Barbados general elections are scheduled to take place on May 24. The vote comes amid economic uncertainty, an issue that may challenge incumbent Prime Minister Freundel Stuart's bid for re-election.
A report published by the Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) Office of Evaluation and Oversight (OVE) foresees that Barbados, as soon as the election is over, will require budgetary assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Titled the Approach Paper Barbados 2014 – 2018 Country Program Evaluation (CPE), the report also indicated that Barbados' government has been borrowing billions to bridge the gap between state expenditure and revenue, as well as highlights the country's foreign reserves figures as an area of concern.
“Most analysts are predicting that after the upcoming election, the government will negotiate a program with the IMF to address the debt and international reserve challenges,” the IDB noted.
In March, the former Governor of the Barbadian Central Bank, Delisle Worrell wrote: “The Central Bank’s foreign reserves continue to be in free fall, with the failure of Government’s corrective strategy. The current costs of Government operations exceeded revenues by $288 million between April and December last year, and Central Bank’s lending to the public sector increased by $372 million during the year. Unless this gap is closed foreign reserves (Forex) will be exhausted, and Government will lose control of the exchange rate.”
Worrell, who was sacked last February by the Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, said the accelerating loss of foreign reserves proves a failure on the part of the country's government to adjustment policies to the current economic reality. According to the analyst, Barbados' Central Bank has lost over $1 billion of foreign exchange since December 2012. Reserves have fallen from $246 million in 2016 to as low as $100 million in 2018.
“Shortages of foreign exchange persisted,” Worrell stressed, “mainly because Government was obliged to repay $137 million of foreign debt. Foreign lenders were unwilling to roll over this debt because of Government’s poor credit rating.”
With a grim economic prognosis as its backdrop, Barbados' Nomination Day (May 7) saw a record 125 candidates submit nomination papers to guarantee their spot on the ballot ahead of the country's elections on Thursday.
Despite the record number of candidates, two parties, the opposition Barbados Labour Party, led by Mia Mottley, and the Democratic Labour Party, led by Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, are expected to dominate the campaign and elections with some 30 candidates.
Five other parties are in the race, according to Caribbean 360. They include the: United Progressive Party, Solutions Barbados, Barbados Integrity Movement, Bajan Free Party, and the People’s Democratic Congress.
Mottley criticized the Barbados Sustainable Recovery Plan, proposed by Finance Minister Christopher Sinckler, as being irrelevant in its stated purpose of reviving the economy. “At the appropriate time, we will tell you what we plan to do with this country,” she said, reminding locals that her colleagues in parliament will be “doing the work that needs to be done” until the election is called.
She, along with observers, took significant issue with the prime minister's decision to schedule the elections on May 24, over two and a half months after parliament was dissolved under Stuart's leadership. The election date also falls on the same day students take the regional exam called the Caribbean Examinations Council test. During elections, schools are normally used as polling stations.
"He has had five years to set a date for the elections; it is, therefore, regrettable that he has chosen that date, one that conflicts with the examinations being taken by our children on both nomination day and election day," Mottley decried. "The prime minister and the government need to explain to the country as soon as possible what arrangements will be put in place to minimize this anxiety...This is nothing more than a royal fumble."
However, John Haynes, chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, said, “The Electoral Department has done all that is required with regard to its mandate to have elections conducted in this country. We have already procured all of our election materials, equipment, and supplies, as well as completed the training of election workers, and identified polling stations and counting centers.”
He affirmed that all preparatory work for the polls was complete and that staff was working around the clock to ensure that all procedures go as planned on election day.
Youth unemployment, investment in education, unresolved issues related to sewage in a section of Barbados's south coast vital to tourism, cybersecurity, as well as a Muslim woman's right to don a headscarf (hijab) when taking pictures for identification. The latter issue also affects the Rastafarian order of the Nyabinghi, as well, in their community women also cover their heads while in public.
However, Barbados' economic dire straits will certainly play the dominant role in this year's election.
Whether incumbent Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is re-elected or main opposition leader Mia Mottley receives the majority of the votes will boil down to their plan of action to resuscitate the country's economy.