It is heartening to hear a well-recognised Caribbean leader admonish our people throughout the region to start getting down to serious work and stop being too pre-occupied with what he called “leisure, pleasure and nice time”.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & The Grenadines was brutally frank about the attitude many of our people in the Caribbean who are not prepared to work hard to achieve prosperity but keep looking out for hand-outs.
In a feature address at the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s Exporters’ Colloquium held in Barbados last week, the Vincentian leader noted that Caribbean people are not working hard enough and this is hampering productivity and our progression in this world.
The remarks made by one of our committed regionalists should not be viewed as mere political talk.
Dr. Gonsalves is honest and realistic about the malaise that has gripped our people over the years since most of the islands are complaining about their people no longer showing signs of being prepared to work hard and smart enough as their foreparents did yesteryear.
The critics might be quick to point out that our political leaders should take some or perhaps most of the blame for this situation since they often send signals to the people as part of a vote-catching exercise that they are prepared to do any and everything possible to solve their every needs.
Perhaps, our Westminster system of government in which parties are forced to make sometimes and too often very unrealistic promises to the electorate every five years to get into power might be a major contributing factor to this constant swimming in an uncertain ocean by these mini-states in the Caribbean.
The problem of lack of productivity is affecting just about every sector in the region – be it in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism which is now the main earner of foreign exchange for several of the islands in the Caribbean.
The statistics provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that only a few countries in the region are not suffering right now from a severe debt problem.
Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas are the two top performers in terms of being less indebted to creditors, while Dominica, St. Vincent & The Grenadines hold middle ground, whereas Barbados, Grenada, Antigua and St. Kitts-Nevis have been categorized as among the countries that are too heavily indebted.
Any worthwhile and realistic plan to fix our problems in the region has to address the serious question of greater productivity and getting our people to understand the need to work hard in order to achieve results.
This newspaper is doubtful whether our people have been listening over the years to those who have been preaching for the past 20-odd years that in today’s world the days of free lunches are over.
Is it the case that the people up and down the region do not like to be admonished by anyone about the need to work hard because it brings back memory of slavery?
The fact of the matter is that those who make the decisions at the international level do not consider us in the region as States that qualify for funds on concessionary levels.
Virtually all the islands have been officially classified as falling into the “upper-middle income” category by the World Bank and not eligible for concessionary finance from IDA, the part of the World Bank that lends to the poorest countries around the world.
It is a straight case of Caribbean countries including Grenada having to stand on their own two feet in a world that is no longer willing to accommodate countries that do not adhere to strict fiscal discipline.
Our people have to understand or feel the hard way that we have to produce our way to progress and prosperity because we no longer qualify for assistance under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative or the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative from those running the so-called New World Order.
Our islands are no longer judged on the basis of the size of our external debts in comparison to the value of our exports, domestic debt or what we need to spend on tackling poverty, purchasing vital medicine for our hospitals, and putting in place the necessary infrastructure to attract foreign investment.
Our new status in the global environment has forced several of our governments to borrow more and more money in the commercial markets thus making the debts now facing us very expensive to service.
This is the crux of the problem faced by Jamaica, which is forced to re-enter an arrangement with the IMF that might be too bitter for Jamaicans to swallow. How many of our islands are facing the same scenario?
The experts are telling us on a regular basis that the recent commercial debt restructuring in some of the islands like Belize and St. Kitts have resulted in some debt service savings, but the fact of the matter is that the debt levels of several of the States remain extremely high and too high for comfort.
Prime Minister Gonsalves hit the nail on its head when he said, “The truth is that too few people in our Caribbean today have to carry too many”.
The reality is that too many of our people do not want to work and so depend on someone else to feed, clothe and provide for their every need.
As PM Gonsalves said, “…We have to get it in our heads that a progressive society is a society which has hard, smart and productive work at its core but that’s not what we have” in the Caribbean region.