The Barbados economy is currently suffering from its most severe case of internal imbalance since Independence. This is especially evident in the fiscal crisis that has gone unresolved for over five years, notwithstanding the introduction of a fiscal strategy in 2009 that was poorly conceived.
There is growing evidence of an emerging external imbalance that is being masked by the use of moral suasion and regulation to slowdown the uses of foreign exchange.
The seriousness of the crisis is being swept under the carpet as information is selectively being made public and at times that is carefully selected.
It is unbelievable that more than 14 months after the introduction of a 19-month fiscal adjustment programme in August 2013, the Government has not reported in any comprehensive way to the people.
This country had grown accustomed to an annual Budget presentation in the best of times with a few aberrations. And in the worst of times, the need for a Budget is even more critical, yet Barbadians now have to guess about what should be the most important day on our fiscal calendar after the Estimates.
There can be no justification for not reporting to the country on the true state of the Barbados economy, when a crisis has been admitted and its admission is used selectively to put a case for the Government’s failure to achieve an outcome. This is what the country has become, a justification for underperformance.
It is remarkable to me that a country with the pride and industry of a jewel in the crown has bowed to mediocrity. It is now the prevailing standard as men blessed with the penchant for masking reality, parade their underachievement with gusto. Success is now being measured by how much we achieved in averting disaster and not by the progress we have made.
But the greatest disaster may be found in the obvious confusion that is indicative of lack of leadership as members of the Cabinet struggle to find common ground on the most basic of public policy.
This is best exemplified in the issue of tuition fees at the University of the West Indies (UWI), which is still owed close to $200 million by the Government. The excess that is expected to accrue from the unexpected savings of the fee policy, resulting from the larger than forecast drop in student enrolment, should be allocated to the UWI in good faith.
The Government has now become obsessed with the numbers at the expense of the incidence of its public policy. The political party that boasted of its progressive educational policy has now reversed the vision of its founding father for which there can be no legitimate excuse based on social grounds of equal opportunity for all.
Furthermore, the equally important, if not more critical service of health care, has been met with a callousness that is unbecoming of a political party rooted in the principles of democratic socialism. The pragmatism of the numbers has now become the master of its social architecture that is displaying increasing evidence of decay.
Every effort is being made to undermine the gains of a people with pride and industry, as the fiscal ignorance of the Government separated a society from an economy, on the grounds that one is more important than the other. It was the lowest bar to which intellectual gymnastics could descend.
Ironically, notwithstanding the obsession with its fiscal numbers, in June of this year, some ten months into the programme, it was reported that the fiscal deficit had improved by a meagre $5 million. The targeted improvement for the 19 months is in excess of $760 million, so it does not take a magician to work out the lack of progress.
There was a temporary fiscal consolidation tax, in the vein of the VAT rate increase that will become permanent. The proposed use of the addition revenue to “assist with the efforts of the BTA in marketing Barbados overseas to improve our arrival figures” has not occurred. During a recent awards ceremony that featured representatives of the British market, some increase in arrivals from the market was alluded to without any analysis.
The progress of the jewel in the crown is now to be measured by the amount of British subjects who take the time to visit our shores without regard to what they have spent, where they have spent and why they have spent. We have been reduced from focusing on nationhood to numbers.
Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.