Double standards

Compare October 2015, 2016, 2017 versus October 2020 and ask yourselves if the Central Bank Governor had delivered that report – which was presented recently, about the state of the Barbadian economy, back in the aforementioned years, how much different the responses would have been!

I liken it to a measure of distraction which has pervaded the public discourse in just a few years.

The fact that former Minister Chris Sinckler would have been pilloried in all sections of the society, and media, if he presided over a report like this last one, speaks to a general deterioration in basic discourse on key economic performances on this island. This island’s economy has been in recession since August 2018 and yet the discussion has been conveniently focused on the context of foreign reserves being high. What about local sectoral decline, even before COVID-19 impacts?

We are only hearing about the high foreign reserves holding, which is akin to a storefront with these wonderful products but the only things you can afford are not available, so it is all for show or for public relations.

We have been short-changed from Government actually respecting the public enough to speak on economic matters.

We are now making paying credence to rating agencies great again. Now we are praising Standard and Poor’s and their maintaining this island’s rating. It is stunning that even given the dramatic decline in the island’s economic performance and output, that this agency could maintain the rating, yet the performance by the established metrics is worse within the productive sectors within the economy. Compare previous sectoral reviews in past years with October 2020 and can we realistically say what merited the affirmed rating?

Sinckler would have been savaged by certain sections of the private sector and media if he was the Minister now. We would have heard that government should have designed a plan to deal with our economic challenges. When the previous government pointed to the decline of the global financial markets, they were told off by some familiar voices who argued that government should stop blaming the recession, and the drag on the local economy, but COVID-19 pandemic and its impact is deemed to be an apt reason and the private sector seems sated.

Tourism faces an unprecedented challenge, as does the international business sector. The island is still struggling to avoid being blacklisted by the EU, yet all is well, go about your collective business, mind the ‘shiny’ object of taxpayers footing the bill for removing the statue of Lord Nelson from our precious Heroes Square, even as the Parliament Buildings in the background, where laws were made to undermine and deny the rights of the majority and promote those of the economically powerful majority, is to be celebrated. Not to mention forts and windmills and sugar factories which are monuments to the same time and the destinations of the enslaved and those who came after are praised. Wow, good job!

No excuses for the trade union movement. We had march after march over economic matters, and yet with over 50,000 applications for unemployment and prices increasing in the commercial sector and even food prices, the trade union movement remains muted, why is that?

It is the season of ‘puff and fluff’ as the force field is strong protecting this government from scrutiny. For this country’s sake, we have to hope that this changes soon.

In fact, where is the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs? When last have we heard the substantive Minister speak to the country on the state of the economy?

It was also convenient that yet another IMF review of the state of the Barbadian economy, offers little tangible information. I have long wondered why the IMF continues to offer a press release that consistently pointed to the state of the foreign reserves as of May 2018, to compare with October 2020.

Why does the IMF not speak to the state of the workforce and the ability of Government to meet its commitments? What about the level of taxation and is it sustainable? What about the prospects given the lockdowns facing major tourism source markets? What about the assessment of the BOSS and BEST programmes, rather than a constant rehash? In fact, in the next release, state what percentage of the reserve holdings are from the IMF and other multilateral lending institutions? When will Barbados be in a better position re earning foreign reserves?

So then we had the stunning admission from this administration, in recent comments that apparently Barbados is actually more than an economy, it is a society. That refrain was dismissed before as we were told that the country’s economy was paramount, and once that was fixed everything would be fine.

So what happens when the economy is struggling? Parents losing jobs, children having to go to school, prices increasing, along with bills, yet a government is interested in parties and celebrations, all while the same forces – so vocal before, seem muted.

Consultant after consultant being hired, as people continue to lose their jobs and – stone cold silence. Where is the response to the concerns raised about the unemployment fund, since the NIS was always attacked previously related to its exposure to Government paper? What is the status of the NIS, as of October 2020? What about the printing of money to meet Government’s monthly commitments? Has it stopped?

A tourism sector which is struggling and yet no rational discussion from the Minister. The UK lockdown, along with some major European countries, means that tourism performances for the 2020-2021 winter season will face significant cancellations as travel restrictions start to take shape.   

We face a difficult winter season but hey – the foreign reserves are high and Nelson statue moving.

Barbados Advocate

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