EDITORIAL: Tough times for BERT

THE past couple of weeks have not been a happy period for the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme.

Launched last year to deal with the country’s economic problems, BERT has all of a sudden become the subject of severe criticism. It was always recognised there would be detractors, since there are groups and individuals in Barbados who would find ways to criticise it in light of Barbados’ competitive political system.

However, there would also be those who believe BERT made sense since they were quite aware of the country’s economic situation, and believed that the only way out must be by way of a very tough programme like what we are having with the International Monetary Fund.

Barbados had been running a fiscal deficit of about four per cent, there was no growth in the economy, foreign exchange reserves were declining, and doing so fast. Most agencies, including trade associations, were suggesting that there was a loss of confidence which had to be restored if Barbados were to emerge from that prolonged economic downturn, which had its genesis in the global crisis of 2008.

BERT therefore was the programme to get us out. It would be recalled that at a news conference last year announcing BERT, Economist Dr. Kevin Greenidge, who was seconded from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), alluded to jobs cuts in the public service, restructuring and mergers of state-owned enterprises, more fiscal consolidation on top of what the previous administration had been doing, increases in taxation, and a retooling of Government. It was always going to be a tough undertaking since the job at hand was not going to be an easy task.

Did the Government do a good job in selling the economic recovery programme? It would seem they have been since the international community – the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank – have all lauded the programme while suggesting that it is working.

Others however have a different position, and it is believed that this would have stemmed largely from some of the negative effects of the programme. The number of people who have lost their jobs as a consequence of the BERT has been at the core of the issues raised about the programme. Over 1 000 are said to have gone home.

This morning Barbadians will start paying $3.50 for bus fares, a policy that has not found favour with a number of people, since under the BERT programme user fees and other impositions are necessary in order for Government to put its house in order. The increase in water rates has also been factored into the equation and this has become contentious.

Quite recently, the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) alleged that some of the measures being carried out under BERT are proving to be a burden for Barbadian workers. The Democratic Labour Party also took issue with the programme, suggesting that it is failing Barbados; while the United Progressive Party also condemned BERT.

It is now up to the Government to come out and defend the programme if Barbadians are to buy into it. In the recent Budget, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley urged Barbadians repeatedly to stay the course.

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