BAJAN FISCAL CRISIS

Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart put on an extremely brave face and toughed the criticism out when he took to the airwaves in Barbados in the past week to announce plans by his increasingly unpopular administration to lay off 3,000 civil servants by March of next year.

Blaming the global economic crisis for the state of the economy, Staurt said that some of those being sent home are being let go on the advice of international multilateral agencies and could occur by the end of this year, while others will join them by the end of February.

He said also that cabinet ministers will see their salaries and emoluments cut by 10 percent, but former Prime Minister Owen Arthur is suggesting that the pink slips should be more broad-based and sweeping to include political appointees linked to his Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

“In the same way that Mr. Freundel Stuart and his Cabinet will send home people, Mr Freundel Stuart must send home some of his ministers,” he said, adding that ministers salaries are “already in the nature of a cost overrun.”

Stuart has not had much time to respond to Arthur, an economist by profession, but has been busy along with Finance Minister Chris Sinckler trying to manage the political fallout and the anger the announcement has triggered.

General elections are not due for another four years. Stuart jangled nerves in February when his Democratic Labor Party (DLP) barely beat Arthur’s Barbados Labor Party (BLP) by two seats, 16-14, dropping four from 2008; but it is unclear when he could reduce the anger the dismissals will engender. The win kept the island tradition of two terms for each party.

“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.

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 economy depends largely on tourism for survival as well as garment manufacturing and international financial services.

It 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.

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