Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (right) in discussion with Barbadian Kelvin Dalrymple of the World Bank (left) and Rev. Dr. Kortright Davis after the town hall meeting. (C. Pitt/BGIS)??

Barbados is holding its own, and it intends to successfully weather the lingering global economic downturn. That is the message Prime Minister Freundel Stuart left with scores of Barbadians living and working in and around Washington DC during a town hall meeting last evening. The event was held at the Bishop John T. Walker National Learning Centre of the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, which is pastored by West Indian priest, the Rev. Dr. Kortright Davis.

Noting that the country was still experiencing the throes of the worse economic recession the world had seen in nigh 100 years, he said Barbados was facing similar difficulties and challenges like the US and many developed and developing countries. The Prime Minister took the o++++pportunity to assure Barbadians in the US that, contrary to speculation by some persons back home that he had come to Washington to beg the IMF to bail out the country, he was really there to give three important addresses. These are to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies – the US Chamber of Commerce and Caribbean Central American Action; the International Conservation Caucus Foundation Congressional Gala; and the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States.??

The Barbados leader, in response to a question from the floor, reiterated an earlier view he had given that the country, on present indications, would not have to go to the IMF for support as it did in the early 1980s and 1990s. "Let me put that speculation to rest," he said.

Prime Minister Stuart said that despite its economic challenges Barbados still had a lot going for it, as the country aimed to maintain certain standards and meet its obligations to its citizens. He particularly observed that the country had foreign reserves to support over 18 weeks of imports; there were no public service job losses; no public servants had experienced salary cuts; for the most part, health care remained affordable and accessible; the social services – National Insurance and the Welfare Department – were still in place to provide a safety net; free education was still provided from the nursery to tertiary levels; and from last year, unemployment benefits were increased from 26 to 40 weeks. The Prime Minister explained that these actions were designed to ensure that minimal dislocation would be caused to families.

Mr. Stuart reminded the Barbadian nationals that government went even further to help ease the burden on parents by introducing free bus transport for school children.????????

He hinted that, having had to address the problem of the high cost of secondary school texts years ago, government was now examining the high cost of primary school books with a view to possibly easing some of the burden on parents.

He cautioned that these developments should not be taken to mean that government was seeking to develop a "hand-out" society. On the contrary, he pointed out that: "where hardships exist, that threaten the welfare of our children, government is duty bound to make sure that these hardships are alleviated." Mr. Stuart said this problem was evident at the primary school level, and he promised that "in the fullness of time, we will have to come up with a creative and humane response."

In relation to Barbados’ stability, and its avoidance of social upheavals that some countries have had to wrestle with following the imposition of tough economic measures, the Prime Minister credited the social partnership, that has been in place since the early 1990s, as the main reason for Barbados averting such disruption.

He lauded the tripartite arrangement and the several protocols that have been in place, noting that the various entities had put the interest of country first, and good faith had been maintained. "The social partnership in Barbados continues to work, and work admirably," he underscored.

Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will pay courtesy calls on the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States (OAS), for what he said "will be really an exchange of courtesies, since I am in Washington where they are based."?? Later in the week, he will address the Permanent Council of the OAS; the first Barbados Prime Minister to do so since 1989.

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