WHAT MATTERS MOST: Spin doctors on sticky wicket
THE GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN on the economy are at it again. Spin is being preferred to facts, the distant past is more relevant than the present,and mediocrity is being packaged as excellence.
Both the prime minister and the minister of finance are attempting to divert the public’s attention away from the actual economic performance on to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) gloomy forecast for 2015.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.
In the September 2014 Economic Review, it was noted that “the Barbados economy is forecast to grow by two per cent in 2015 and by 2.3 per cent in 2016”. If the economy is expected to grow by two per cent in 2015, then it is fair to have expected that the target would have been achieved in the first quarter of the year.
Furthermore, tourism is expected to be the sector to lead the growth and the first quarter is the period in which tourism is strongest. However, notwithstanding the improved winter season, it was estimated that the economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2015. This was obviously not better than expected.
Let us put the first quarter performance in perspective. In last year’s March Economic Review, it was stated that “economic activity is estimated to have fallen by 0.4 per cent during the first quarter of 2014, a little better than last year  (when there was a decline of 1.2 per cent) and close to the average of the previous five years of the economic slowdown”. This statement is loaded with information.
First, it reveals that the economy declined by a cumulative figure of 1.6 per cent for the two years 2013 and 2014. Therefore the improved performance of the economy in 2015 still leaves it smaller than in 2012.
Second, it reveals that the decline in 2014 was close to the average of the previous five years which means that between 2009 and 2013, the economy declined by approximately two per cent during the first quarter. Therefore the improved performance of the economy in 2015 still leaves it smaller than in 2008.
In the face of the underperformance of the economy in the first quarter of 2015, the growth forecast for the entire year was revised downwards to between 1.5 and two per cent. Given that only the tourism sector is estimated to have grown so far for the year, with all the other sectors remaining stagnant or in decline, the revised forecast is itself optimistic.
Given the facts associated with the first quarter economic performance to date, a forecast for 2015 of 0.8 per cent seems more realistic than two per cent.
In any case, Barbados is a society, not an economy, and therefore quibbling over numbers is obviously an attempt by the Government spokesmen to spin the discussion on the economy.
Not too long ago, the economy had too much to do with numbers and not enough to do with people. Now that people have been sent home, university students have been denied an education and health services are obviously in decline, the focus is back on the numbers.
There is no need to compare Barbados’ economic performance with other regional or international countries. The evidence is clear that Barbados is a shadow of itself. In the circumstances, the prime minister’s history lesson on the Bretton Woods institutions is absolutely irrelevant at this time. These frequent excursions into the past have become extremely boring and quite frankly useless.
The minister of finance is forgiven for making the following remark: “The IMF has no real way of knowing how much the Barbados economy will grow by or how much less it will grow by.” It is an unfortunate statement for a Government that has been woefully off-target in its economic forecasts and fiscal projections.
The focus on spin was anticipated at the start of the year, since it is the first year since 2007 that there is potential for one per cent economic growth. It is therefore not surprising that Prime Minister Stuart is satisfied with such paltry prospects. It speaks volumes to where the country is at, when mediocrity is being paraded as if it were excellence.
There is increasing concern that the economic failure has started to sow disturbing social roots. The reality that the two forces are inextricably linked is upon us in a way that demands facts to triumph over spin; the present over the distant past and excellence over mediocrity.
• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email [email protected]