ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT: A couple of questions

Government has announced several initiatives in the Throne Speech which they believe are designed to spur change in this country, for the better.

I for one, am weary of the cute acronyms which speak to new proposed programmes which will feature funds to provide access to financing to the various sectors, but questions are supposed to be asked about how these funds are to be managed and the process through which applications are made, funds are dispersed and how these processes are policed to ensure that taxpayers’ interests are protected.

Government has announced a COVID-19 relief plan which has been designed to provide employment for those who have lost jobs. I applaud any attempt to reduce the unemployment levels in the country, but let me ask, was any money assigned to the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training to ensure the security of schools, in line with the concerns which were raised during a long meeting which government had with the unions?

Government mentioned the appointment of more senior teachers and more guidance counsellors. That was supposed to take effect from this new school year, so with the suggestion of monitors in primary schools to ensure that students adhere to social distancing rules during breaks and lunch hours. Who will administer this process? Will the programme fall under the Ministry of Education to administer?

The suggestion that some persons will assist the National Assistance Board (NAB) with the elderly Home Help Programme. That is fine, but what will these persons be required to do, after it was revealed during a COVID-19 scare at NAB, that it is a highly specialised job. Will any training be involved and when will the process start, through which persons will be identified?

Isn’t the de-bushing of unkept lots, something which has been thrown out month after month, as a potential job creation mechanism, even if it is temporary? We are continuing to hear about this for a long time.

Of interest, is the BEST (Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation Plan). This maximum $300 million stimulus programme is interesting for several reasons: Government has sought to intervene to provide guaranteed employment for tourism workers to the tune of 80 percent of their normal salaries; Government has sought to make an intervention into mostly private enterprises and deemed it part of the national interest; Government has yet to indicate where this money is coming from and how this money will be administered.

How will this programme impact this country’s own macro-economic position? Government has gambled that tourism is slated to rebound to normal levels, and that this key economic sector will return to its prime, as suggestions have been made that bookings for the upcoming winter season, were deemed as promising.

However, how is it that a programme which draws the banks as lending institutions was not brought into the equation? Rather than Government providing the upfront financing, Government could have acted as a intermediary and bridged the gap between the hotels and resorts, and the banks, which have excess liquidity.

Government could have provided a mechanism which allows for these private entities to access financing with guaranteed repayment which would be administered by the banks themselves. It would have given banks new customers in a depressed economy with Government through its various financial institutions helping to govern the process.

I totally agree with the process of continuing to improve the skills of the tourism sectors and the National Training Initiative could still be accessed through an agreement between the entities and Government.

What we got instead was a carefully crafted political response to a complex challenge for Barbadians. In all of this, we did not hear about the exposure of the NIS to the prolonged unemployment claims and how Government planned to address the challenges.

I guess asking questions remains the best way to proceed?


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