BCCI President Lalu Vaswani has the ear of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (L) at Friday's luncheon. (A. Miller/BGIS)
By Sharon Austin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- Unjustified, unreasonable and going against the grain of Barbados’ post-independence economic history, is how Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has described the criticism of his minister of finance, Christopher Sinckler, in relation to his handling of the Barbados economy.
Stuart expressed this view last Friday at a Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s luncheon.
He told the business people that Barbados’ foreign reserves stood at 15 weeks cover, seven times as high as they were in 1991 when they were at their lowest. In addition, he noted that the fiscal deficit was lower than former Prime Minister Tom Adams’ nine percent, and unemployment was half of what it was under former Prime Minister Errol Barrow in 1975.
The prime minister said: “As has been repeatedly acknowledged by economic commentators the world over, the current recession is deeper and more stubborn than any of the recessions referenced above [between 1974-1976, 1981-1982 and 1990-1993] …
“The 2008 recession has exposed and laid bare the fragility of our economy and its sensitivity to exogenous shocks. Hence the need for restructuring can no longer be postponed. We must be prepared to leave our comfort zones; or to put it differently, to leave the security of our accustomed positions.”
Stuart surmised that the challenge facing Barbados in 2014 and beyond was to restructure the economy and to reposition Barbados by placing it on a sounder footing.
He said the Chamber had an important role to play in repositioning the Barbadian economy.
“At a general level, it is vital that you adopt a proactive strategy in your engagement of the restructuring exercise. A defensive posture is self-defeating. Experience regionally and internationally demonstrates that negativity feeds on itself. It destroys investor confidence, and undermines the macro foundations of an economy,” he charged.
The prime minister stated that the Chamber’s membership could assist the recovery and restructuring process by working with government to eliminate two key challenges that confront the nation – poor work ethic and access to financing.
He continued: “Neither the public sector nor the private sector can afford to ignore these two critical weaknesses. A good work ethic and easier access to financing are indispensable prerequisites to the sustainable development of Barbados.
“I have no doubt that work ethic has much to do with the degree of worker engagement at the workplace. A high level of worker engagement will result in the productive and effective discharge by the worker of his or her responsibilities. A low level of engagement will continue to undermine efforts at attaining the high level of productivity at which we aim.”
Stuart suggested that the approach to management and motivation was in urgent need of overhaul and promised that government would accord the issue merited attention through a renewal and acceleration of the public sector reform process.
“The country can benefit from hearing what the private sector, with the support of the trade unions, is doing to improve worker engagement since it is clearly a national problem. The government is committed to working with the leadership of workers and business to develop programmes and strategies to deal fully with the serious challenges identified…,” he underlined.
In relation to limited access to financing, the prime minister said the Chamber’s leadership was well placed to address that challenge, explaining they could draw on the experience of countries within the sub-region and internationally to design a financing/mentoring model to remove the critical bottlenecks encountered by small and potential entrepreneurs.