’t be choosers, when it comes to BOLTs. More and more of the Government’s capital works programme is being BOLTed together, and it is not good for the future of the country.
I wonder if, for example, we really need a super mega cane-related factory to arise from the rubble of a pushed-down Andrews Factory. This will require us to bring in something called river tamarind which we will grow in the Scotland district, cut it down and use it to feed the new Andrews giant.
Why? Because, although the real reason for such multipurpose factories was to use up the bagasse created when you are making a lot of sugar, we are making such a small amount of sugar, less than 20 000 tones per year, that there will not be enough bagasse, and even if there were, it would only be so during the reaping of the crop.
Will we get to the point where we are importing fresh-cut river tamarind bush, or using diesel or Bunker ‘C’ fuel, to run generators to make renewable energy, should our river tamarind planting fail to produce enough feeder stock? Now that would be, as they say, comedy gold.
Not to be outdone in the renewable energy department, the people who look at our garbage generation sitting in dumps say, “Why don’t we burn this and make green energy?” Great idea, but for some unexplained reason, merely burning it will not be enough. We will instead vaporise it in a scorched-earth factory process which needs to consume at least ten thousand tonnes per day of garbage to be economically viable.
We will find out how viable that plant is after spending another US$250 million to build it. Neither of these projects are certain to justify their cost in terms of the output of energy they will create versus the amount of inputs they will need.
But why should that matter? The entire Government is not justifying its cost of existence and is busy undermining its own efforts to cut spending “over here” by revving up spending “over there”. No wonder our friends at the BCCI are concerned.
That’s what you get for inviting all the politicians to come speak at your luncheons and make you look like you are on board with them. I include the Opposition here with the administration.
In its first formal comment on the recently-approved Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for fiscal 2014 to 2015, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry seemed horrified to have to disclose that the Government was continuing to spend far more than it said it would, and running up a deficit for the financial year just ended of over ten per cent, or close to $900 million, in spite of some adjustments being made.
Dear BCCI, I could have . . . . Sorry, I promised not to. Why did it take the chamber so long (the Estimates seem like ages ago) to come out with this johnny-come-lately statement, the distance of which from the original cause for concern seems to reduce it impact?
In my view, the gloves have got to come off, and people who know better have to stand up and be counted. It’s time to tell Government and the Opposition if they continue to seem adrift in irrelevancy, that they the politicians are failing the country big-time.
Well, perhaps this is a start. The chamber said that the Government does not seem to have learned anything from its previous efforts to raise taxes, and as a result of the new taxes announced during the Estimates debate, “revenue will most likely fall further and business activity will decline due to diminished disposable incomes”.
Well, it needs to be said, even though some commentators far down the totem pole have been saying so for a long, long time. I guess we read things quicker.