AS I SEE THINGS: New era in our governance
The difficulties that Caribbean countries have been experiencing in the past five years in their quests to fully recover from the negative effects of the 2008/2009 global financial and economic recession have convinced me that the time has come for us to recognise, and accept, that we are indeed living under very different circumstances and hence a new approach is needed in the way in which we govern ourselves.
Evidently, our governments can no longer restore macroeconomic stability working on their own. More widespread consultations are necessary if we, as small open economies, are to find the right solutions for the kinds of burning economic and social problems we are confronted with from time to time. And that is indeed the challenge we all as individuals, businesses, trade unions, opposition political parties, civil society, the media, and governments must embrace if indeed we are as serious as we claim about restoring confidence in our economies and societies to redound to the benefit of all.
To illustrate my point, take for instance the fiscal situations facing several countries in the region at the moment and the approaches being contemplated to solve those problems. In Jamaica, the Government is presently under significant pressure from the Opposition to abandon plans to implement varying levels of fees on banking transactions that are likely to contribute billions of dollars to the Treasury.
In St Lucia, the Government is forced to find ways to reduce spending in order to allow it to cope with its huge fiscal deficit and consequently there is talk about a five per cent cut to public workers’ salaries (a policy that at the time of writing had not been confirmed by the Government but is already in the public domain). In Grenada, the battle over the freezing of public servants’ salaries as part of the measures to ensure the success of the home-grown structural adjustment programme rages on with disagreements between the Government and the trade unions over the proposed measure.
Clearly, in all three scenarios it is obvious that governments would always be tempted to take the kinds of corrective measures they deem necessary at the time to solve critical fiscal and other economic difficulties. And there are times when governments can and should proceed independently of other key stakeholders in the management of our economies. But, the fact that so many of our citizens continue to be hurt by our weak economic circumstances and our Governments persist to call upon all and sundry to make the necessary “sacrifices” for the good of our nations, suggests that when it comes to major economic interventions our governments would be better served by consulting with other key stakeholders and be determined to implement policies based upon consensus.
Whether it is Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia or any of our other Caribbean countries at the present, major fiscal policies (revenue-enhancing or expenditure-reducing) in particular should be arrived at based on widespread consultations. In that way not only will we be signalling to the rest of the world that we are prepared to embrace a new era in our governance but we would also be reducing the possibility of disruptions to our economic activities from public protests.
• Brian M. Francis, PhD is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.