Monday, April 22, 2024

The coming Budget


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THERE IS NO DOUBT that the widely anticipated August Budget presentation will prove to be one of the most politically challenging to the framers of economic policy in Barbados.  
This is because whatever policy and economic decisions emerge from the budget, the widely ventilated issue of the dire economic situation will have resulted in sufficient information by the public to allow for fairly “relevant” if not reasonable prescriptive expectations by the various interested civic bodies.
Indeed, since the last election public debate has moved from a false argument over privatization to an emerging consensus on the need to correct a $400 million deficit as the main issue facing Barbados.  
Where disagreement persists, it now revolves around the pace of the anticipated austerity, with one group proposing swiftness and deep intensity, and the other preaching gradualism.
It is this context that makes for a particularly politically troubling Budget. Since everyone knows what needs to be done, this advance knowledge creates room for political wrangling over specific self-interests, with each group looking only after itself and Government caught in the middle, but unable to please everybody. Disappointment is thus inevitable.
Already, the “self-centredness” of the various groups has moved centre stage in the pre-Budget discussion. The private sector has maintained its ideological opposition to Government ownership of enterprises, wanting that space for itself. While remaining strident in its call for austerity, it insists that Government should finance investment in tourism promotion and infrastructure development in order to shore up the business sector and protect jobs.
The unions, in turn, have somewhat naively reminded the Government to “keep its election promise” to avoid layoffs.  
Most economists agree that despite austerity, the most vulnerable and marginalized should be protected as a safeguard against extreme poverty, indigence and escalations in anti-social disruptions.  Finally, middle and lower income households and consumers generally feel that they have borne the burden of taxation from previous Budgets and that there is no more space left to be taxed.
This is the juggling act that Government is called upon to preform come August. The saving grace in all of this is the fact that the Government is mere months into a  second term and as a result, should be relatively free from narrow concerns of political survival.
Also, by delaying the coming harsh decisions ’til after Crop Over, it has perhaps gotten the timing right, since it is well known that West Indians party first and suffer later.
Given the inevitability of political fallout, the Government would be well advised to sharpen its public outreach, since only the most sincere, honest, truthful and clear explanation and convincing exercise, by word and deed, will suffice to hold the suffering public true to the necessity of the moment. Barbados waits.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the Univeristy of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email


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