Had this or next year been an election year, Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart would more than likely have waited until after the people of Barbados had already voted to announce that government would sack 3,000 civil servants by March of 2014 because the economy is on the rocks and also because it has not recovered from the lingering effects of the global economic crisis.
That he and Finance Minister Chris Sinckler dared to do so in the past week is testimony to the fact that his governing Democratic Labor Party (DLP) still has at least three more years to play with before they face increasingly angry voters, worried about the state of the economy of the island tourist paradise and the fact that some retirees may face difficulty getting pension payments because previous administrations had bitten too hard into the finances of the social security system.
Addressing the nation on radio and television, the normally rather mundane and colorless Stuart said his cabinet took the very bold decision to send home more 3,000 workers in the spring after meeting with a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the state of the economy which has traditionally depended on tourism, a declining garment industry and international financial services such as offshore banking.
But hard times is more the order of the day for this 166-square mile island where Oprah Winfrey and a slew of other American celebrities have vacation homes and where Tiger Woods held a very expensive wedding in happier times.
Stuart, an attorney, was even a bit brutal in suggesting that time of the year had nothing to do with the announcement.
“The fact that Barbadians are about to celebrate the Christmas season was not a consideration to delay the decision because I wanted you to know we have taken proactive action to arrest the deteriorating fiscal position,” he said to the consternation of many including union leaders and critics.
As an olive branch to those facing the breadline, Stuart announced also that legislators and cabinet ministers will suffer a 10 percent cut in pay but this will do little to appease those in a country with limited economic opportunities.
In fact and apparently under severe IMF pressure, authorities say the first 2,000 would go home by mid January and the remainder by the end of February.
The cuts, Minister Sinckler says, would trigger government savings of about $70M, while a strict program of attrition involving workers who are near retirement would be implemented.
“This attrition is expected to reduce central government employment levels from approximately 16,970 to 14,612 jobs – a projected loss of 2,358 posts, and savings of $60 million. Over the current 19-month adjustment period, public sector employment will be reduced by an additional 501 jobs with a projected,” he said.
The island and others in the Eastern Caribbean as well as Jamaica are still struggling to recover from the global crisis but others like Guyana and Suriname as well as oil and gas-rich Trinidad are flourishing and have little need to deal with the IMF’s strict austerity measures. End/bw