Ex-Prime Minister of Barbados no Mike Tyson: Three Hours But No Knock-out Punch
There is a reason why Mike Tyson was feared. After all, he once knocked down a heavy-weight opponent in less than 30 seconds of the first round. On Tuesday, August 16, 2011 – Finance Minister Christopher Sinckler presented his second budget in the Parliament of Barbados. Opposition Leader Owen Arthur responded the day after and enjoyed the same three hours of television air-time, Sinckler received the day before. But Arthur’s response was no more impressive than Sinckler’s presentation was. In fact, as a three-term Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance for some 14 years (and presenting a response at a time when the economy is facing a serious fiscal crisis) it should have taken less than 3 hours to floor a DLP, which the BLP says, is weak. But I do not know that Arthur’s response will cause those who said that the Government cannot do any better – to change their minds.
Even before the budget, it was known that Barbadians were concerned about a number of issues, including: the state of the economy; high electricity bills; the cost of living, escalating crime, Clico; high fuel prices at the pump and high unemployment — to name a few. It was also known that a Poll was said to have been conducted recently, which shows that the DLP was losing popularity, quickly.
It was also known that there were two competing perspectives: One, where the Government is pushing the argument that “it cannot do anything because of the global environment” and the second, where the Opposition is saying that “it can do better” and that ‘the Government really does not know what it is doing.’ So that, even before the budget, it was clear that there was a battle on for the minds of Barbadian consumers and the electorate.
Before Arthur’s reply – popular social media sites like: Bajan Reporter; Barbados Underground and Facebook – were all carrying commentary and suggestions from Barbadians about the shortcoming of the budget and measures announced therein that needed to be addressed or warranted further explanation. The Opposition’s job was therefore made easy.
It was expected that any response to the budget would have been guided by a number of factors: (1) what Barbadians were known to have been complaining about even before the budget (2) the international climate (3) what the Minister said, and (4) an alternative approach by the Opposition. The latter being most critical, especially since, there would be no need to change the Government, if there is no policy divide or difference in approach between the present Government and the Opposition.
It really ought not to have been so difficult for the Leader of the Opposition to find innovative and sensible alternative policies to advance, especially since a ‘National Strategic Plan 2006-2025’ was conceptualised when the BLP was last in office. Arthur failed to spend time explaining the Excise Tax properly and did not even ask for an explanation whether the BNOC debt was BDS. $80m or US$80m as stated by Sinckler. Clearly Arthur did not seem concern how much of the alleged $80 million has so far been repaid.
It did not seem to occur to him either, that the Minister had announced that lands at Bush Park would be leased to: “The Barbados Rally Club” and not the umbrella car racing organisation.
As I recall, the Cultural Industries and the New Creative Economy was mooted during the time the BLP was in office but that too was not explained in detail, neither was potential earnings from Intellectual Property – much in the same way that Arthur never spent any time on the reports he said he had or the fact that it was he who was involved then in discussions about a new home for Horse Racing and Car Racing and the development of the South Eastern Corridor of the island.
Then there was the issue of the NIS Funds. The issue has to be: the serious threat to working-people as a result of the approach by the present Government as regards the use of NIS funds. This too was not explained properly. An aspect of Healthcare reform was advanced, which cannot be said to be innovative. It talks about being able to claim income tax for cost incurred in medical expenses which takes the pressure off the public’s purse, with the State carrying the cost for those at the bottom. A much better approach would seem to be to promote healthcare reform such that everyone is encouraged to “buy insurance.”
It is at that point that innovation and serious issues such as retirement training planning and counselling, as part of a mandatory national employment policy and as a long-term poverty prevention strategy, should have been mentioned. But despite Barbados becoming an ageing society, there has been no mention in the debate so far, of: “Population Ageing,” despite the fact that if left unaddressed, population ageing could have a profound effect on society and its institutions, such as the state of the economy; the delivery and use of health services, additional pressure on the NIS pension systems, family life, medical research agendas, private and public resource allocation, and living arrangements.
One especially critical concern is the perceived role of population aging in driving up “unsustainable” health costs. Yet, not a word! It is why, with people living longer – working people must find what is being done to NIS Funds, scary.
In a budget response where it was already known that the public is unhappy with the performance of the Government – Arthur could not resist the urge to take a late-jab on the issue of VECO and the Prison by saying that he was no at Cabinet the day when the decision was taken, thereby emphasizing the already visible fact that his response was: “just average.” You would, however – have to give him high marks for repeating things we have heard from him, many many times in the past.