As minister of finance Chris Sinckler gathers his thoughts for his August 13 Budget, he must realise that this will be the hour of decision, that not only the medium and long-term future of the island will bear heavily on the decisions he makes, but his very future may depend on the package of fiscal and monetary remedies he reveals. But, time is short and he has already missed a number of clear-cut opportunities to carry out a deep-rooted restructuring of the economy, reforms to the public sector and radical stimuli to kick-start the economy. However, there is very little to be said in terms of policy that has not already been said, and all that is left now is to drive home what are commonsense policy proposals, but which the hardened mind-set of the Barbados political and policymaking class would not even entertain.
There is no way round it, but the public sector has got an overburdened payloads of 30000 mainstream employees, and a further 20000 indirect workers who depend on the public sector – Hilton and Gems workers, and construction site workers and others who depend on government contracts. Out of a workforce of about 110000, of whom officially 11 per cent are economically inactive (about 12000), and a further 25 per cent are underemployed (about 27000), including those young men and women who work for petrol stations doing nothing but filling cars, a waste of the most important years of their lives, even given the dignity of work, the minister must admit this is crisis time. But, judging by reports on his Brasstacks interview (I missed it) there is still a stubbornness about preserving public sector jobs. What the minister must understand is that no one wants people to be unemployed, what we need are proper strategies to deal with the current situation. It is the fog of ignorance that surrounds this situational confusion of strategy and tactics and the primacy of political opportunism which not only makes the crisis even more toxic, but crowds out commonsense. To help, I will focus on a single infrastructure development that could have gone a long way towards reinvigorating the economy, the regeneration of the City.