No one can deny that every country in the Caribbean has for many years been seeking to grow and develop its economy based on various theoretical constructs; political and economic philosophies; and strategic approaches to conducting its international economic relations, particularly with the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The outcomes, thus far, have been mixed bags of fortunes. From a general perspective, how exactly do our countries propose to undertake their economic transformations? I firmly believe that a short trip down our governance memory lane can potentially reveal significant amounts of clues that will assist us in answering this imperative question.
Let us return, for a brief moment, to March 1979. Following the successful enactment of the Grenada Revolution, in one of his very first addresses to the country, Maurice Bishop, the late Revolutionary Prime Minister said this: “Let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people. People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grandchildren.”
Fast forward now to August 2013 and ask this simple question: Have those sentiments expressed by Maurice Bishop more than thirty years ago changed with respect to what Caribbean countries are now seeking to achieve socially and economically? I would think not!
How then do our countries get to the point of fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of their respective citizens? To achieve those broad goals, Caribbean countries require an economic growth and development model with a difference. That model has to be based essentially on putting people first.
Against that backdrop, I can now confidently propose a five-point agenda for economic growth and development of Caribbean economies, going forward. Rest assured, though, that this plan is by no means exhaustive. Further, the agenda items are listed in no specific order of priority.
Agenda item 1: Human Resource Development. This has to be based on the increasing returns that could be generated by huge investment in education and training. Education and training must take place at all levels of the society. We have to develop a system of continuous education, paving the way for a smooth transition from primary and secondary schools to colleges, technical and vocational learning institutions, and universities.
Agenda item 2: Manpower planning. To accomplish our social and economic goals the right people have to be appointed to the right positions in both the private and public sectors. Those placements cannot be based upon political allegiance alone.
Agenda item 3: Poverty Reduction. Through various initiatives supported by local communities, NGOs, other social partners, and regional and international organizations, our countries can secure vast improvements in housing, health, education and overall wellbeing of the people of the Caribbean.
Agenda item 4: Agricultural Development and Agro-industries. Like the then People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada firmly believed, we in the Caribbean should strive always to “eat what we grow and grow what we eat.” That policy is clearly in keeping with the need to generate food security and to lower our countries’ dependence on high-priced foreign foods.
Agenda item 5: Economic Diversification. It is high time that we in the Caribbean recognise and fully accept that no single sector or industry is capable of creating the kinds of economic transformation necessary for our countries. Hence, a tremendous amount of effort has to be made to diversify our economies, particularly in the areas of agriculture and travel and tourism.
Perhaps, more importantly, the success that can be realised by Caribbean countries in relation to their economic growth and development requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice by individuals, businesses and governments.
That sacrifice comes with the possibility of reduced consumption and lots of hard work, dedication, and effort. As a people, are we prepared for that eventually?
(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)