Monday, April 22, 2024

ONLY HUMAN: PM and horse, cart muddle


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“I said that research should be done in the month of September and that by the end of September it should be with the Head of the Civil Service for discussion with me so that we can see what the overall impact of the budgetary measures would be on the Public Service, and to try to see therefore how best we can achieve the cuts we want without having to cause disruption in the households of Barbados  . . . .
“I haven’t spoken to everybody but some people have reported back to me that it is a good thing we did it that way because we are now getting to the real figures . . . . we will now get the real estimates of revenue and expenditure.” – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in an interview in Toronto, Canada.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart should be commended for his leadership in seeking to minimize job losses in the Public Service as his administration seeks to cut spending to reduce our huge fiscal deficit.
Thanks to his timely intervention, it seems the analysis that should have been done initially is now being undertaken, and this has brought some clarity to the process.
It is clear that Government needs to stop its runaway spending, and with the majority of that being used for salaries and wages, it is obvious some job losses would occur. To continue trying to suggest otherwise is folly. That is why keeping these separations low while still achieving the desired cuts is good news.      
However, Stuart’s success raises a number of questions about the August 13 Budget presentation related to the level of research and analysis that went into its preparation by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
Given that the Prime Minister has stated that the research on the impact of the measures on the Public Service is now being done and the information so far suggests the administration has a clearer picture of how they can proceed without axing people, one must ask why this was not done by Sinckler’s team  preparation for the Budget.
After all, he had six months between being re-elected and presenting the Budget. This was more than enough time to get this done, given
that the Prime Minister has been able to obtain this information in less than a month.
Secondly, were the technocrats in the civil service intimately involved in the preparation of this Budget as they normally would have been? Or, were they allowed to see it, and if so, were they given adequate time to respond to the final document or draft of the final document?
And if not, why not?
Based on what is happening, it would seem they were not privy to much of the Budget’s details or given adequate notice of them, because experienced civil servants would have certainly picked up on the errors and vague statements made.
The fact that Government is now working out how to cut wastage to keep the same number of people employed demonstrates this point. So, too, does the furore caused by Sinckler’s announcement of a municipal solid waste tax of 0.7 per cent on land.
Following the Budget, Minister of Industry Donville Inniss said there was an error and it would be clarified, but to date no subsequent announcement has been made. And, of course, we also had the clarification being made by the Inland Revenue Department on the consolidation tax that was introduced by Sinckler.
In summary, clarity was needed from the Budget on the administration’s way forward. What we got instead was confusion over revenue-earning measures and panic within the civil service ranks over their job security.
And all of this leads to lack of confidence in the country – making Sinckler’s statement in the Budget about a lack of confidence in the economy a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When a Minister of Finance delivers a Budget speech, it therefore has to be accurate because business people, in particular, hold on to every utterance, and they base their plans on those pronouncements.
A slapdash presentation, with provisions made for ad libs where errors and confusion arise from such a major policy speech, would lead them to believe the Government cannot be taken seriously.
What’s more, as what a Minister of Finance says during the presentation of the Budget becomes law, there can be no ambiguity as to what he intends. He should never be ad libbing as Sinckler did.
This is why the Prime Minister’s intervention was crucial and timely.
That it seems to be bearing fruit which may lead to fewer job losses this financial year is even more significant.
Clearly Sinckler has dropped the ball – again. Will he be held accountable or will it be business as usual? Time will tell.
• Sanka Price is a NATION editor.


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