Friday, April 12, 2024

EDITORIAL: Voters need to know


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THE SIGNS ARE clear that the political parties are gearing up for what will be one of the more important general elections since we gained our nationhood.

This country is at the crossroads and is faced with a number of financial potholes that must be dealt with urgently. Our foreign exchange reserves now cover 10.3 weeks of imports, below the benchmark of 12 weeks cover, and calls are being made for the Government to further reduce spending in order to more sharply curb the deficit on current account.

Inevitably, calls are being made for recourse to funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the dreaded devaluation word has crept into conversations, much as it did in the early 1990s. And just as the then administration of Sir Lloyd Sandiford steadfastly set its face against that notion, so too has the present Government.

We think that a “no devaluation” policy is right, and we urge all Barbadians to that point of view since history has shown that there are no tangible or long-lasting benefits to be gained from such a move. We hope that the Prime Minister’s assurance that there will be no devaluation of the Barbados dollar, or any “panic” running to the IMF for balance of payments support, would have poured some much-needed oil on what are troubled waters.

But the economy is not out of the woods and the fact that reliance has been placed upon the proposed sale of the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL) to produce US$100 million to boost the reserves raises issues that should be seriously debated long before the election date is announced.

Given the Prime Minister’s intimation that there may be more divestment of state enterprises, that sale seems to represent an aspect of creeping privatisation, a policy blasted by the Government when it was raised as part of a solution to the country’s problems in the last election.

The two-seat margin of victory suggests that the emotional advertisement portraying possible privatisation of the Transport Board had a major impact upon the election outcome.

Elections are won not by rational appeals to reason but, more often than not, by naked appeals to the emotions of the voters aimed at persuading them that their interests are better served by voting in a particular way.

In our view the public interest requires that there be a detailed discussion on the present state of the economy and where it is headed. The country can no longer rely on incomplete snatches of information on campaign platforms to satisfy the right of voters to know.

All political parties and public spirited citizens have a duty to stimulate ongoing public debate about our economy since it is clear that the policies practised since 2008 have brought us to this point and have not been the total success their proponents thought they would be.

Professor Sir Frank Alleyne has described the BNTCL as “the crown jewels” of state assets, while Professor Michael Howard has remarked that the Stuart administration is “hard ears” for not taking his advice to approach the IMF back in 2013 when the reserves were much higher.

One does not have to totally agree with their opinions, learned though they are, to recognise that fact-based information must be put before the electorate in a timely manner, beginning now.


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