Shadow Finance Minister David Burt and Finance Minister E.T. “Bob” Richards. *File photos
Shadow Finance Minister David Burt and Finance Minister E.T. “Bob” Richards. *File photos

Mutualisation - the process through which companies, or in this case government entities, are turned into cooperatives where the majority employees have a majority ownership stake - is one facet of a proposed government restructuring.

Finance Minister E.T. “Bob” Richards has stressed this option in his plans to rework the way government is structured; he’s also mentioned privatizing some government entities and outsourcing other government sources. A litany of government and quasi-government entities have been listed for possible restructuring, but thus far Mr. Richards has declined to specify which departments could be tapped for privatisation, which divisions would benefit from mutualisation and which services could be outsourced.

Last Friday the PLP, in its response to Mr. Richards’ budget, lambasted the government for talk of privatization. Shadow Finance Minister David Burt pointed out that Mr. Richards had said in 2012 that privatization “was not part of the plan.”

“What a difference two years makes,” said Mr. Burt. “The minister has moved from being completely opposed to privatization before the election to now being its champion.”

Mr. Burt’s message was clear. Privatisation, he said, is not a panacea.

“It will not solve the government’s budget problems,” he said. “In fact, privatization creates the real risk that the government’s assets will be sold on the cheap, transferring more wealth to the ‘haves’, while the workers and taxpayers lose out.”

He added that any arrangement where employees are minority shareholders is not mutualisation, but privatisation – an idea that the unions, as well as the PLP, find untenable.

“The unions are right to take a firm stand against privatisation and the PLP will stand side to side with unions to ensure that any changes in the structure and organization of government and delivery of services do not adversely impact workers.”

So, is there any room for agreement? Well, maybe.

During a press conference shortly after his budget remarks on Friday, Mr. Burt expounded on the idea of mutualisation. He suggested the two parties might be able to find common ground on the topic, so long as the labour unions on the island were receptive to the idea.

“When it comes to mutualisation, it’s something that the unions must accept, but the Progressive Labour Party has always supported an empowerment agenda. And if there is something that will see the transfer of services where the workers are in charge, and not private enterprises, then that’s something we can take a look at.”