Wednesday, April 17, 2024

ONLY HUMAN: Public sector jobs a key issue


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For the second general election in 21 years, the future of public sector jobs will be a major issue. The argument now, as back in 1991, is that these jobs need to be cut in an effort to rein in Government spending.
This is important because the spectre of International Monetary Fund (IMF) involvement is as real today as it was then.
You may recall only a few weeks ago the IMF’s deputy division chief Therese Turner-Jones stressed that for Barbados to see an effective turnaround in its ailing economy it needed to take quick corrective action, similar to what was done in 1991 when there were layoffs of hundreds of public sector workers and an eight per cent cut in others’ salaries.
So, whichever party wins the upcoming general election must tackle this matter head-on.
Already both the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) have been sparring over the issue. Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler struck the first telling blow on September 9 when he said the BLP was planning to send home 10 000 public servants if it won the coming general elections.
In addressing a meeting of the DLP’s St James South constituency branch, Sinckler said: “They don’t want to say to the public that if they are elected they will send home 10 000 public servants, which is what they are really planning to do. And I can say it now without fear of contradiction . . . that plan is to gut the public service.
“So all those people out there who are holding on to a job, the difference between you having that job and you not having that job is the Democratic Labour Party winning the next Government.”
The following day Opposition Leader Owen Arthur categorically dismissed Sinckler’s charge as untruthful and wicked, and stated that in the 14 years his party was in power “nobody ever got sent home”.
Arthur stated: “It is really shocking that a person holding a public office could make such an untruthful statement. . . . There’s absolutely no truth in it and Sinckler knows it, and it was published purely for the purpose of causing panic.”
One does not know who is telling the truth or lying, but in the silly season politicians are known to make all kinds of statements. It’s as if they all hold to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’ idea of the “big lie” tactic in which a lie, no matter how outrageous, is repeated often enough that it will eventually be accepted as truth.
We have seen this “big lie” tactic used in Barbados before to full effect, especially in 1991.
Speaking at a mass meeting in Hothersal Turning, St Michael, on January 10, 1991, Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) totally rejected BLP claims that 4 000 jobs would be cut after the DLP regained office, and termed it a case where the Opposition was so power hungry that they would have said anything to grab power.
Sandiford stated: “I want to reject categorically any suggestion or any imputation or any hint that there is any proposal on the part of the Democratic Labour Party to dismiss 4 000 civil servants or any such number after we win the general elections on January 22.
“It is a downright untruth and it is a scare tactic and we must put an end to this kind of political behaviour . . . . I believe that there is something very dangerous and something very wicked . . . when you have persons who are seeking political power and they are so desperate to gain that political power that they would even destroy your own livelihood and your welfare and that of your children.”
As we all know, within months of winning that election, Sandiford’s Government laid off nearly 3 000 public servants and imposed an eight per cent salary cut on those remaining.
But that was then. What do we know now of either party’s plans for public sector jobs?
Over and above the efforts of the Medium Term Fiscal Plan, Government has yet to spell out how they will restructure the public service effectively and still save money.
The BLP have stated that stimulus rather than austerity is the way to go because Barbados has the foreign reserves to support this now, unlike in 1991. And in July at a public meeting in Deacons Road, the party’s economics spokesman Clyde Mascoll laid out one option the BLP proposes to use to deal with the economy and sustain jobs in the public sector.
Of course, proposals are just that. They are not a definitive policy position. To my mind, both parties need to stop their silly grandstanding and detail how they intend to deal with this issue. All right-thinking Barbadians should be demanding the same thing, as this is too critical a matter for blind partisan acceptance.
• Sanka Price is the SATURDAY SUN Editor.


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