EDITORIAL: Dithering as Barbados loses ground
WE ENDED LAST WEEK with international rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgrading Barbados’ credit rating from “B” to “B-”, largely as a result of our high fiscal deficit.
Additionally, it has categorised the island’s economic outlook as negative, an assessment that essentially warns that further downgrades could be coming.
After decades of boasting how we were rated by S&P and similar bodies such as Moody’s, and even at times thumbing our noses at our neighbours, we have suffered a series of downgrades to which we responded essentially with a public relations approach that said such assessments really don’t matter.
We believe though that it is about time we all tell those who are responsible for the economy that we, like S&P and Moody’s, are not happy with the handling of critical aspects of the economy, and instead of attempting to dismiss them when their comments are not favourable, we need to act on the matters within our capacity to handle.
Take the Transport Board for example, why does Government continue to insist it must run this organisation the way it has at tremendous expense to taxpayers, while delivering poor service and maintaining a modus operandi which shouts clearly that if we continue like this, things are going to get worse?
Government does not have the money needed to prop up the Board as it once did. But it will not sell it, neither in part nor whole. It readily admits the true economic cost of a bus ride is closer to $5 than the $2 commuters have been paying for over a decade, but it will not make an adjustment.
We certainly do not advocate an increase in bus fare, because too many of those who use the Board simply would not be able to afford it. But there has to be a compromise or the whole system will collapse.
It must be noted that since the change of Government, the Board has not purchased a single bus, and it had been a few years since the previous administration had. The Board is therefore operating with a fleet where its “newest” buses are more than a decade old and prone to breakdowns – not the kind of foundation on which a quality service is built.
We do not wish to be seen as pillorying the Freundel Stuart administration unnecessarily, but the truth is this scenario with the Transport Board can also be applied to a number of other state agencies. Maintaining the status quo for the sake of partisan politics or romanticising some old philosophy whose shelf life has long expired, does us no good.
We are treating too many of our economic wounds and ailments with plaster and aspirin when what has long been needed is surgery – and our dithering is quickly moving the required procedure from the category of routine to emergency.
As a result, today, a number of these agencies are either broke or starved for funds, and we are left to wonder what they do each day:
• The National Conservation Commission is a shell of its former self – look at our parks and beaches and compare them to past years.
• The National Housing Corporation is broke – what has it built recently and what’s on its agenda for the next five years?
• The Sanitation Service Authority – do we need to say again what it has become?
• The Urban and Rural Development Commissions – what happened to all the work they used to do for the most economically vulnerable Barbadians?
There are several aspects of the management of our economy where foreign factors significantly influence how we act, and reasonably so, but there are matters that are entirely within our ambit to fix, but still we dither to our own peril.