(CNS) A new session of the Barbados Parliament began on Tuesday with the new administration of Prime Minister Mia Mottley outlining a number of initiatives aimed at turning around the ailing economy and ensuring a balanced budget by 2019, first and foremost the restructuring the enormous national debt.
Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason, delivering the tradition Throne Speech outlining the priorities of the Mottley government, said that it had come to office in an ‘unprecedented economic uncertainty” and a stagnant economy, decaying infrastructure and an escalating high cost of living, not to mention the crime situation.
Mottley led her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to a clean sweep of the 30 seats in the Parliament during the May 24 general election, defeating the then incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) of former prime minister Freundel Stuart.
But the Governor General told legislators that the new government on assuming office started to tackle the “most pressing issues before it” including the high unacceptable national debt and the foreign exchange situation ‘which negatively impact Barbados’ macro-economic position”.
She said after extensive consultation with the social partners, the government has started the process of restructuring the island’s public debt and re-negotiating existing obligations.
“In so doing it will seek the cooperation of its domestic and foreign creditors and the balance support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It will continue to consult extensively with the social partners in the development of our own comprehensive Barbados economic route recovery and transformation plan.
“This will ensure that the burden of economic adjustment is shared fairly and does not fall disproportionately on to workers,” Dame Sandra said, adding that the government’s macro-economic framework “is to present a balanced budget by 2019 with no new financing requirements”.
She promised that all “all relevant stages of the process” Prime Minister Mottley’s government would “act with transparency and would keep the Parliament and the citizens of Barbados fully informed.
“My government wishes to assure the public that our core values, intentions and approach remain as articulated throughout the recent general elections”.
The Governor General said that the new economic policies of the government would ensure the maintenance of a fixed exchange rate and preserving the value of the local currency which now trades at BDS$0.50 cents to One United States dollar.
“It will pursue policies to restore our foreign reserves cover to at least 15 weeks. We will do this through a variety of measures, including through the stimulation of investor confidence and by allowing Barbadians to retain foreign exchange they have earned in foreign currency accounts in Barbados”.
She said Barbadians would be eligible for foreign currency tax credits on all foreign exchange earned and that her government fully understands that a ‘stable society that offers opportunities for all is created and sustained only when a country gets its economic fundaments right”.
The Governor General warned that “over-taxation cannot lead to economic recovery or a return to growth” adding “nor does it lead to individual citizens to prosperity”.
She said the government will abolish the National Social Responsibility Levy which will lower the cost of living and stimulate consumer spending.
The government also intends to abolish the road tax and replace it with a more “equitable but bearable tax on petroleum products”. It will also repeal the requirements for tax clearance certificates, repeal the municipal solid waste tax and give a tax credit over a period of time to those who paid and return the value added tax (VAT) to a rate of 15 per cent within 18 months.
The Governor General said that Barbadians have a high expectation of the new government and said that even as Mottley administration seeks to enter into an arrangement with the IMF “we will keep faith with our citizens and we ask them to keep faith with us.
“The task ahead is not for the 30 elected or the 21 appointed but for the 300,000 who live in Barbados and those of our citizens living in the diaspora”.
She said that the government intends to take immediate action to safeguard the island’s financial services sector, which has been a major contributor to the local economy.
She said the focus of the team to be appointed will be to set out the policy framework on international business by the internationally required deadline of December 2018 to ensure the island is not blacklisted by the European Union as a non-cooperative tax jurisdiction.
“Therefore the team will assist…in helping to define Barbados globally as a center of excellence for certain niche centers in international business and for potential new strategic growth areas where Barbados can develop a comparative advantage”.
In her address, the Governor General said that the new government would provide a cost of living allowance to public servants if negotiations for salaries and benefits are not concluded with the trade unions within the next three months.
It will also raise the non-contributory pension from BDS$155 to BDS$225 per week, raise the minimum wage from BDS$6.25 to BDS$8.00 to all category of works across the economy.
The government also intends to reduce the number of homes being foreclosed by reaching an agreement with banks to establish a “troubled mortgage relief programme” as well as pay the reverse tax credit of BDS$1,300 for those earning less than BDS$18,000.
The Governor General said the government would also increase funeral grants by BDS$500 and establish a social safety net for families ensuring a minimum household income under which no Barbadian family should fall.
She said the government would also embark on new initiatives to allow for new transport buses and a new fleet of trucks for garbage collection.
The government also announced plans for a gun amnesty and the decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.