The Barbados government is currently spending 54 cents of every dollar it generates in revenue on public sector wages, the country’s Minister of Industry Donville Inniss said yesterday.
He flew to Trinidad and Tobago from Bridgetown to be the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce’s first quarterly business luncheon at its Westmoorings headquarters.
Inniss outlined both the social and financial problems that have impacted the country’s economy since the global meltdown in 2008.
But he also pointed out that even though its tourism product was affected by the global financial collapse, the island was beginning to rebound and enjoyed a good winter tourist season last year.
Inniss also highlighted a number of areas — including real estate, financial services and business development — that could prove lucrative to Trinidadian entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in Barbados.
“I’m not here to lecture or make cheap political platitudes. The truth is, if I were still an investor I would raise questions about the economic and social conditions (in Barbados),” he told Chamber members.
Trinidadian businesses invested BDS$70 million in the island in 2011 and both countries enjoy good trade relations with each other.
But there is an ongoing trade imbalance. Trinidad and Tobago exports almost US$400 million of mostly petroleum products to Barbados, which has no oil or mineral wealth of its own.
In turn, Barbados exported just US$39 million in goods and services to Trinidad in 2008.
Inniss noted that his country’s high wage bill and decline in tourism were “at the core” of what hurt the island’s economy.
Its expensive, subsidised social programmes — US$200 million on public health and US$300 million on free education for Barbadians — would challenge the “greatest economic minds” for a population of 300,000 people, he said.
Austerity measures, “an abundance of political noise and a decline in tourism from United Kingdom markets”, have all hurt the Barbadian economy, he added.
But there are also economic positives.
Inniss pointed out that tourism was on an upswing, with difficulties over Christmas to book a reservation at a good restaurant on the island.
Hotel bookings were also up, he said, adding that if a person wanted to rent a car on the island, they would have to wait until February because of high demand.
Areas that Trinidadians can look to invest include real estate (where one property recently sold for US$30 million), financial services, retail and cultural events like carnival.
“We invite Trinidad and Tobago to come party with us and invest in our cultural industry. We are not on a mission of charity, we have turned a curve and are moving up now,” he told local investors and business people at the luncheon.
But he also noted that the Barbadian government was taking steps to improve its economic conditions.
One of the tougher measures is the plan to cut 3,000 public sector jobs by the end of this month.
Inniss was confident though that investment in the island would reap benefits and Barbadian will be able to find jobs and reduce the country’s unemployment to below seven per cent by 2018.