The George Brathwaite Column – Development With Citizens in Mind
Many academics and technocrats are demanding a re-visitation of Barbados’ development model. Many are concerning themselves with reviewing the goals of national development, and coming to terms with the processes through which the country must proceed if a robust, strong, and productive economy is to emerge. Acting Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes cautioned this week that there are concerns “about the direction in which the reserves have been going. The reserves act as a buffer for the exchange rate peg, which we have held for over 40 years and which we believe is consistent with the future long-term growth of the Barbadian economy.”
This past week, Barbadians also heard from at least two personalities who have the best interest of the nation at heart. First, the Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley stated her case for doing away with the burdensome and inflationary National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL). Mottley said that she would revert to paying fees for students of Barbados at the University of the West Indies from academic year 2018 to 2019. Additionally, she is adamant about projecting people-centred development in the context of a clearly thought out and articulated ‘economic stabilisation and growth plan’ once she becomes the first female Prime Minister of Barbados at sometime between now and June 2018.
Next, the former Prime Minister Owen Arthur made his case for a new model of development in which innovation, technology and entrepreneurship are the principal drivers of economic and social activity. Clearly, these focal areas that Arthur emphasised are co-requisites for unleashing national potential and moving towards dimensions that can make Barbados competitive and better able to sustain itself.
Yet, Arthur was clear to warn, not for the first time since his 2007 budget presentation, that the era of the ‘welfare state’ was fast coming to an end. More precisely, Arthur contended that: “A developmental model based on protectionism, trade preferences, unique tax benefits and on economic sectors which do not make the fullest use of our human capital will lead Barbados into an economic cul-de-sac.”
Elsewhere and previously, this writer has argued for a ‘new political imaginary’ that is indigenous and aptly concerned with development objectives. The national gaze towards a future and sustainable development must remain people-oriented. The next government must explore, create, and be nimble enough to implement development plans which unleash the capabilities of the Barbadian people in every conceivable endeavour.
According to international economist Joseph Stiglitz: “Development represents a transformation of society, a movement from traditional relations, traditional ways of thinking, traditional ways of dealing with health and education, traditional methods of production, to more ‘modern’ ways.” The traditional as distinct from the contemporary or future is challenging Barbados to be better. It appears that both Mia Mottley and Owen Arthur, from separate pages but a similar perspective, are suggesting that all ensuing policies from now on must in of themselves be solutions to the most vexing problems facing Barbados.
To be certain, high and uncontrolled debt, fiscal indiscipline, the persistent printing of money by the Central Bank, unconscionable taxation without resulting in commensurate services, and the inability of the current administration to reverse the downward drop in both foreign exchange earnings and the holding of foreign reserves, have combined to make the lives of Barbadians much harder than a decade ago. There is growing apprehension regarding the future should Barbados continue to receive downgrades from the international credit rating agencies, and the scrutiny of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues to project ominous outlooks.
Yet, the main problems affecting Barbados are too often captured in economic terms without the requisite explanations. The above issues are indicating that those problematic areas can lead to widespread poverty, corruption in governance, and the bankruptcy of ideas evidenced in large proportions of spokespersons straight-jacketed in neoliberalism’s garbs. Perhaps, it is these problems of inertia seen under the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) that has prompted the Leader of the Opposition to share the view that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is attuned to “developing policies that will allow our citizens to achieve their dreams of moving up and getting ahead … [and] achieving the ‘expectations great’ that our forefathers envisaged for all the children who come after them.”
New national development plans, rather than totally scuttling social programs should certainly address the real problems threatening livelihoods and jobs in Barbados. The plans must be for achieving adequate levels of investments (local and foreign) coupled with gaining sufficient national mobilisation for attaining economic growth. It is the trilogy of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship that Barbados can begin to again contest in the international arenas above its body weight.
However, there still must be ample flexibility and commitment geared specifically towards providing for the social welfare needs of the country. Delving deeper, the national conversation cannot successfully go forward if there is the strong inclination to overlook demands being made by the Barbadian society. When juxtaposed to the increased poverty and the decreased standards of living that the nation has experienced since 2008, it is fathomable that a new government must be part of a way forward. It becomes futile to deny citizens their legitimate expectations for strong welfare programs just as self-evidently, it is reckless to do as the DLP has repeatedly done by ignoring the necessity for disciplined macroeconomic management and good governance.
Dr Clyde Mascoll, adviser to the Opposition BLP, argues that “the economic out-turn reinforces the failure of the Government’s fiscal strategy, which is designed to protect the foreign reserves and maintain employment levels.” Mascoll further stated that Barbados’ path under the DLP, “continues to fail” and that with the “economic growth prospects declining and debt rising,” the island is left in a place from which it must rise.
Instructively, Owen Arthur revealed that “the need for Barbados to move to a higher stage of technological sophistication derives from the fact that its transitional drivers and enablers of economic development and social platforms have been eroded in value overtime by adverse effects and now operate as fully depreciated assets.” Acting Governor Haynes is as correct as former Prime Minister Arthur and Dr Mascoll when he says that “we need to be able to get our private sector investment projects going such that those will also contribute towards the build-up of our foreign reserves situation.” There is merit in these statements to Barbadians.
More than anything else before off-loading with details on new development plans is a commitment by governing officials for transparency in our system of political economy. There must be unimpeded scope for the media, the Opposition BLP and all other contending political parties, the trade unions, and local businesses to know the precise nature of the Barbados economy and where the country stands in contrast to where it should be. It is one thing to traverse the choppy waters of neoliberalism, but it is another thing to abandon the social welfare project (Nordic or otherwise) when many more persons are today being pushed into the plight of poverty. Barbados needs development with the citizens in mind, and their expectations set as priority areas for policy formation and implementation.