As the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) continue to grapple with the negative effects of the 2007/2008 global financial and economic crisis, they are forced to search for tactical and workable solutions to their current economic nightmares, forcing them to “think outside the box” in order to ensure that they do not daunt the spirits of their respective citizens who are desperately in need of jobs, good health and education, shelter, food, and security and stability.
But the governments of the various OECS countries understand too well that they can in no way fulfil the dreams and aspirations of their citizens without laying the foundations for growth and development of their local economies.
Whether we think of economic transformation in terms of increases in income, reductions in poverty, or diversification of economic activities, these broad and meaningful objectives can only be achieved through a well-designed and effectively managed development strategy. This seems to be the blueprint that the OECS are persuaded to follow and adopt.
Indeed, according to the communiqué from the 57th meeting of the OECS Authority held at the Sandals Grande Resort, Dickenson’s Bay, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda during the period June 02–04, 2013, the OECS development strategy will focus on measures to transform various sectors, industries and other critical areas of financial and economic activities including tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, ICT, trade policy and trade facilitation, transportation, health, education, social development, energy, climate change, ocean governance and the environment.
The sectors, industries and essential areas of financial and economic activities identified for strategic focus by the OECS Heads represent some of the major growth-enhancing issues that are particularly germane to such small countries.
With very limited resources (natural, physical and financial) as well as small markets and economies, the OECS states are left with little options other than to pursue a development strategy that is consistent with their own unique circumstances, the nature of the global economic landscape, and the expectations of their own citizens.
Perhaps more importantly, the governments of the OECS must and have recognised that they cannot advance this development strategy alone. All hands must be on deck, particularly those of the private sector, labour, and other members of civil society.
Hence, it is welcoming to learn that “OECS Heads of Government engaged in discussions with representatives from the OECS Private Sector and the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) on priority development issues for the advancement of the growth and development agenda of the region. The priority development issues include the OECS Financial System, Harmonisation and Upgrading of Legislation and Border Control, Shipping (Freight and Passengers), Alternative Energy Sources with a focus on Renewable Energy, and Labour issues related to the OECS Economic Union.”
No doubt, that focus on partnership with other key players in the economy is precisely the type of model needed to effectively transform the economic landscape of the OECS. Big governments are often wasteful and huge amounts of inefficiencies creep into our public sectors especially when governments try to do too much by themselves.
Partnerships with labour, businesses and other civil societies do often work in small countries and must therefore be given the opportunity to do so. The OECS are thus on the right development track. I wish them all success!
(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)