The pain of austerity will hit home in a few weeks’ time for some Barbadians; for others, it already has.
Admittedly, in recent times we have been consistently warned to brace for difficult times ahead, but there’s a sense that reality is now settling in.
We have all had front row seats to the flurry of meetings involving the Social Partnership, the intense discussions with the International Monetary Fund, the telling revelations of the Barbados Economic Recovery Team about the dire state of the economy – the out of control debt, the severe drop in foreign reserves, the loss in investment, the painful debt restructuring exercise, and more.
Still, last evening’s news of at least 1,500 public sector job cuts in the coming weeks drove home the cold, hard reality of the long road to recovery.
“We give the country the assurance that while we do not have the exact numbers because we are following process, rather than arithmetical deductions, we know that it is unlikely to be more than 1,500 people over the course of the next few weeks. But, regrettably, one is too many,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in a national address.
Late this evening, officials from the National Union of Public Workers identified the pending cuts of 955 workers from central government from that total.
Despite Mottley’s valiant attempt to cushion the blow by announcing the establishment of a household mitigation unit, a full severance payment package and other planned initiatives to buy back the services of displaced workers, there’s no avoiding the bitter pill, particularly since it comes just ahead of the Christmas season and the awaiting New Year.
There is nothing new about this tale. We can only hope that with the commitments set out by the Prime Minister, that the chaos, pain and confusion of the December 2013 restructuring exercise will not again rear its head.
It is frankly an injustice that these workers who played no part in directing the economic mess that necessitates the pending cuts and other austerity measures, will be the ones to suffer; those who mismanaged our affairs and brought Barbados to its knees will just merely observe from the sidelines as private citizens.
That is why Prime Minister Mottley will have to endure intense scrutiny on her Government especially since her predecessors have left us all bleeding and skeptical.
More than anything, Barbadians want a Government that will exercise sound economic judgement.
For now, Barbadians will have to settle down to accept the measures staring us in the face that we are told will lower our ballooning debt, save our dollar and stave off further crisis.
With tough targets under the International Monetary Fund-supported BERT programme, there is little choice but acceptance, so we press on, hopeful that it will deliver promised results.
But in the meantime, Government can help to bolster confidence, by leading by example.
Indeed, in the words of the Prime Minister, many hands make light work, and Government has to demonstrate that its own hands are firmly on the wheel to steer a course away from the wastage we have witnessed in the last decade.
And so, it will be increasingly difficult for the Mottley Cabinet to sidestep concerns about its size, particularly at a time of austerity.
Government would also do well to remember that belt-tightening is only half the fight. It must be accompanied by solid attempts to foster long-term growth in the country with the support of the Social Partnership and citizens.
Only then can long-term economic stability appear on the horizon.
Barbadians cannot hope for instant economic turnaround. But we keep the faith that we will emerge from this current crisis to a stable economic future.
Perhaps, then, it is time we all lead by example. For many hands make light work.