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EDITORIAL: In a state of limbo


EDITORIAL: In a state of limbo

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PURGATORY CAN be a place of cleansing or purifying. But it can also be an intermediate state of temporal uncertainty, an utterly uncomfortable condition of limbo.

Such is the status of staff of statutory bodies in Barbados that their indeterminate disorder must make for an abundance of agony in their private lives. As long ago as 2011, they were told that: “inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in both central and para-statal bodies could not continue unaddressed.”

When presenting the Estimates of Expenditure in March 2012, Finance Minister Chris Sinckler said Government had sought the assistance of the Inter-American Development Bank in restructuring the National Housing Corporation, the Transport Board and the Sanitation Service Authority.

By mid-2013, parastatal employees were warned that they were being weighed in the balance of government’s austerity programme.

All of these pronouncements came from the minister who later intimated that as early as June 2013, a team had submitted a preliminary report with recommendations for the reorganisation of 18 statutory entities. They were grouped according to “overlapping functions” and “sameness of services provided.” Some were to be merged and others to be eliminated, he said.

Then there seemed to be some ministerial second-guessing and a special unit was put in place at the behest of the Cabinet, to look at “implications for service delivery, staff and financial allocations” and to report by December 2013. Sinckler said at that time he anticipated that 2014 would be the year of action.

In his 2013 budget speech, Sinckler reinforced this view when he said he was mindful of the need to build “organisational synergies” across the vast network of statutory bodies in Government. He also indicated that his finance ministry had pulled together a team of senior officers to conduct a preliminary assessment of a list of entities funded by government, to make recommendations for their re-organisation.

In November 2014, when he announced major savings in public expenditure, including a 10 per cent cut in the salaries of government ministers, a reduction that has since been restored, Sinckler reiterated the need to “restructure and rationalise statutory bodies and government-owned entities”.

Years later, we ask: “What has been done? What is the future of our statutory corporations and the fate of their employees?

This uncertainty is not really fair to them. Ambiguity still looms. 2013. 2014. 2015. 2016.

In this year’s budgetary presentation, Sinckler reminded himself (for the rest of us already knew it), that in respect of these public entities, since 2013 “government has tried to cut and/or contain expenditure level across all major categories of expenditure. The results, though relatively good in some areas, have been disappointing in others.”

Having cut subsidies and transfers by almost $200 million in the last year, he then announced that an additional $50 million would be removed from transfers to these institutions every year over the next four years.

Meanwhile, there have been no mergers, no substantive realignment, no real change, but arbitrary cuts in transfers.

Sinckler’s plan now seems to be a prescription for a slow, agonising death by strangulation, even as workers remain in a bent state of limbo.