“Neither the Barbados Labour Party (Bees) nor the Democratic Labour Party (Dems) are frank or open about their privatisation plans, more particularly about their financing plans for some government provided services.”
I told Avram this after she came gushing excitedly: “I know you want to do your civic duty, give Caesar his vote and all that, so I’ve found a divide between the parties, privatisation. The Bees will privatise every entity that offers a service that can be paid for, while the Dems will continue with big government. So you have a choice.”
“Transport Board, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Sanitation Service, and Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation …, what you think?” she added. I was left in thoughts that were dominated by public finance theory mixed with the economic, financial, social and geographic realities of Barbados.
“My gut feeling is that neither party is currently being honest about their approach to privatisation or financing these entities. Barbadians fear such changes, even with respect to banking which is rightly a commercial business; we bemoaned the sale of the Barbados National Bank and emotionally spewed about ‘selling crown jewels, symbols of nationalism.’ So in this election season it is not surprising that both parties are relying on innuendo and referencing the past to make the other appear as the PP ‘privatising party”. I am not convinced by Bees or Dems on this issue.”I replied.
We decided to look at the Dems’ statements to see what we could gather. She’d found a site where blogger Caswell Franklin provided the House of Assembly report of the First Session of the 1991 to 1996 period. In it the late Prime Minister David Thompson had laid out the Dems programme which included the creation of the Office of Privatisation in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs “to be a focal point of the privatisation programme.
Six methods of putting listed entities into private hands were detailed together with a list including one of ‘state-owned enterprises approved for privatisation. Under this, fell the Arawak Cement Company Ltd, Barbados National Oil Company Ltd, the Barbados Transport Board, Heywoods Holiday Resort and National Petroleum Corporation.
“I excuse them, though,” I said “that was 1991 and perhaps they were influenced by the recession…”
“Recession? But the Dems say worst economic recession the world has seen since the 1930 so that if you are trying to say that was part of their approach to recession, well…” Avram interjected.
“So … that was Thompson’s policy and he’s dead,” I said.
“Errol Barrow died longer than him and they still spouting his philosophy; but more importantly technically this is still Thompson’s mandate,” I answered. She said she had also remembered hearing Prime Minister Freundel Stuart saying he was carrying on Thompson’s policies but we couldn’t find the reference online so we let that one slide.
We also read of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s comment that he was looking into various options for financing several of these entities but at meeting during this current election campaign he said:
“I never said we were going to privatise anything, but any responsible government examines all of the options, and we examined the options … and the Democratic Labour Party decided that we were not going to privatise those entities.”
Avram laughed, she questioned Sinckler’s attitude to university education. “How will he treat financing the university, people dismiss this issue because they feel university people are highly education and they seem to forget these people come from the masses. I agree with you, there is a lot of hemming and hawing on this financing issue.”
“But what should I make of Minister of Health Donville Inniss’ comments against that background?” I asked her.
We read online where Mr. Inniss said Barbados was continuing to grapple with “the issue of financing health care” and this was among a whole range of complex issues that was confronting the sector, and he believed that Parliament should have a very robust debate on the matter.
Mr. Inniss also said “Here in Barbados, I have recently requested a report based on actuarial studies to determine an adequate level of financing for our health system and the most appropriate mechanisms for financing. This of course must be preceded by agreement on the basket of services which the state is willing to provide to all of its citizens.”
God knows what will be in that basket and he never hinted so what does that mean. I argued to Avram that all I could gather is that all citizens will have to have some type of insurance to get the best care.
Our search continued to where he said:”The financing of health care systems in the Caribbean is [done] primarily via the State. This mechanism perhaps is best suited to ensure equity and affordability for all. However, it also places our health systems at the mercy of the Consolidated Fund and its cash management policies. There is no Caribbean state that has ever, or will ever, boast of an adequate supply of state funds to meet all of the health care challenges of our citizens – certainly not with the current financing policies being utilised.”
In addition, the Barbados Government Information Service reported that ‘while noting that he (Mr. Inniss) often heard West Indians saying they paid their taxes and, therefore, should get the latest and best in health services immediately, that was not always the reality. “…Taxes collected are used to fund the entire public sector. Sometimes the health sector for its commitments has to stand in line behind salaries, pensions and debt servicing. This emphasises the need for health care financing to be addressed up front within the context of public financing in the region,” the Health Minister stressed.
I also recalled him saying: “I have directed the QEH (Queen Elizabeth Hospital) to move with a sense of urgency to institute a policy whereby victims of vehicular accidents who are treated in the QEH will be charged for all services rendered by the QEH. It is expected that those responsible for such accidents and their insurers will find this to be a fair policy and will not delay in settling such claims.” A similar policy for violent crime was to be instituted, he said.
“What did I tell you about insurance,” I asked her.
We continued to discuss where the minister of health was going with this talk.
His comments ring with an international perspective where people are asked for insurance policies to use health care, there is limited access for those without and this policy works against those who can afford.
Asking insurance companies to pay, may seem fair but without a frank statement on this, how will voters get an inkling about the possible direction of the Minister. Such a statement will not be forthcoming in this present environment.
The Bees seem a little more forthcoming on the privatisation issue but fear abound.
According to Mr. Sinckler, the BLP leader Owen Arthur announced to the Chamber of Commerce that the Government should carry privatisation to its farthest point.
“That means that you are doing it, “That means that you are doing it, you are not considering it …, and he identified CBC, and Transport Board and he went down the line and he even mentioned that he was going to privatise education by giving people tax credits (after) charging them up front … to pay for university education and health care.”
Avram say Arthur would have to tell her what is his farthest point because it indicates that he will limited to some stage, perhaps dictated by common sense and good judgement. I don’t know, I answered.
I told Avram that I am not against privatisation but I have strong views about which entities should go into private hands. I would hate to see the Sanitation Service, Transport Board or Barbados Water Authority up for sale even though I know that as government-owned entities we are perhaps paying more for these services than we would if they were privately owned.
The Sanitation Service already has pockets of privatisation. In order to get the type of service they want, householders (in special and limited circumstances) and businesses are already using private contractors in this sector.
The health system also has many element of privatisation, even emergency services are carried out at some clinics and those who can afford speak proudly of accessing such services.
The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation can go anytime for me. Alternatively licences could be issued givingCBC competition but in that case taxpayers may end up paying for a poorly competing enterprise. So set it free. In this digital age what would a government want with CBC?
Avram said it provided government-oriented public service announcements. I asked mischievously, if she meant the ruling political parties dictates.
But seriously, the Barbados government Information Service currently produces several governments’ public service programmes and I believe CBC is paid for airing them. Perhaps it is now a book entry, but taxpayers are paying directly or indirectly so what would happen in a privatised situation. We (the government) would pay CBC or whichever channel we feel like paying, I told her. But our conversation was not about my views on privatisation which I will discuss some other time. It was about voting and privatisation and I am not convinced that we are getting full exposure.
- Independent Politicians in 21st Century Barbadian Society (barbadosfreepress.wordpress.com)
- Minister Donville Inniss:The Emergence of Private Healthcare (bajan.wordpress.com)
- Close finish predicted in Barbados general election (antiguaobserver.com)