CI Shorts: Mia's Month
From campaign trail to Caricom 2018, tracking Mia Mottley's first few weeks in office.
Mia Mottley was elected as the first female prime minister of Barbados in general elections on 24 May 2018. Since her party’s clean sweep at the poll, it has been a whirlwind first month for the 52-year-old politician, who has been an MP since 1994.
Caribbean Intelligence looks at some of the highlights and criticisms of Mia’s first month in office and some things you might not know about Barbados’s first female PM:
- Mia Mottley is the fifth female prime minister in the English-speaking Caribbean. She follows in the footsteps of Dominica’s Eugenia Charles, Janet Jagan of Guyana, Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller and Trinidad and Tobago’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Her election won cheers from the island’s most famous daughter, Rihanna. The normally apolitical singer said on Instagram: Say hello to my new prime minister and most importantly the FIRST FEMALE prime minister of Barbados... the honourable Prime Minister. Well deserved and about time! Breaking barriers and making history in so many ways!!! Congratulations.
- The daughter of a barrister and the granddaughter of Bridgetown’s first mayor, the London School of Economics (LSE)-educated Mia Mottley has served as attorney general of both Barbados (the first woman to do so) and Bermuda. She has also sat on Belize’s Court of Appeal.
- Within days of being elected, she added new portfolios to her cabinet to reflect what she saw as priority initiatives for today’s world. The new roles included responsibility for the Blue Economy (management of marine resources), People’s Empowerment and Elder Care and the Creative Economy.
- Not all of her first-month initiatives have been applauded. Mia Mottley’s approach to having no opposition after a clean sweep in general elections led the Barbados Advocate to state that “the veneer of unity and togetherness was shattered by the defection of a stalwart to become the official opposition”. New opposition leader Bishop Joseph Atherley said after being sworn in that “this platform gives me an opportunity to speak a bit more broadly to the interests of the national community of Barbados”.
- In a statement to the nation on 1 June, the new Barbadian leader said: “There are new things to be done, old things to do better and some things, my friends, that we should have ceased long ago.”
- The new Barbadian government promptly announced a restructuring of the island’s domestic and external debt, stating that total public debt had reached more than 175% of GDP. This led to a global credit rating downgrade, as is usually the case when a debt restructuring is announced by a country. Forbes Magazine urged the new government to “privatise its zombies” to stop “haemorrhaging money”.
- Following a visit to Barbados on 5-7 June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described the country as being in “a precarious economic situation”. The IMF called for savings by making public services more effective, wage restraint, reform of government pensions and implementation of a tax review. While no formal IMF agreement has been announced, the Fund said: “We expect to continue our close dialogue with the Barbados government with the aim of reaching understandings on economic policies that could underpin an IMF-supported programme.”
- Next, Mia Mottley’s government went after the long-running issue of smelly sargassum seaweed, which has been plaguing the island’s famous beaches and drawing unwelcome global media attention. Following visits to sargassum-infested beaches, several government ministers urged Barbadians to use the seaweed as a fertiliser in their gardens. Some local farmers have expressed their doubts, but the new government says it is also talking with the University of the West Indies about converting sargassum into energy.
- The mini-budget on 11 June introduced the first phase of the new government’s three-part Barbados Economic and Transformation Recovery Plan. The aim is to cut Bdos$215m in government spending and achieve economic growth in 36 months. Two tourism marketing bodies were dropped from the public payroll Consolidated Fund. New corporate tax levels were introduced, the impact of which was still being debated into July. Prime Minister Mottley also announced plans for specialised taxation to provide better health care initiatives and for maintenance of the island’s long-running sewage problems. From October, a new US$70 airline travel and tourism tax will be paid by non-Caricom visitors (to cover the cost of the tourism marketing agencies) in addition to a new hotel room levy from July and a new tax on services, including Airbnb and Expedia. On the social equality side, the state pension increased, a partial pay settlement is proposed for sugar farmers and temporary judges were appointed to deal with the backlog of court cases.
- The new opposition leader said of the increased tourism taxes: “Imagine the added expense for a travelling family.” Mia Mottley said of the overall increases in her mini-budget: “So there is some sacrifice, Mr Speaker, but we cannot promise to serve omelette down the road, if we refuse at this time to crack the eggs.”
- As the Barbadian leader marked one month in office, Barbados Today said in an editorial: “Barbadians have been watching since handing their first female Prime Minister all 30 seats, and from the comments circulating, especially on social media, Ms Mottley and her team have been enjoying a measure of commendation from the public. Arguably, this may well be justified, when one considers that just days shy of one month in office, the administration has been visibly tackling vexing issues on the troubled south coast, the sargassum seaweed which has been inundating the island’s beaches, and the poor conditions at the Bridgetown Fish Market, as well as holding critical talks with the Social Partnership, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank on the way forward for the ailing economy.”
- Mia Mottley was warmly welcomed at her first foreign trip as Barbadian leader at the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica at the start of July. "I have not come to give you promise but come to report progress,” she told her fellow leaders in Montego Bay at the summit opening.
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