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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Time to put Barbados first


CLYDE MASCOLL

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Time to put Barbados first

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ALTHOUGH IT HAS TAKEN much too long, the time has come to put Barbados first. While it is easy to appreciate the economic difficulties, the last eight years have highlighted the need to revisit the relationships between labour and capital, governance and Government, and parliamentary democracy and leadership.

In a sense, Barbados is at a juncture, somewhat like the 1940s, not materially but spiritually. The unprecedented material decline since 2008 has brought sharply into focus the need for us to question the relationships mentioned above.

The hard-fought gains of the labour movement, which ironically came out of a period of severe economic decline in the 1930s, are being questioned by some. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who once argued that labour and capital cannot sleep in the same bed, is no longer prosecuting the case, but rather is standing in judgement.

The questioning continues, when Parliament sits for an entire week to pass the Appropriation Bill, only for the governance structure to betray the judgement of the august chamber. This comes about when a way is found to print money excessively that does not require the approval of Parliament, thus making the annual Estimates Debate farcical.

In similar vein, the Opposition participates in the debate, but the Cabinet conducts the country’s fiscal affairs without reference to the financing constraints that are implied in the passing of the Appropriation Bill. The notion that there is a parliamentary democracy is made a mockery of by the political leadership.         

In the absence of a clear vision for Barbados, the Stuart administration has put itself first, at every turn in the last eight years. It has practised a philosophy of prolonging the agony, with one intention its own survival. This has come at the expense of the owners of labour, the institutions and more recently, the owners of capital.

For the first time since the 1940s, the owners of labour and capital are confronting declining value in their respective assets, over a prolonged period. Labour incomes have been suppressed under the guise of the need to protect jobs. Income earned on capital assets is in danger of being slashed because the potential buyers value the assets in foreign currency.    

The ascension of Barbados to the status of a highly-developed developing country was not by accident. The Moyne Commission Report of 1938 created the framework for greater governmental intervention. This ran counter to the existing system that was designed to safeguard the imperial economic interests in the region at the time.  

In a mixed economy, the threat has always been determining the size of government. It is still the most pressing philosophical issue facing the economy. But it is impossible to determine size without accounting for structure. The latter takes into consideration the ideological stance of the government. Issues, such as access to education from primary to tertiary level, the availability of adequate health care and providing for the most vulnerable, are determined by ideology, not willy-nilly pragmatism.

Barbados is at a juncture where simple bookkeeping is not the answer. The weekly meetings between the minister of finance and the governor of the Central Bank were obviously not enough to adequately manage the fiscal crisis. The former boasted in public about how all the fiscal angles were covered and the necessary adjustments were being made to protect the foreign reserves. Yet, it was eventually revealed that the bank was printing $50 million per month to pay public sector workers.

It ought to be evident by now that there is more than an economic crisis confronting Barbados. It is not just the material issues that must be addressed. We are once again at a period that requires transformation. This last occurred in the immediate post Second World War period, when the Father of Democracy, the Right Excellent Grantley Adams, paved the way for the Father of Independence, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow.

The ideological roots were sown in The Progressive League, also known as the Barbados labour Party (BLP), in which both sirs first whetted their political appetites. The BLP secured the mass base that the Democratic League, founded by the Right Excellent Charles Duncan O’Neale, did not.

Politics is about opportunity. The poor performance of the Stuart administration has laid the foundation that will accommodate the need for transformation that would not have been possible without it. The fundamental elements of the transformation must be wrapped in effective leadership, good governance and timely implementation.

The foundation for Barbados’ economic recovery is not simple bookkeeping; it is much deeper.

• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email: [email protected]

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