PURELY POLITICAL: Bonds vs certificates
Even though it may be argued that the political environments of 1986-91 and 2008-13 were markedly different, there are some factors that make for comparison.
Barbados lost a prime minister in each period; one became a National Hero and the other hardly had the chance to lead. In each, a new prime minister emerged to win the general election.
In both cases, the new prime minister confronted economic challenges that were carefully concealed. However, while in the aftermath of each general election the true state of the economy came to light, the contrast in the approaches to the two crises is remarkable.
In the case of the Sandiford administration, the decision of whether to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was taken out of its hands by the horrible state of the foreign reserves. This is in contrast to the Stuart administration that has so far avoided going formally to the IMF because of the adequacy of the foreign reserves, though there is increasing concern about them.
Notwithstanding the lack of a formal programme, the home-grown measures have proven quite burdensome without access to the financial resources of the IMF and the international market at better interest rates.
The jury is still out on the wisdom in the hardcore politics of the current administration. To date, it has succeeded in keeping the labour movement and the private sector from ganging up in the way they did against the Sandiford government. This raises the question of whether the circumstances are less onerous now than they were then.
In addition, there is a legitimate concern about the strength of the labour movement.
In the case of the private sector that was so strident in its criticism of Sandiford’s government, there is a belief that the younger white members are more inclined to the current Government. This belief is fascinating given the historical ties of the Barbados Labour Party to the planter class that are now being eroded as the younger members of the latter drift to the Democratic Labour Party.
Unfortunately, the main interests of this class, which still constitutes the main forces in the broader private sector, are profits and the ability to invest in an environment that exudes confidence, both of which have been eroded by the current administration. It is, therefore, just a matter of time before the planter class realigns itself with its main interests and, by extension, partners with the tried and trusted once again. That’s the modus operandi of capitalists.
In his formative years in the DLP, Stuart was the one most noted for indulging in the rhetoric of class distinction and separation in the vein of Dr Don Blackman, in which he argued that the interests of the capitalists could never be the same as those of the working class. The irony is that he would have led the DLP at the time when the perceived partial shift in allegiance of the merchant class occurred.
In similar vein, to think that the working class would be asked to accept tax certificates as a means of payment in these most trying of financial times under a Stuart administration is indicative of the obvious contradictions with which politics is associated.
Indeed, the notion that more than 3 000 public sector workers would go home is at variance with Stuart’s rhetoric in his previous incarnation.
The proposed use of tax certificates brings into focus the Sandiford suggestion of bonds as a means of delayed payment in the early 1990s. It was met with objection from the IMF which argued that the bonds did not address the immediate concerns about the fiscal deficit. Not surprisingly, tax certificates will not address the current concerns either.
Apart from the fiscal issues, the politics of suppressing the spending of the working class even more is depressing. This group has hardly had an increase in salary for the last six years in the face of the rising cost of living. Therefore, to impose such a further burden on them, especially with the prospect of more taxation around the corner, is to show a lack of appreciation for the plight of the average Barbadian that speaks to not practising what you preach.
There is only so much pressure that the working class will bear before it breaks.
The absence of a clearly defined philosophical framework that shapes the public policies of the Stuart administration is surprising for a man who without the leadership of the DLP was apparently just prepared to simply spout political rhetoric.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]