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THE ISSUE: Govt’s role of regulator critical


Researched and written by Shawn Cumberbatch

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How important will economic governance be during what many predict will be a difficult 2014?
 
A phrase often repeated by members of the current Government is that “Barbados is more than an economy, it’s a society”.
Simply put, their view was that ensuring the island’s economic fundamentals were sound was not enough if there were still citizens “falling through the cracks”.
But with Barbados having entered 2014 still gripped by an economic and financial crisis, what role does economic governance have to play in all of this? Also related to this is the issue of economic accountability.
Governance has to do with how something is controlled, managed and utilized and economic governance is a topic many international economic stewards have been grappling with over the last five years.
It is already established that good governance would have played a significant part in the progress Barbados has made since becoming an independent nation in 1966. However, it appears the jury is now out on the extent to which such governance now exists.
Dr Ronnie Yearwood, a Barbadian international trade law specialist based overseas, examined the topic on November 18, 2011 during a Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation inaugural innovation think tank.
“My simple observation and summation of the challenge Barbados faces is that we function on outmoded systems of economic and political governance, which are underlined by an unwillingness to implement ideas to drive change in this country,” he said.
“The global economic crisis though making the deficiencies of our governance model manifest is not the only reason we must endeavour to change. In the absence of the crisis, it would have become apparent that the current governance model that was part of our colonial inheritance did not match the aspirations of Barbados to become a prosperous and modern nation.
“The point is that the new model of governance will emphasise the role of Government as a facilitator and regulator in the economy, and not a major player as such. This does not mean mass privatization or a sell-off of government assets. That also like the tax and spend solution is not feasible. What the new approach could entail as the example I mentioned with transport is that Government facilitates wealth creation and enterprise development,” Yearwood added.
Then there was Elizabeth Berrios Hall, who as part of completing a master of arts degree that same year at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, wrote a thesis on the topic The Barbadian Success Story: A Case Study Of Economic Development In Barbados.
She concluded that “economic success in Barbados cannot be explained without acknowledging the excellent governance which has been present throughout its history”.
“A collaborative approach has resulted in the retention of the best institutions from colonialism to transfer to independence. Since independence, this proclivity towards collaboration has been shown in the strong working relationship between the public and private sectors,” she observed.
“This  strength in coordination has been integral to success in Barbados. Good governance and the spirit of collaboration can be seen as direct causes of the exceptional taxation and regulatory policies which exist.
“While there is concern about growing regional competition, it is acknowledged that Barbados has a reputation for legitimacy and honesty internationally that Bermuda and the Cayman Islands simply do not and that this reputation is significant to investors.
    “The strategic vision of the government to diversify the economy, collaborate with the private sector and focus on luxury markets has been integral to the successful development in Barbados.”
    Some in and out of Barbados now hold the view, however, that Barbados’ governance model, especially the economic component, is now under threat and needs to be refocused.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is on record as articulating a vision for Barbados where the country “socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound, and characterized by good governance”.
    As recent as November last year in his Independence Day message, the prime minister was also trying to debunk the view that good governance no longer existed in Barbados and reiterated his view that the current economic problems the island faced were largely of foreign origin.
“Barbados still leads even richer and more developed countries in the areas of transparency and in relative freedom from the stranglehold of corruption. We are still one of the most stable democracies in the world. We are still one of the most literate countries in the world. We are still viewed as a slice of paradise by the overwhelming majority of people who come to our shores whether to holiday or to invest,” Stuart said.“Our present challenges represent a moment in time. Worrisome though these challenges may be, let us not mistake what is a moment in time for eternity.”
A few months earlier at his ruling Democratic Labour Party’s annual conference Stuart had voiced a similar view and said then that his administration had not been returned to office “by going out there and promising the earth and the sky to people, promising things which we could not deliver”.
“We won it with a simple campaign of being open and honest with the people of Barbados. We made it clear that the world was going through a very difficult period but that despite that period, we explained that we were facing challenges and…despite what others were facing that we were holding our own,” he said.

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