Friday, March 1, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: A camaraderie to die for


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New Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss succeeded last week in lowering expectations.
His speech at the Barbados Employers’ Confederation’s (BEC) luncheon was an ode to what we could achieve if only we believe. There was nothing tangible to it, but it left everyone feeling chummy with one another and patriotic toward their country.
It reminded me of the social partnership.
More “substantive” discussions, I was told, went on behind closed doors earlier in the day. Whatever may have been agreed to and may be followed through by the government we may only know in time to come.
As you can see, we are still in the month of “May”.
Yes, my friends, new Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss’ luncheon address to the annual general meeting of the BEC and the softball “questions” lobbed to him afterwards gave the minister a chance to show he was a down-to-earth, “action” figure of the Spider Man or Iron Man variety, full of passionate conviction like the former and no stranger to witticism and sarcastic humour, like the latter.
Outside of the feel-good moments, Mr Inniss was able to give the impression that he was a member of an administration actually doing something to make Barbados a modern, competitive “society and economy,” as he said over and over again.
Of course, this impression would only have stuck were the person to have just arrived in Barbados from Mars, not wandering in the policy desert of an administration which has only taken decisions designed to raise more taxes.
Who would have thought Barbados would still be in recession in 2013?
Mr Inniss mused, blaming it, of course, on the global recession. He recited highlights of the economic plight facing the country (tourism numbers down, unemployment up, among other things) as if he were somehow simply observing the state of the patient he was treating, rather than having been part of an administration whose policies have made the economy worse.
The sectors of the economy were not performing as robustly as we would all like, he said, as if letting us know that a mutual friend was not enjoying the best of health.
To put it on the right track we must all give much thought as to how to proceed, he suggested. For their part, the prime minister and Cabinet were “working around the clock to wrestle economic problems to the ground”.
Yes, he actually did say that. But, as I mentioned, this was an easy audience.
For, despite the presence of the most notable and worthy leaders of business and the unions, no one was about to make their guest speaker uncomfortable. Why would they?
So of course the speech moved onto safe terrain, over which there was little dispute in general.
Human capital was key to the success of the service economy, intoned Minister Inniss, but there were several areas of concern about this country’s human resources. We were not the most productive people around, what with people abusing sick leave, levels of productivity falling, and so on.
We must be mindful that nobody owes us a living. There are no money trees in the public or private sectors. If we don’t produce we will find that Government departments and companies will be forced to reduce staffing levels.
Somebody should tell Chris Sinckler.
I mean, this was being said the day after the minister of finance went to Parliament for rubber-stamp permission to raise the level of borrowing to pay government workers’ salaries, having not yet sent home, laid off, or otherwise parted company with, one single government employee.
Mr Inniss, who may not have had the chance to read the story in the morning papers, although one presumes he was actually in the House of Assembly and voted for the increase, was able to admonish us that these were “not ordinary times”.
Barbados could not borrow or tax its way out of this recession. Yes, he actually said that, when that is all the government of which he is a part has been doing these past five-plus years.
There being no opposition in the room, the very walls seemed to cry out: “Stop! We can’t take it anymore! And we have heard everything!”
You know what they say about walls.
Asked for some clarification of a point by head of the Barbados Private Sector Agency John Williams, Mr Inniss noted that the argument had been put forward that Government needed to cut expenses at the same time that more and more demands were being placed on it for services.
He added that reducing expenditure did not mean sending home people but being more efficient and spending money wisely.
Did the country need all of those state agencies? he wondered. Government needed to ask itself if some of them could be merged, and inefficiencies, duplication and waste done away with before considering sending home staff. Including the duplicates.
Former president of the Barbados International Business Association, Connie Smith, took him up on his “not business as usual” theme, wondering who would provide the leadership to achieve the transformation.
Mr Inniss, with the agility of a George Bush facing a shoe-throwing Iranian journalist, ducked the question. After all, he was mere feet away from Ilaro Court, the very seat of inaction.
We just talk too much and don’t do enough, he sighed, speaking collectively. We should pick a few things that need doing and do them, he said.
And when all was said and done, much more had been said and of course nothing would be done.
But the lunch and camaraderie were to die for.
• Pat Hoyos is a long-standing journalist and publisher of the Broad Street Journal.


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