Tuesday, April 23, 2024

THE HOYOS FULE: Do not disturb – Feting underway


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Truth be told, I am all in favour of keeping our public monuments clean. I will also put my hand up quickly if you ask whether we should keep our highways free of those oh-so-annoying weeds that like to grow on each side.
Even if it takes dozens of workers toiling day and night in the broiling sun, as it seems to, in order to accomplish these worthy tasks, the roads must be kept weed-free and the statues rust-free.
I am also highly in favour of Crop Over as a way to de-stress from the worry of having so little work to do, what with the economic downturn.
We have to take our minds off our loss of earning power, so hats off to all those who work so hard to provide the summer distraction, when, instead of having to think only of “work”, we are encouraged – nay, commanded – to add the participle “up” and think of that instead.
These time-honoured traditions of valiant toil on the urgent business of keeping the monuments and byways respectively free of dirt and weeds and the dedication to embodying in song and dance an important part of our cultural heritage are vital to the national pastime of distorting reality.
We must delay it, distort it, distract ourselves from it and desist from taking action on it for as long as possible.
So, despite the economic realities announced by Government in late June, to wit, that it must, this financial year, cut $275 million from its approved estimates, there must be dancing in the street first, and Bussa must gleam from top to, well, bottom.
After Kadooment, we will be read the Budget.
With a foreign exchange shortfall of half a billion dollars by year-end already predicted by the Central Bank unless action is urgently taken to stem our use of it by curtailing imports or by increasing our access to it by getting new foreign investment, one can imagine the urgency for us not to act, but to enjoy the last summer of fiscal innocence.
This may be the last summer for us to pretend – for a few glorious weeks – that all is well, that there is no economic ‘fiscal cliff’ ahead, no hard choices being formulated on our behalf.
We presumably could not get through our annual “summer of love” (and dance) in the manner to which we have made ourselves accustomed if we were at the same time taking the bitter medicine of economic reform that must surely be prescribed as soon as possible.
Under this guiding philosophy, the windows for bitter-medicine-taking are themselves fairly well prescribed. For example, whatever unpalatable things have to be done must be accomplished between August and October, because it would not do to disturb the public either during its summer festival of bacchanal, or in its enjoyment of the patriotic fervour stirred by contemplation of our Independence in November, or its joy in partaking of the family reunions that accompany Christmas.
Then, in January we are slowly re-awakening from our slumbers, so the next opportunity comes only in February. But by that time the civil servants are processing data for the annual “exercise” known as the Laying of the Estimates.
This is a mystical tradition in which numbers appear by as if magic in long columns of expenses and revenue, and which, despite the no-doubt comprehensive manner in which they are determined, often bear only coincidental relation to the actual performance of the country during the ensuing year.
At this time, the common wisdom is to wait until the numbers are in, then to discuss them through the efficient use of a parliamentary session called the Estimates Debate.
Thus, with the public’s vital need for recreation, family time, introspection, religious renewal and out-and-out feting at various times of the year, it should be no wonder why so little seems to get done in this country. Our understanding politicians just don’t want to disturb us.
It may also explain how a country which believes as a matter of core principle that its currency must not be devalued, can listen without batting an eyelid to the news that its sovereign debt’s outlook has once more been downgraded, most recently to ‘negative’, by a major ratings agency, having already crossed the line into junk territory.
There seems to be no worry that such continuing downgrades can hasten the day when devaluation is no longer an avoidable option due to the higher interest rates on foreign currency loans and the potential fall-off in investment in both Government’s commercial paper and the country itself as a result of such downgrades.
Instead, the popular belief to which we cling for dear life is that to visit Barbados is to fall in love with it, and to fall in love with it is to return again and again, and to eventually invest in a home and a business here, forsaking one’s native country.
The idea that the underlying fundamentals which led to the creation of this model may have changed so significantly as to make them almost irrelevant is hard for us to accept.
The resulting inaction in terms of fiscal and economic policy is therefore allowed to be masked by the hyper-activity of the Crop Over season, and the self-perpetuating belief that all is well until something happens.
So, yes, while I do support the polishing of monuments, the weeding of roads and the rhythmic ‘wine’ of Crop Over, for me this year’s festival has a hollow ring to it, for I know what must come (as we all do) and I would have preferred that we took the bitter medicine right away without our leaders trying to fit it into a time when we were not too busy either partying or enjoying a season with long-lost family and friends.


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