Minister Benn: Reduction Of Cost Of Living A Priority

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Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn

"The Ministry of Commerce and Trade is doing all in its power, not only to address, but to effect a reduction in prices in Barbados."??

This assurance was given by Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn, at the conclusion of the Nation Publishing Company’s TalkBack town hall meeting at the St. George Secondary School, last Wednesday night.

Minister Benn was part of a panel discussion which examined the cost of living in Barbados.??

He said: "We are expanding on the basket of goods.?? I want to commend the price control officers in my Ministry for going out there, for selecting 174 items in 34 categories that we are monitoring." ??Mr. Benn further added that he looked forward to cooperating with the media in terms of getting price comparisons publicised.

He also remarked that solutions could only be reached through dynamic involvement by key parties of interest.?? "We have decided that the best way to tackle this issue is to get all the stakeholders on board with us, and have discussions with them.?? We looked at the Miscellaneous Control Order 2007, we looked at the other regulations…we’ve met [with] the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, Customs Brokers Association [and[ with Barbados Association of Retired Persons…we’ve met with a number of stakeholders," ??the minister noted, and revealed that he will also meet later this month with the Customs department which is under the aegis of the Ministry of Finance.????

In addition, the Commerce Minister disclosed that steps had been made towards creating a collective of relevant entities, both public and private, that will advise the Minister on initiatives to effectively address the cost of living in Barbados.

"We’ve already prepared a Cabinet paper that has gone to the various ministries seeking to get Cabinet’s approval on this broad-based committee," Mr. Benn explained.?? He underscored that comments had already been received from some ministries but responses would take time, as the propositions made in the Cabinet paper would impact on the plans of other departments, and especially the Ministry of Finance.

"Having sought to widen the basket of goods and have a number of items zero rated, and also taking on board those with special needs, we would expect that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs will want to take a very careful look at what loss of revenue there will be for the country," Mr. Benn declared.??

He stressed that while local efforts would be made to reduce the cost of living, Barbadians also needed to be aware of the external factors that affected the cost of goods on the island.

Meanwhile, Managing Director of Super Centre Ltd., David Neilands, explained that natural disasters had affected the availability, and thus, cost of particular goods.?? He agreed, however, that local mitigating efforts could and would be taken to address the issue.

Mr. Neilands agreed that Minister Benn’s approach of bringing the public and private sectors together was the best way forward.??

However, the panellists and audience also offered various solutions to reducing the cost of living.?? President of the Barbados Small Business Association, Celeste Foster, suggested the use of import substitution and regional bulk purchasing of goods.?? Chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee of the Barbados Association of Retired Persons, Jai Jebodhsingh, emphasised that the cost of living was not only relative to goods, but services as well. ??He advocated that greater transparency by businesses, along with a change in the lifestyles of Barbadians, would have positive effects on the crisis with which the country was faced.?? President of the National Union of Public Workers, Walter Maloney observed that ethics needed to play a crucial role in how business was conducted in Barbados.????

nekaelia.hutchinson@barbados.gov.bb

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