Caribbean economies in crisis
In 1998, Red Plastic Bag (RPB) sang a song entitled Material. In that song, the lyrical master said: Trouble, every year calypsonians in trouble, it’s so hard to find material . . . but this year have no fear ’cause RPB is here.
With those lyrics reverberating in my head, and as I reflect on the fact that so many Caribbean economies are in crisis, I could only wish someone or something was here to provide much needed “material” to allow us to resolve what clearly now seems to be fast approaching insurmountable economic woes.
Sadly, from the look at things, it does not seem as if we in the Caribbean will ever be so lucky as to have someone in economic circles provide us with the much needed “material” in much the same way that RPB offered his fellow calypsonians in Barbados.
I make that point with lots of pain in my heart because I know there are capable economists all around the Caribbean who can make a real difference, if only they are given the chance to do so.
Take for example, Grenada. That country is facing unparalleled financial and economic challenges in relation to its fiscal deficit, public debt, economic growth and unemployment.
Economic conditions in Grenada have deteriorated so significantly in the past few years that the country is now considered “bankrupt” by at least one reputable international financial institution. How has this happened? Why has this happened?
One sure answer is the massive failure of respective governments to fully utilize available human resources, particularly those with sturdy economic acumen.
What makes the Grenadian situation so interesting is the fact that merely seven months ago, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell and his New National Party (NNP) were all over the country claiming that the then National Democratic Congress government of Tillman Thomas had failed miserably in its management of the economy and that the NNP was now presenting itself to the people of Grenada as the “saviour”.
After all, the recent general election of February was supposed to be “deliverance” time for Grenada and its economy.
And you know what? Mitchell and his NNP administration have delivered. They have delivered continued economic nightmares; so much so that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now declaring the economy of Grenada “bankrupt”.
How does Grenada emerge out of its current state of economic paralysis? The answer is quite simple: effective leadership at both the administrative and political levels in the ministry of finance, in particular, and throughout the public service in general.
To gauge the quality of leadership in the public service, one only needs answers to trouble-free questions such as: What sort of advice and guidance do public officers provide to ministers and are the ideas and suggestions offered being constantly ignored?
Are our public officers equipped with the appropriate technical skills and knowledge that they can in turn impart to ministers to provide some basis for helping to resolve the most pressing economic problems plaguing the country?
To what extent do those in leadership positions in the various ministries seek and incorporate the views and opinions of other senior, technical members of staff, especially in relation to designing financial and economic policies?
Unquestionably, sober reflections on all of these questions and proper answers will go a long way in resolving some of the economic nightmares now facing Grenada. And, by logical deduction, other Caribbean economies in crisis can benefit from similar introspection.
Brian M. Francis, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus – PO Box 64, Bridgetown, Barbados; email firstname.lastname@example.org.