EDITORIAL: Mixed views on BERT
THERE continues to be mixed positions on just how effective the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme has been on Barbadians.
Those who are in charge of BERT and who see it as beneficial to the island are full of praise for the economic recovery package and what it has done to date.
However, there are others who, in assessing BERT’s impact, believe the programme has put ordinary Barbadians under enormous pressure to the point that there are continuing calls for the Government to ease the stranglehold which BERT has on ordinary Barbadians.
When Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley warned last week she is unable to guarantee there won’t be further layoffs or additional taxation, that suggests more pressure for people in future as Government looks to achieve its targets including the controversial primary balance.
Last week a team from the International Monetary Fund completed an assignment in Barbados, which the team leader, Dr. Bert van Selm, said was at the request of the Government.
In a news release issued just before the IMF team departed the island, Dr. van Selm said that Barbados continues to make progress in implementing its economic recovery programme. He cited, among other things, the improved position of the country’s international reserves, noting that they had increased from Bds$440 million at May 2018, to Bds$1.48 billion at December last year.
An IMF team will be returning to Barbados in May this year, he said.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados has lauded the efforts Barbados is making with the programme, although agreeing that more needs to be done. In talks at a recent IDB function, Ms. Mottley said that this year promises to be a good one for the country.
The BERT programme was implemented in late 2018 to correct what the Government said were a series of economic imbalances. BERT therefore involved a mixture of revenue-raising and expenditure-cutting measures, which were aimed at bringing down a high fiscal deficit estimated at around four per cent of GDP, dealing with inefficiencies in the public service, and setting a broad range of policies to deal with the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The programme featured as well a domestic and external debt restructuring component, both of which were done; and to reposition the economy for future economic growth. At the end of December 2019, the economy was still very much in recession.
For those who have been analysing the programme, their conclusion is that BERT has resulted in real problems for ordinary Barbadians. Many of them have lost their jobs in both the public and private sectors as Government went about its economic recovery programme. They are paying more taxes and higher fees for government services including bus fares; and the cost of living, which was blamed on the National Social Responsibility Levy (which is now history), remains a real burden for people.
Some commentators are questioning the economic growth projections which the Central Bank released at its January 29th economic review. While there have been some improvements, the policies have proven to be costly. This is where BERT is at. We therefore expect these differences of opinions to continue so long as the policy script hits people in their pockets and affect their standard of living.