Bold step needed
Most feature addresses are a waste of time – either political pontification or some intellectual taking half an hour to say what could be said in ten minutes. Either way, you seldom remember what was said. Consequently, as I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve timed my arrival at conferences to miss opening ceremonies and their accompanying feature addresses.
So I was pleasantly surprised by Ronald Harford’s recent address to the Caribbean Association of Banks. He summarised the Caribbean’s ailments and put his finger firmly on the root causes (just what those who aren’t in denial have been saying for years) in a few succinct statements. He said: “Let me be clear from the onset, the main cause of the region’s struggles is not the global financial crisis . . . although it has stifled the flow of capital to the region. Neither is it the resultant global economic recession, which we could all attest constrained demand for tourism and Caribbean exports.
“No, these events merely exposed the region’s Achilles heel, namely the broken model on which the economy is based . . . . One of the greatest shortcomings of the Caribbean’s political system is that it allows successive administrations to focus too much attention and resources on appeasing the electorate, at the expense of activities that are beneficial to the future common good.
“Equally damaging is the low level of accountability of our leaders, who are permitted to avoid hard questions such as those related to corruption, expenditure and unrealised budget plans. The sad reality is that our political structure in some ways impedes the region’s long-term development.”
He went on to say: “Fiscal management in the Caribbean is severely deficient. Many governments run perennial deficits and create debt, the proceeds of which go to unproductive uses. These unproductive uses have neither consistent nor self-sustaining sources of revenue to repay debt. Governments therefore tend to fill revenue shortfalls with deficit financing and lengthy delays in paying for goods and services. This is basically servicing debt with more debt, a perfect recipe to allow debt to accumulate to unsustainable levels.”
Exactly what we’re facing here in Barbados.
Because there’s no “morning-after pill” for the electorate, we’re all saddled by what was recently described as “perhaps the least efficient of our governments”.
Let’s look at our debt. I’ve been reliably informed that interest and principal together total $1.46 billion (and increasing) or about 58 cents in each dollar of revenue collected from taxpayers. The remaining 42 cents is swallowed up by Central Government and statutory board wages ($1.4 billion).
This debt doesn’t include VAT and income tax refund arrears, what’s supposed to be paid to CLICO policyholders, and all the payments due following various lawsuits brought against Government – every day we seem to hear of another one. Can’t successive governments get things right and avoid this continual litigation? Now they’re rumours that we may end up paying for the West Indies cricketers’ recent Indian tour debacle!
So, it’s easy to see why Barbados is in shambles, looking like a patchwork of potholes with nothing working properly. There’s just no money left to attend to these things, so despite more taxes which just go down the big debt repayment hole, the country remains stagnant. Are we satisfied with this?
The Opposition Leader, while addressing the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry, made some suggestions to take Barbados back from the brink, but quite rightly noted that getting Barbados back on track won’t be an overnight process. However, as we know, every journey begins with the first step. So let’s all put our best foot forward and make that step.
On a brighter note, birthday greetings to my brother-in-law, the Lowdown, professional agriculturalist, farmer (that is, mason, electrician, plumber, carpenter, engineer and general solver of problems), musician, writer. In our journey to progress, we need less pontificators and more multitalented people like him to solve problems in a practical, logical way.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email [email protected]