RETURN OF DEVIL’s ADVOCATE: INITIAL VIEW OF BPSA MEETING PRIOR TO FRIDAY REVELATION OF JULY 24 MARCH

(Editor’s Note – This was submitted before the Unions and Private Sector finally got up and started doing what should have been done ever since! It is interesting to note the march is 2 days before the 80th Anniversary of the 1937 UprisingOur contributor? He’s a popular employee of one of the construction firms which has decided to use their boots for walking!)

The meeting was held in the Marigold Room, upstairs. I was surprised because I considered that a small space for the crowd I expected to see. True enough, the place was packed – standing room only, and eventually they brought in more chairs and opened an adjoining room so more people could sit yet still hear the proceedings.

One person commented that the white people were out in force, so you know things were dread. Another responded that they had not seen this many of the Caucasian persuasion at a meeting since the days of the Mutual in the 90’s.

Charles Herbert, BPSA head, gave a sensible assessment of the situation, citing the need for a viable medium-term fiscal policy supported by the population. He warned that harsh measures would be required to correct the current problems. He called for an implementation limit, accountability and GETTING THINGS DONE. Right now, in Bim, we just let things slide and do a lot of talking. That must change in order to get us out of this deep hole. It is to the government’s advantage to “spin top in mud,” because no-one ever calls them out on it.

The three entities in this partnership are the private sector (amply represented by the packed room!), the labour movement (trade unions) and the government, which has clearly signalled its disinterest via the Minister of Finance’s lack of receptiveness to the other two entities. However, elections are soon due…

There are two active disputes to be considered – the Govt vs Unions on the matter of the public sector wages – the BPSA is NOT involved in this fight. But more dialogue and faster reactions are required to solve this. (My take – less Implementation Deficit Disorder; a pity a little blue pill cannot solve this one!)

Dispute #2 is the BPSA + Labour vs Govt. The issues are taxation, economic issues and the ever-growing fiscal deficit.

Eddie Abed of BCCI gave a brief statement that took a very safe, comfortable route, spouting platitudes about cutting government expenditure and increasing revenue. Amazed that he could stand upright, considering his lack of spinal support. More efficiency in the way we do business, increase in wages for the unions. What was not actually said out loud, “Please do not shut down the country for Crop-Over because that would hurt our pockets.” Grade – 2 out of 10

Donna Wellington of The Barbados Bankers Association then gave a perfect example of how to say nothing and how to promise nothing while covering her organization’s ample assets. Not a word on how the bankers might be able to improve the ease of doing business in Barbados. But then, the bankers are probably the government’s biggest creditors and have next to no interest in implementing the kind of electronic measures and reforms that might actually help their customers and improve their woeful service and extreme fees. Grade? – 2 out of 10

Tony Walcott of the Barbados Employers Confederation said that since 2009-10 the cracks in the economy were starting to show. (20/20 hindsight is a real thing, doing something about problems, not so much – says this DA.) More ass-covering about recommendations made and advice not taken for political reasons. New taxes and levies creating problems. (The man must be a Mensa candidate or rocket scientist.) Warnings of labour demanding a 20% pay increase over two years. (Things that make you go H’mm.) More talk of dialogue. (DA wants to know, to what end? Neither side will budge and the Government has done a tremendous job of stone-walling and delaying and ignoring thus far. DA wants to know if Mr. Walcott knows the definition of insanity?) Grade? – 2 out of 10, and I was in a good mood laughing at this joker.

Dean Straker of the SBA was next up, reminding the audience of the SBA press conference last week on the NRSL. He warned that we would have to go the IMF and that would entail at least nine months of negotiation and that the current Government was just kicking the can down the road. He called for immediate action, in no uncertain terms, starting with the immediate removal of Chris Sinckler as Minister of Finance, and a call for the BPSA Chairman (Charles Herbert) to be given the mandate to represent business interests in Barbados. Thunderous applause from DA! Grade 8 out of 10 for having the balls to state what other people were merely thinking.

Greg McConnie of BIBA was up next and re-iterated the feeling that the current Government felt no sense of urgency in dealing with the economic crisis, was not interested in dialogue and this would continue unless we stopped it. He called for immediate changes to improve the ease of doing business in Barbados, quoting some scary statistics about the ridiculous length of time it would take to start a new international enterprise here as opposed to other jurisdictions. He also called for a social safety net to protect the most vulnerable in our society. He called for a no confidence motion NOW to get rid of the DLP administration.

Rudy Grant of the BHTA emphasised what earlier speakers had said, lack dialogue with government, failure to address urgent issues, poor fiscal strategies etc.

Then there was the PowerPoint presentation from Shane Lowe of FCIB/CIBC. (Cue the “Jaws” theme.) This was terrifying… despite some technical issues with colour on the slides, Mr. Lowe presented the current situation with a truly chilling calmness. (We are in deep poop, people. And the actions needed are both urgent and critical. If our economy was a human, the EMTs would be administering CPR and prepping for defibrillation.) Solutions were suggested that seemed workable to the DA, but they will be some very strong and harsh medicine for everyone to swallow (unless you have a guaranteed pension or other kind of nest egg tucked away somewhere, like overseas….)

Then we had some long talk from Mohammed Nasser, calling for help for agriculture and manufacturing…. Some good points from him, but is traditional manufacturing really viable for Barbados in the 21st century? Eddie Abed tried to extract himself from the swamp of his own making by claiming consensus from his several hundred members, but both Dean Straker and Charles Herbert ever-so-politely administered verbal equivalents of ‘Penfold? Shush!‘ a la Danger Mouse and shut him down.

The official take-away from the meeting, BPSA to engage with the unions and formulate a joint strategy to approach government and start the dialogue on changing things. Time line given of up to six weeks, conveniently avoiding any shut down or other action during Crop-Over and Carifesta.

DA’s take-away: Shut every sh!te down NOW and demand a) Chris Sinckler’s IMMEDIATE resignation as Minister of Finance; b) elections as soon as constitutionally possible as we have NO CONFIDENCE in the current administration.

As other people have said before us, a protest that does not cause major problems is not effective. People only change when they are FORCED to do so.

So this DA is prepared to shut the country down for two days, minimum, and call out Freundel “Silent Wonder” Stuart and all his henchmen.

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