The spiraling cost of living is a lingering refrain that haunts Barbadians like an evil but unforgettable tune.
Every trip to the supermarket, convenience store or village store costs more, prices at the pump have risen more than fallen, and many of those who have fought to keep their heads above water are facing financial hardship. and abject poverty.
Just under a week ago, Prime Minister Mottley made it clear that “more malaise looms on the horizon as Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine triggers record inflation by driving up food and oil prices.
“It’s going to cause unease in many of our countries in terms of prices or access to these products. So it’s going to run the potential risk that we have to be able to stare at our people and make them understand that the world is going through a moment difficult, but it’s not the first time he’s been through it and it unfortunately won’t be the last due to the nature of just human civilization and our natural environment”.
Yet it was a jolt no less powerful than an electric shock when Barbados Light and Power announced at the weekend that soaring global oil prices would affect the fuel adjustment clause on the electricity bill.
“Light & Power indicates that customer bills issued this month will be affected by this 22% increase in the fuel portion of customer bills and will have a noticeable impact on monthly electricity costs,” a statement read.
Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Agency, Trisha Tannis, has warned that if this crisis were to last much longer, affecting not only the price of fuel but also the accessibility of basic inputs like wheat etc. , we then consider price increases on practically everything we consume. “This is something that does not bode well for the price of goods and services on the island,” she said.
World economists have warned that the conflict in Ukraine, which shows no signs of abating, could tip a fragile global economy into recession.
And they tell us that the situation will probably get worse before it can get better. Prices will continue to rise and we need to reduce our expenses, stretch what we have to spend and adapt to lean times.
But then, if you have little or nothing, what can you stretch?
The most vulnerable will continue to suffer disproportionately. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are more likely to fail.
These developments are undoubtedly at the forefront of the minds of Barbadians and the Mottley administration.
But there are no magic wands or deep-pocketed godfathers to the rescue. Lamenting the situation will get us nowhere. But a global and flexible plan that protects the most vulnerable, revives the productive sectors and boosting economic activity is what we need.
The strong and decisive action of a government that has almost no room for manoeuvre, in an economy that is still emerging from the crippling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, is essential. But the alternative is too dark to consider.
Dozens of Barbadians are still unemployed or underemployed. The national insurance scheme remains under pressure. Government social services are called upon.
But again! Government and key stakeholders must rise to the occasion. Inertia will have serious consequences and Barbadians need leadership that will help families weather this wave of economic uncertainty.
We expect the government to lead by example, with prudent fiscal management that leaves no room for waste.
We anticipate that over time the government will need to find a way to provide more targeted support to those who are simply unable to absorb increases in the cost of living into their household budgets. Monetary and fiscal support should be channeled to economic growth.
Households too, those that can still function, should seriously take stock of their own affairs and make changes, no matter how small.
But as bombs fall and missiles fly in Ukraine, the battle against economic stagnation and runaway inflation requires our own arsenal of growth, self-sufficiency, ingenuity and adaptation.