|Prime Minister Freundel Stuart|
From time to time, circumstances require a Head of Government to bring the nation up to date on issues affecting its public administration.
Faithful to that tradition, I have decided to engage you at this time, since I shall be leaving Barbados this week on a state visit to the People's Republic of China at that country's invitation.
The diplomatic relationship between Barbados and China dates back to the year 1977. The two countries have enjoyed highly rewarding and mutually beneficial relations ever since then. The government which I lead is committed to deepening and strengthening that relationship.
This visit takes place at a time of continuing uncertainty in the global economic environment. The effects of the recession which crept up on the western world in the last quarter of 2007 are still being felt in the economies of our North Atlantic trading partners. Indications in the week just past were that the creation of new jobs in the United States of America fell far short of expectations for the month of May. Thirteen point nine (13.9) million persons remain unemployed in that great country and speculation that the economy could slip back into recession has now moved beyond a whisper.
In the United Kingdom, response to the robust budgetary measures of the one year old Coalition Government has up to now been lukewarm. It is still much too early to pronounce with certainty on the likely effectiveness of policies introduced.
While the economy of Canada has not been affected in the same way or to the same extent as that of the United States of America or the United Kingdom, unable to ignore events among its G-20 partners, the Government of Canada has opted for the path of caution in the pursuit of its economic policy.
I have always contended that the economic history of Barbados after independence does not disclose any period during which the Barbados economy was doing well while those of the United Kingdom, United States of America and Canada were under pressure. Depressed economic conditions in the major industrialised countries invariably exert a drag on the Barbadian economy since its fortunes are especially intertwined with those of North America and the United Kingdom.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the effects of the global recession continue to be felt in Barbados. How long these effects will continue to be felt is anybody's guess. What the present global crisis has settled for economists and policymakers alike is that there is no casket of economic marvels to which any select group holds the key. In both rich and poor countries, therefore, the anguished search for lasting solutions continues.
Faced in 1975 with a challenge far smaller than that with which we are now confronted, the then Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Hon. Errol Barrow, in a radio and television broadcast, spoke in a manner that deserves repetition:
"For those who carry the responsibility for the management of the economic and social welfare of the people of a country, it is often little consolation to note that not just our own countries but the world in general is experiencing economic dislocation of increasing severity. Yet in today's world of growing interdependence, this consolation is the only comfort available. The goal of responsible leaders everywhere is the upliftment and continued improvement of the material welfare and quality of life of their peoples. How this goal is to be achieved in a world beset by shortages of food and materials, instability of prices and the unsettled state in trade and payment arrangements is the challenge of our time. Here in Barbados I am proud to say, we continue to face this challenge squarely. Not just by rhetoric or the abundance of comment informed and uninformed, constructive as well as destructive, but by the daily sacrifices and exercise of prudence on the part of the people of this country".
I need add nothing to those words of wisdom save to thank the people of Barbados for the maturity which they have shown during this very testing period. There is no household in Barbados which does not have either a friend or relative living in the United Kingdom, United States or Canada. Barbadians, therefore, have not had to rely on Government only for their information on what is going on in the world. Friends and relatives along with modern organs of public information have continued to press world events on our attention.
When I thank Barbadians for their maturity, I include the private sector and the trade unions without whose good faith and cooperation maintaining economic and social stability would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. I thank, especially, the leaders and members of our churches who have consistently lifted us up in their prayers during this very difficult period.
Recent reports from the Commissioner of Police that crime figures are down are heartening. I must express my concern, however, about still too many instances of senseless violence among a section of our youth. I want to urge that settling disputes by dialogue is to be preferred to settling them by the knife or the gun. There will be no comfort for those who continue to think that they should be exceptions to this more civilized approach.
At the macro-economic level our challenges continue. Unemployment hovers around 10.5% (in the U.S.A it is now at 9.1%), inflation at around 6% thanks to the instability in world commodity prices and in the price of oil, and the government wrestles with a fiscal deficit which it hopes to reduce to about 6% by the end of the financial year.
In spite of these challenges, we have protected jobs in the public sector, maintained an acceptable level of government services, kept our children in school, taken care of our sick, aged and infirm, continued our thrust in the area of housing, continued the expansion of our source markets for tourism, and continued efforts at the protection, development and diversification of our International Business Sector.
While it is necessary to maintain our vigilance on the economic indicators, I continue to be worried by the stark deficit in the enjoyment of basic domestic amenities in urban Barbados. I am given to understand, for example, that out of the total number of households which have to do without waterborne bathroom facilities, 50% are located in greater Bridgetown and the South East.
Government cannot any longer turn a blind eye to the need for a serious project aimed at urban renewal and is determined to tackle this problem systematically over the next two years. The aim will be to improve the living conditions of as many as possible of the persons who are affected. The cooperation of landlords will be critical to the success of this effort.
Housing projects at Valarie, Grotto, Deacons, Eckstein, Mason Hall Street and Pine, Wildey will continue apace as we sustain our assault on the housing challenge in urban Barbados. These projects will complement both those completed in and those planned for rural Barbados.
The programme of the government for the foreseeable future will have also, to focus on the environment and making it more sustainable. Barbados has committed itself to the creation of a green economy and sits on the Global Sustainability Panel of the Secretary General of the United Nations. What we preach abroad as a member of that panel we must be prepared to practise at home. Orienting the nation in the direction of renewable energy sources and sensitizing citizens to the need to respect and therefore protect their environment will be at the heart of government's efforts.
It is now being accepted globally that the success of any development goals we pursue will depend on the ability of the planet to sustain man so that the poverty can be reduced and the world's resources more fairly distributed. We must, therefore, pay attention to existing consumption levels of fossil fuels, existing carbon emission levels and the unregulated treatment of waste.
The planet has now begun to speak through dramatic changes in climate and the prospect of sea level rise, among other signals. The very existence of small island developing states like Barbados could be at risk if current trends are not halted or reversed.
Another area of concern has to do with the huge backlog of applications that has been choking the Immigration Department and frustrating applicants at the same time. This problem has now begun to affect some in their efforts to secure access to health care. Government will be laying in parliament in the near future, its White Paper on Immigration.
In the meanwhile, we cannot allow those who have lived in Barbados for many years and have worked and paid their taxes to be suddenly disadvantaged by the strict enforcement of a long existing policy. I am aware of persons in Barbados who came here as children, went to school, worked and have now retired without ever having their status regularised at the documentary level. Should these persons suddenly discover that they are not entitled to benefits other Barbadians enjoy? I think not!
As Minister with responsibility for Immigration, I will accord priority to the resolution of this problem so that calm can return to the lives of those being affected. In any event, the Department will be positioned to move aggressively to eliminate its backlog.
Barbados is a great country and must let slip no opportunity to build on that greatness. One way in which present circumstances will allow us to do so is to focus the attention of our highly intelligent and enterprising young people in the direction of innovation and entrepreneurship. Let's face it, government cannot and has never been able to absorb all those young persons who graduate from our secondary and tertiary institutions every year.
We have now reached the stage where our young people must be pointed in the direction of starting their own businesses and employing others. They cannot do this, however, without the assistance of the State.
The responsibility of government, therefore, is not only to increase existing funds but also to create, where possible, new types of funds to serve as a launch pad for those who want to start their own businesses. Provision of this kind of facility will make more real the dream that Barbados should become an entrepreneurial hub by the year 2020.
Our part of the world has for the last three years been battered by an economic hurricane the effects of which are still being felt in Barbados and other countries in this region. Coming out of any hurricane is the need for reconstruction, and necessary for effective reconstruction is determining not only the resources required but also how to deploy those resources. I have done just that and determined that effective Wednesday, June 15, the makeup of the Cabinet of Barbados should be as follows:
Minister of the Ministry of the Civil Service,
National Security and Urban Development
Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management
Minister of Housing and Lands
Minister of Tourism
Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and
Minister of Transport and Works
Minister of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth
Minister of Labour and Social Security
Minister of International Business and International Transport
Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
Minister of Health
Minister of the Environment and Drainage
Minister of Education and Human Resource Development
Minister of State in the Ministry of Housing and Lands
Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development
Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
Minister of Commerce and Trade
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister
Sen. Virginia Irene Sandiford-Garner
Assigned to the Ministry of Health
Sen. Harcourt Alan Husbands
Assigned to the Office of the Prime Minister
Sen. Jepter Ince
Assigned to Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs
These adjustments are intended to make the most effective use of the resources available following the major reorganisation of the Cabinet as recently as September 2010. They are not intended to reflect any attempt to feed either the froth or the frenzy of those for whom politics is nothing more than a spectator sport, with the masses of the people seated ringside cheering on this or that political gladiator.
For the unemployed, single mothers, the homeless, the disabled, abused women and children, and other vulnerable groups in this society, the stakes in politics are much too high to admit of surrender to that kind of frivolity.
The character and resilience of Barbadians have been sorely tested over the last three years as the world has gone through its worst crisis in nearly 100 years. As a country we have acquitted ourselves well; our households and businesses have conducted themselves responsibly.
Present difficulties will not last forever. I endorse fully the words of the renowned economist and Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz when he said:
"We need to begin with a general lesson often lost sight of in the midst of an economic downturn: every downturn comes to an end. Economic policy does make a difference; it can make the downturn shorter or longer, shallower or deeper. It can make the expansion longer. But economic fluctuations have marked capitalism since the beginning: every boom busts, and every recession is followed by a recovery".
While we work towards and await full recovery, as Prime Minister, I assure you, we will not let you down.
God bless you.