A Heather Cole Column – Not an Easy Road
It’s not an easy road
Many see the glamour and the glitter
And think it’s a bed of rose
Who feels it knows
Lord help me sustain these blows
The Minister of Finance has made reference on several occasions to the economy turning the corner. Had it been at a corner, it would have been on the straight road by now because no corner in Barbados is long enough to take 9 years to turn. Having studied Government and Politics, he should have by now realized that the state of the island’s economy was never at the corner but at a cross road for nine long years, lost and waiting for his government to make a decision to take it down one of the roads to the vision of the promise land that they had presented to the electorate.
By any stretch of imagination it has not been an easy road as the government seems to be pushing the people to the road that leads to one of the most depressing times in the history of our island after slavery. It is a push back into poverty, eliminating the middle class through job loss and burdensome taxation and economic instability, the devaluation of our currency and not having enough foreign exchange to buy food. It is the elimination of free tertiary education and a healthcare system that is now less than stellar.
Of late there are two occurrences that should not be taken lightly. The first was the 20th downgrade the island received from an international credit rating agency. This affected the island’s ability to borrow foreign exchange at decent interest rates. The island is now considered a high credit risk with staggering repayment interest rates when borrowing funds. It is therefore worrisome that the Prime Minister dismissed this occurrence as an after-thought and belittled its significance.
The rational of Government’s National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) is now quite unclear. It makes no sense. The Minister of Finance said that the tax was to assist with the funding of the QEH as well as for social projects. The Minister of Finance informed the island that the levy was responsible for $BDS 50 Million in its short 3 month existence. On the heels of that statement, he also informed the public that his cash strapped government was able to increase its shares in the Latin American Development Bank at a cost of purchasing $US15 million in shares. His rational for purchasing the share was to have access to borrowing up to $US500 million dollars.
The government did not show concern about the 20th downgrade but yet spent $15M to get access to a loan of up to $US 500 million that we do not know how much and for how long it will remain as another yoke around the necks of our grandchildren. We simply do not know the full cost of any of the loans that will be made from that bank, $US 15 million plus what? Why not use the NSRL as intended?
So in essence are the people paying a levy to be left longer at the crossroads. Only $BDS 20 million remains to be spend on the QEH and the social projects. But even this is questionable as both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of International Business gave different accounts of what has happened or is happening to those funds. The Minister of Finance spoke of what the present funds will do in the future. The Minister of International business spoke in the past tense meaning that the funds have already been spent. Who does one believe?
What we know is that every road in the island is in need of repairs, and persons in communities have become frustrated after spending significant sums of money on car repairs and are now voicing their concerns. One wonders when they will pool together and sue the government for breach in the contractual arrangement by which they pay road taxes.
Were the funds used in that mysterious tender that appeared in the media last week to purchase dump truck without specifications? Perhaps Minister Lowe will be able to inform us – Sanitation Service Authority Goes Out to Tender.
One wonders if there has been discussion by the Cabinet to ensure that funds collected by the NSRL will be used to assist the Commissioner of Police in his fight against illegal firearms, to provide more resources to prevent and solve crime, to counteract fraudulent activity at the ports and even to reduce the island current debt which no one has a reasonable estimation of what it at this time.
One also wonders if the discussions of the Cabinet only center on dreaming up schemes to tax Barbadians and not about lowering the taxes on food or changing the laws so that persons can remain in the homes that they have been paying mortgages on for over 25 years in some cases. Has the Cabinet even discussed the legalization of marijuana, or creating the environment for our frustrated young people to become entrepreneurs or find work? Has the Cabinet discussed raising the wages of public servants lately or even filling those 1500 empty houses that dot the landscape? What about the looming prospects of a devalued currency? All of these are serious issues that prevent us from leaving the cross road.
Yet today the Cabinet of Barbados negligent on all of the above issues found time to discuss RH signs on bus stops. It is a pity that the level of discussion of this government in the People’s House of Parliament has fallen to a new low. What will it take to move us from the cross road.
It is not an easy road!