The revamped estimates debate got underway in the Barbados House of Assembly Monday morning with a radically new format that places it under the standing committee on finance and limits ministers’ initial presentations and the opposition leader’s response to ten minutes only followed by the minister and his technocrats, sitting in the center of chamber, being required to respond to questions from the various ministers.
Acting leader of government business, the attorney general Dale Marshall said the format change was historic and was part of government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Kerry Symmonds, noted there was also a historic shift in the structure of his ministry since for the very first time the marketing of tourism would be substantially removed from government’s books with the national tourism marketing agency from the start of the next financial year in April becoming largely required to finance itself through entrepreneurial activities.
Mr. Symmonds explained a more than 130 million dollar reduction in his ministry’s budget.
Mr. Symmonds also announced that the shift to the new private-sector-led tourism agency should be complete by the end of next month.
In addition, Mr. Symmonds reported improved tourism arrivals for last year with an 8.4 percent increase in US long-stay arrivals, a 1.4 percent increase in UK arrivals, the second highest number of arrivals ever from that market, and a 1.8 increase in arrivals from Canada for 2018 over 2017, the third highest from that market on record.
But Mr. Symmonds expressed concern that despite the hike in arrivals, the revenue from the sector continued to decline over the past decade
Opposition leader Bishop Joseph Atherly in his response shared the minister’s concern about declining tourism revenues and expressed concern about what he said was an increase in violent crime expressing the fear that it could hurt Barbados’ reputation as a tourism destination.
Bishop Atherly also expressed concern about the state of the country’s infrastructure, including and especially the country’s highways, and even the quality of the work done on some of the recently resurfaced roads.