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THE HOYOS FILE: Singing from the hymnal of the economically converted

Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: Singing from the hymnal of the economically converted

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“Simply put, both as a strategy to help reduce the fiscal deficit as well as to make a paradigm shift towards a more economically viable society, the State should divest some of its assets and let the private sector own and manage several entities and functions being controlled by the state.” – Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss, speaking at the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s recent monthly luncheon.
I really don’t want to spoil Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss’ party, but if he is now going to be the self-proclaimed champion of privatisation in the dysfunctional government of which he is a minister, he must say a few words before every such pro-privatisation speech.
I can suggest the specific theme, on which he could elaborate. It is summed up by three words: “We were wrong.”
As we all know, during the general election campaign just over a year ago, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) directly equated privatisation with the loss of jobs and higher prices, saying that this is what the country could expect under a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration.
Two weeks ago, at the same time Inniss was delivering his address containing the above-noted quotation to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s monthly luncheon, the Government was shedding around 200 workers, according to Press reports, from the employee rolls of the National Conservation Commission, a statutory corporation which may exist primarily to absorb unemployed people from certain constituencies, as was made clear by the demonstrations held by workers being sent home, who showed a refreshing lack of being intimidated by this Government.
With this government, another maxim applies: “Watch what we do, not what we say.”
Do you remember one of the lines in the famous toilet-bowl ad run by the DLP during the campaign, the one where the names of several statutory corporations were shown swirling around as they were about to go down the drain, taking jobs with them? The line read: “Sanitation PRIVATISED . . . Pay for garbage collection.”
Within six months the Dees had passed the August Budget of 2013 announcing, among other things a “municipal solid waste tax placed on the non-improved value of the land,” which would, by the Government’s own reckoning, raise around $50 million dollars a year. Its goal? To pay for garbage collection and disposal from private and commercial property alike around the country.
Also in the same ad, the DLP charged that under the BLP the following would happen: “Airport PRIVATISED . . . Higher airfares.” and “Barbados Port PRIVATISED . . . Food prices gone up.”
We are still awaiting the Dems’ plans for the airport and seaport, the two best candidates for privatisation, which could turn these entities into operations in tune with the realities of the international travel and shipping industries. In his speech to the chamber, Inniss also said he wanted to see Barbados move to becoming a “24-hour operating jurisdiction,” as it was a “practical area for urgent redress,” and he pledged to do his best to make it happen.
I suggest to Inniss that privatising the airport and seaport, especially the latter, to operating on a 24/7/364 basis, would go a long way to achieving his goal. Do your best, minister, we’re behind you. Really.
Meanwhile, even as Inniss sings (solo) from the hymnal of the economically converted, the much-needed, but less lofty-sounding, retrenchment programme hinted at by Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler in that August Budget speech seems to be now well underway. Here is how he framed it (at p.80):
“(A team of senior officers in the ministry) returned with a preliminary report and analysis and proposal for the reorganisation of 18 such entities currently in operation . . . (covering) such areas as public housing, sports facilities management, investment, youth and cultural affairs and sport . . . ”
Running them, the minister of finance argued, was costing the government nearly $130 million every year and they employed just over 1 600 people, Sinckler noted, adding that “The Committee has recommended that there be a concerted programme implemented to create operational synergies . . . and save government significant sums in transfers and subsidies. This is to be achieved through the merging of some, and elimination of other organisations.”
But even as Inniss practices his melodies in the Choir for the Animation of  Privatisation and Sinckler’s internal committee continues to sharpen its “policies” on wasteful spending in those 18 entities, I learned in writing this column that there must be something wrong with my computer. I could not find one single instance of the word privatisation or its sister word privatise (spelled either with an ’s’ or a ‘z’) in Sinckler’s Budget speech.