The business community is painting the Freundel Stuart administration as a virtual failure with no achievements at all of which to boast this year.
Pointing to the ongoing economic struggles and the more than year-long problems with sewage on the south coast, a clearly frustrated Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Charles Herbert seemed puzzled as to why recommended measures to drag the economy from the brink had not been implemented.
“Nothing was achieved. Not one thing. None of the recommendations have been implemented. Nothing was achieved,” Herbert told Barbados TODAY in a frank assessment of Government’s performance in 2017.
Earlier this year the Stuart administration flatly rejected several recommendations put forward by a Foreign Exchange Working Group and a Fiscal Deficit Working Group of the Social Partnership, both established in March by the Prime Minister to advise on the way forward for the economy.
In addition, the highly anticipated Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan 2017, promised by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals to “put the Barbadian economy on a path of sustainable economic recovery and reinvigorate social progress”, and which was expected to go before Parliament by this month, is still outstanding.
“We don’t even have a recovery plan. A recovery plan that was started hasn’t been approved. We haven’t achieved anything. Nothing has come to completion,” Herbert stressed.
The BPSA boss also complained about the seeming inability of the authorities to correct inefficiencies within various public sector entities, the non-payment of income tax and Value Added Tax (VAT) returns, and the vexing issue of raw sewage flowing along sections of the tourist belt on the south coast, which has already resulted in the closure of one at least one business enterprise and indefinite suspension of services at the Worthing post office.
To make matters worse, the plain-spoken Herbert said, Government instead implemented the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which was not only a “bad” tax, but “the wrong measure” to correct the fiscal problems.
“We didn’t fix the sewerage system. A year ago we all knew that was the most important thing and we didn’t even do that. I think the hallmark of the year and the most important feature has been the lack of success and implementation of anything. It has been a frustrating year where we have not implemented anything except NSRL, which is bad.
“We didn’t fix the sewerage system, we didn’t fix the economy, we didn’t refund VAT, we didn’t do anything. So to be honest 2017 for Barbados was a terrible year and its only hallmark is that we didn’t achieve anything. We always knew that the NSRL was not going to achieve what it was supposed to,” he said.
Sinckler had announced in the Budget that the NSRL would rise by 400 per cent – from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs value of imported and locally produced goods – as part of an austerity package intended to wipe out the fiscal deficit of more than five per cent.
The onerous tax, which was intended to rake in increased revenue of $291 million for a full financial year and $218 million for the remaining nine months of the current fiscal year following its July increase, brought in $50 million as at the end of September, with the Ministry of Finance admitting later that it had failed to meet expectations.
Herbert insisted the authorities knew what needed to be done to correct the economic and social issues but refused to take decisive action.
“There are things we know have to be done – we have to cut expenses, we have to throttle back and get rid of the deficit, we have to [shore up the] foreign exchange reserves. I think we have to go to the International Monetary Fund. We need to get on and do something rather than continually wait and continually blame somebody else for the problems we have,” he insisted.
The business executive said some businesses were struggling, although several were still keeping their heads above water, including those in the tourism industry.
However, he continued to insist that “the crisis in Barbados is all driven in the public sector” and that “where there is a crisis in the private sector it is because Government hasn’t paid its bills”.