When Barbados Minister of Economic Affairs, Dr David Estwick, got up at a constituency conference in the rural parish of St Philip last Sunday and declared that the government of Barbados must institute a national wage freeze and sell off state assets, it was Dr Estwick’s lips that were moving, but the voice we were hearing was really that of Dr Estwick’s master – the International Monetary Fund (IMF)!
It was around the middle of last year that the IMF held a “consultation” with the Government of Barbados, and instructed the Government that they were required to reduce Government’s wages bill; sell off state assets; reduce subsidies on such essential consumer items as natural gas; broaden the tax base and rake in more taxes from Barbadians; and raise the level of Value Added Tax from 15 percent to 17 percent. Half a year later, Dr Estwick has begun, puppet-like, to promulgate these backward, anti-developmental policies as though they are his own.
What the Barbadian people need to understand is that the international ruling elite and their organisations – inclusive of the IMF – have resolved to impose an anti-developmental austerity programme on the countries of the ‘Developing World’!
The IMF has therefore rolled out an ‘austerity’ agenda not only for Barbados, but also for Jamaica and a host of other developing countries around the world. The Jamaican government, for example, were instructed to impose a slew of punishing consumption taxes that were designed to push tens of thousands of already impoverished Jamaicans further into hunger and deprivation. At present, the Jamaica government is still agonizing over how they are going to implement their orders from the IMF.
Another example of the oligarchy’s austerity agenda for the Developing World was manifested at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit. There, the international elite unveiled a sinister plot to strip developing countries of their sovereignty and to imprison them in a mandatory policy framework which would oblige them to eschew industrialization programmes and content themselves with primitive, low technology economies and lifestyles.
You see, the oligarchy is once again more than ever determined to reinforce an international order comprised of a small elite of developed ‘First World’ countries, and a mass of low technology, underdeveloped ‘Third World’ countries. Thus, the response to the international economic crisis that they have prescribed for the United States of America and Western Europe consists of anti-austerity, growth and consumption oriented polices, while the prescription for countries like Jamaica and Barbados are deflationary, austerity measures.
And so, a national wage freeze and a privatization programme is just the beginning of the IMF’s austerity assault on Barbados. Once those initial policies have been implemented, it will only be a matter of time before they go after such things as government subsides on cooking gas and public transportation; the free medication dispensed by Barbados’ National Drug Service; free secondary and University education; state run polyclinics, and the list goes on.
Dr Estwick and Barbados’ Democratic Labour Party government are going in the wrong direction when they seek to impose an IMF austerity programme on Barbados. However, the problem with Dr Estwick and his ministerial colleagues is that they do not possess the imagination, the intellectual resources or the self confidence to envisage and pursue an alternative path, and so they slavishly follow the dictates of the IMF.
Barbados, and all the other small island states of the Caribbean need to recognise and acknowledge that they possess limited human and intellectual resources, and that they therefore cannot afford a divisive form of politics that causes the marginalization and discarding of some one half of the country’s intellectual resources because of narrow partisan political considerations.
Barbados, like the other countries of the Caribbean, needs a genuine ‘politics of inclusion’ that will bring to the table intellectual resources that the governing administration does not possess. Barbados and the other Caribbean countries also need to look outwards towards a pan- Caribbean system of production, and thereby find the economic space and resources to implement anti-austerity, growth and consumption oriented policies.
David Comissiong is president of the People’s Empowerment Party (Barbados)