By Dr. Brian Francis
Despite the continuing uncertainty over the direction of the global economy in the short to medium term, Caribbean Governments cannot sit back and allow their economies to drift, falling deeper and deeper into a state of depression.
Over the past four to five years, the people of the region have suffered significantly as they were forced to cope with high and rising unemployment, huge increases in the cost of living, declining real wages, and stagnant or falling standards of living.
Yet, in listening to the news in recent times, it seems as if our people are being called upon to brace themselves for even tougher times in 2013. Whether it is Grenada in the south to Jamaica in the north, more and more people are becoming skeptical about our countries’ ability to pull out of the economic turmoil confronting them to the point where our fortunes can begin to turnaround.
In Jamaica, for example, the Government has been unable to reach a final agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by the end of 2012 and that is seen by some as a major failure that is sure to hurt the prospects of an economic recovery even further.
Simultaneously, some economic analysts in Jamaica are arguing that a deal with the IMF by itself will not solve the country’s major financial and economic challenges. Consequently, the projections are that more tough times lie ahead for the Jamaican economy, with or without a final agreement with the IMF.
While Jamaica may be on the verge of an important IMF agreement that will assist in addressing some of its fiscal problems, it is not the only country to be challenged by economic difficulties.
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis; for example, are all in dire need of injection of new and transformative ideas to stimulate economic growth and in turn begin to resolve their fiscal and debt challenges. But these solutions cannot and will not be realised if we continue to treat our problems as insurmountable.
Why do we continue to suggest that no one else can do better? Why do we continue to insist that there are no magic wands when it comes to solving our economic problems? Why do we continue to blame the global economic slowdown for our economic woes?
Clearly, if as a people we begin to direct our energies into thinking about creative solutions to our problems as opposed to waving the white flag of surrender, then, I am confident that our economic fortunes can be reversed in the not too distant future.
Hence, what all of the countries in the region need urgently is new hope for 2013 and the years ahead. But how is this possible? New hope can be generated if we begin to take ownership of our problems and start to utilise the creative talents of the human resources we have harnessed over many decades.
It is no secret that Caribbean people are extremely talented. Our recent successes in the Olympics and World T20 cricket stand as testimony to what we can do as a people despite the small physical sizes of our countries, lack of large economies, and very limited natural resources.
Adequate investments in sports and strong belief in the abilities of our athletes have paid off significantly.
What, then, is preventing us from replicating this level of success when it comes to handling our financial and economic affairs?
(Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)