Sunday, April 21, 2024

IT’S MY BUSINESS: The empty space behind the curtain


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Based on investment projects that have been identified by private sector enterprises, and infrastructural and other projects, which Government plans over the next five years, growth rates rising from about one per cent in 2014, to over three per cent in 2017 are achievable. – Page 3, Central Bank of Barbados (CBB) Press release on Barbados economy, July 2013.
With the economy continuing to contract by over half a per cent for the first six months of this year, and no growth last year, according to Page 7 of the above-cited report released last week, and almost every key indicator pointing the wrong way, the “Government” has finally ceased to promote the fiction that it is stable.
The best the Central Bank can do now is to state that fiscal growth is “achievable”.
Tourism, the international business sector and financial services have all contracted (CBB June Press release, Page 1), and “the foreign reserve cover fell from 19 weeks of imports as at March to 16 weeks at the end of June (also Page 1)”.
We have also been told that absent a sizeable inflow of foreign exchange, the reserve position will get much worse.
I don’t need to repeat all of this bad news because we already know the details. However, what we are going to do about it is still being debated both inside and outside the corridors of “power” on Bay Street.
You may have noticed that so far I have put the words Government and power in quotation marks. Because there seems to be no “there” there.
It is as if Dorothy and her three friends had pulled back the curtain to expose the Wizard of Oz and, instead of finding a portly old buffoon, they found an empty cubicle with a tape recording playing on a loop.
There is no prime minister – or minister, period – seemingly willing or able to address the Barbados nation and give its citizens some direction, even if only to offer “blood, toil, tears and sweat”, as Winston Churchill told his country on assuming office in 1940 with Hitler poised to invade.
Perhaps the minister of finance is too busy writing his Budget speech, which we are told will outline the measures to be taken to reduce Government’s spending by three or four hundred million dollars, and also disclose where the billion in new stimulus-like spending will come from.
In the absence of direct leadership from these two top officials, the Central Bank Governor has seemingly become the spokesman for financial policy.
So the institution which stood in regal defiance to the rising chorus calling for Government to act to save the economy over the past two years – and which repeated ad nauseum that the economy was stable – has now gone a step further. In the other direction.
In the presumably temporary silence emanating from those corridors of power, the bank’s top official is now also performing like a policy-maker defending his policies.
This is not the job of the Central Bank of Barbados or its top official.
In microcosm, and mercifully without the violence, the situation we are in today reminds me of the first months of World War II, and the need for decisive action which the then leadership of Britain was unable to muster.
There you had a decent and upright leader who thought that by weathering the storm, things would eventually work out. By September Neville Chamberlain had to admit that his policy of appeasement had failed and declared war on Germany. As things grew worse, the man who had warned of Germany’s true intentions all along, and who many in the country did not want to see in any office again, was recalled from retirement. Within a year he was appointed prime minister despite grave misgivings even from those at the very top of his own party.
That man was, of course, Winston Churchill.
In Barbados we have a man who is credited with giving Barbados the prosperity it enjoyed for almost 14 years, except for the crisis ensuing from the events of September 11, 2001, from which his own economic guidance ensured a reboot of the local economy.
That man is Owen Arthur.
If the politicians could put their egos aside and let Mr Arthur lead the economy for a couple of years, assuming he would be interested, I believe we would have a chance of sharpening our policies and taking the tough decisions to put Barbados back on track.
Will it happen? You tell me.
Instead, the empty space behind the curtain awaits the input of the Social Partnership, apparently. We will get out of this mess by committee.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart seems incapable of taking tough decisions and even less capable of communicating them to the public. The curtain has been flung open but the Wizard is not even there.
• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.


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