Monday, April 22, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: Getting the truck out of the ditch


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I WAS AT a cocktail party the other night when I got dragged into a conversation with a few business people.

Somehow, I thought they were joking, but within a few minutes, their insistence on the benefits of their proposal seemed to hint at a serious intent. 

It gave me cold shivers. And these were people I know and respect. They did not see any downside in what they were kind of, sort of, suggesting. 

Which was this: a group of a dozen or so top business people with proven track records and good reputations should be brought together by someone and allowed, essentially, to run the Government.

That way, there would be no cost overruns, the deficit would be eliminated, everything would run on time, and the sky would always be blue, even if it had to be repainted that way from time to time. Sorry, that last part was just me commenting.

Suddenly, I decided that my drink needed refreshing and I dove back into the crowd.

Not to equate the two precisely, but some of those shudders went through the old spine when I read a recent statement from the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) which said that, with the country now facing what it called “the most prolonged socio-economic crisis since Independence,” there was an urgent need for short-term solutions using the full Social Partnership.

The sector’s umbrella organisation says the Social Partnership should have “meaningful dialogue on fiscal policy and infrastructural priorities,” with an oversight committee formed to actually monitor the implementation of Government’s economic policy. On top of that, it said, “efficiency committees” should meet to focus on the “ease of doing business” in Barbados.

Funny how authoritarian, anti-democratic proposals always start with the most noble of intentions.

The statement was sent out on behalf of Charles Herbert, who is apparently the chairman of the BPSA, although you wouldn’t know it, and who is also the chairman of Goddard Enterprises Ltd., one of the country’s largest companies. He said the proposals were not new ones, but were being brought up again “in light of the escalating debate on the economic situation in the country”. 

The press release bearing his name opined that the proposed oversight committee “would provide a level of accountability and transparency, thereby restoring investor and public confidence in the economic recovery”.

And, of course, it has already been put into action somewhere else: A similar group had been established in Jamaica, and has had what it called “remarkable success” there. 

Now, the efficiency committees of the Social Partnership would get busy with a lot of monitoring: They would shine their torchlights through the murky economic atmosphere onto public sector reform, and put some extra hard work into (who would have guessed?) the ease of doing business with Government departments like Customs, the Corporate Registry, and Town Planning, and “offer advice on the process of transforming them to function at the highest levels of efficiency”.

And, of course, why stop there when you’ve got such a good thing going? These committees could also, said the BPSA press release, advise on the divestment of some entities, or the merging of agencies for greater economies of scale, or outsourcing of work to the private sector. Again, who would have guessed?

And how would these very efficient committees be formed? Well, said the BPSA, they would have members from the private sector, along with the trade union movement, the public sector and academia all represented, and they would publish regular reports, to keep the Barbadian public informed. 

So let me offer a few comments here. First, what is the BPSA waiting on? They could do all of that right now – just hold a seminar or symposium and invite people from all of these sectors to speak about the way forward for the country. It could be useful and interesting.

But don’t expect the Government of the day to set all this up and invite you, essentially, to do their job. No Government is going to set up committees to encroach on its power, so if that is at least partly what you mean, just forget about it. 

It will never happen, and it shouldn’t, because that is why we have elected representatives. If they are not doing the jobs they are supposed to do – and in the present case, they certainly aren’t – others have to come forward through the political process and try to get them thrown out at the next elections. Even top executives.

But due to the dire state of the economy, you say, we don’t have the time?

Okay, you may be right.

But there is nothing in our Constitution to stop us from voting in a Government that brings our economy to its knees. And short of a successful no-confidence motion in Parliament, nothing can or should be done about it. To do otherwise means you are no longer a democracy.

Are we willing to pay that price? I certainly am not.

If the business community feels that more must be done, then just say what, and provide facts and figures which from its members’ actual dealings to show where the Government may be failing. 

The tone of the BSPA statement has a quality of paternal intervention to it, as if to say, we should be given the chance to come in and get this truck out of the ditch.

But it’s the voters who must decide, for better or worse, who will be given the keys to the vehicle for the next five years.

You cannot put the unelected to make the final decisions for your democratic country. The one thing cancels out the other.


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