Going with Owen

Government again turns to Arthur to head economic advisory council

It seems as though former Prime Minister Owen Arthur will lead Government’s economic advisory team, after all.

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has finally been convinced that Arthur is the right person for the job in these difficult economic times, an official source told Barbados TODAY.

The former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader – now Independent Member of Parliament for St Peter – would not comment on the pending appointment, and during a news conference today, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler neither confirmed nor denied the report.

Asked by Barbados TODAY about Arthur’s selection, Sinckler appeared to be taken aback and hesitated before reiterating that a reformed national council of economic advisors made up of experienced Barbadians was being established.

“The persons I have invited to serve have all resoundingly responded in the affirmative and in the national interest and I expect to be able to share those names with you very shortly,” Sinckler said during the hour-long news conference at Cabinet Office.

“I believe Barbadians will be generally happy with the persons who have come forward,” he added.

Arthur had confirmed to Barbados TODAY in November 2015 that he had been approached by Sinckler to replace the retiring Sir Frank Alleyne as head of Government’s independent advisory council on the economy.

Just as he did today, Sinckler never confirmed of denied the appointment was on the cards. However, later that month he made it clear he was willing to work with the former Prime Minister in the country’s interest.

He said at the time that Arthur had a contribution to make “and in the fullness of time we will be able to see how that contribution can be made”.

Sinckler had even taken on critics who said at the time the former Prime Minister should not be given the post because of his long affiliation with the BLP, insisting: “Mr Arthur was a Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for 14 years, he’s been in politics for 40 years, 30 of those active, and his views are well known.”

However, the arrangement fell through – it is believed Stuart was not convinced it was the right decision – and Sinckler would later accuse the former BLP leader of driving the economy into “intensive care” and leaving the Democratic Labour Party administration to face a massive debt burden.

“There is a lot of intellectual dishonesty that goes on in Barbados,” he had told Parliament in March last year in response to assertions by Arthur that the economy had remained in intensive care and that it was still in a very delicate position in terms of its achievement of growth.

During his press conference today, Sinckler gave the assurance that there would be no major increases in taxes when he presents the upcoming Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, neither will there be any major retrenchments. However, he said in a bid to get the deficit down from eight per cent of gross domestic product to 5.5 per cent, Government was exploring the possibility of refinancing certain aspects of its domestic debt.

This is very much in keeping with one of the proposals that had been advanced by Arthur, who was credited with managing a successful economy during his 14 years at the helm of the BLP-led Government from 1994 to 2008.

However, a likely bone of contention will be the printing of money, which Sinckler today admitted would continue for the foreseeable future.

Arthur has repeatedly called for an end to the practice, which he described in Parliament last year as “an act of vandalism” which placed the stability of the Barbados dollar in peril.

The former Prime Minister and the Stuart administration have also held different views on privatization and a number of projects, with Arthur advising that Government needed to take the “unpopular and painful step” of divesting or amalgamating some state enterprises “as soon as practicable”, and stressing that caution was needed on the $500 million sugar restructuring plan; the Sam Lord’s Castle redevelopment, the proposed marina in Bridgetown and the cruise pier – all of which he had said could wind up posing an additional burden to the already stretched public purse.

Also insisting during a presentation in Parliament last March that failure was not an option, the former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said Government needed at least $500 million in capital investment to put the island back on a sustainable growth path.

Sinckler today suggested the administration was well on its way, saying he was confident that final approval would be given to the Sol Group oil deal, which, when taken with Sam Lord’s and First Citizens’ monies, was expected to rake in some $200 million.

He also revealed that inflows in the amount of $30 million were expected from the Development Bank of Latin America, otherwise known as CAF, and a further US$35 million from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to fund two water projects. Another $50 million in support is also due from the CDB for an education sector enhancement project.

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