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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Barbados not on index


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Barbados not on index

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IF BARBADOS, The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago were included in a new global survey on social progress where would they have ranked?

That’s the kind of question which is being asked now that the results of the Index of Social Progress have been published with Jamaica ranked among the world’s 50 most socially advanced countries.

According to the experts, Jamaica was 44th on the list of 133 countries which were studied for the progress they have attained in meeting the social needs of their citizens. The survey covers roughly two thirds of the countries that belong to the United Nations (UN) but it didn’t include most of CARICOM’s top performers – Barbados, The Bahamas and St Kitts-Nevis among them – when it comes to such things as education, gender equality and efforts to make people feel secure on the streets and in their homes.

The Index, the brain-child of Harvard University economics professor Professor Michael Porter aims to complement the traditional tools of measurement for social progress.

But like the other nations that led the way, Jamaica has considerable room for improvement. The countries were evaluated for such things as gross domestic product, literacy, crime and the avenues available to women to attain equality of the sexes.

Out of a possible score of 100, Jamaica earned 69.83, which placed it ahead of Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, South Africa, the Philippines, Armenia, Russia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iran, and all of continental Africa.

However, it lagged behind Brazil, Panama, Mauritius, Argentina, Israel, Cyprus, Latvia, Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay, France, Britain, the United States (US) Poland, South Korea, Estonia, and the United Arab Emirates. Guyana, the only other CARICOM country ranked for its social progress was 87th on the list with a score of 60.42.

Cuba, which has dominated international headlines in recent months, since United States President Barack Obama and Cuba’s leader, Raul Castro decided to bury the Cold War hatchet and normalise their diplomatic and economic relations, came in 84th. Its score of 60.83 was slightly higher than Guyana’s.

Botswana 65th and oil rich Saudi Arabia 69th didn’t match Jamaica’s ranking which put it among the countries considered “upper middle” achievers, while Guyana made the “lower middle” grade. Chile and Costa Rico were in the category reserved for “high” performers.

For years, Barbados, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda and their Eastern Caribbean neighbours have been arguing at the UN and elsewhere that gross domestic product figures weren’t a reliable gauge to assess progress. But the World Bank and several other international financial and development institutions persist in keeping that standard.

But the Social Progress Index goes beyond GDP numbers and looks at other indicators. That explains why more and more countries, Paraguay among them are using it as they make long-term development plans. Even the state of Michigan in the United States and the European Commission have adopted the SPI.

“GDP isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t the whole story,” Michael Green, executive director of the SPI, told the Toronto Globe & Mail. The Social Progress Indicator can complement GDP numbers to indicate if economic growth was “really leading to improvements in people’s lives, to what people are calling inclusive growth and shared prosperity”.

Heading the Index were Norway whose score was 88.36, followed by Sweden 88.06, Switzerland 87.97, Iceland 97.62, New Zealand 87.08, Canada 86.89, Finland 86.75, Denmark 86.63, the Netherlands 86.5, and Australia 86.42.

Time was when Barbados was routinely cited as an example of a developing country which had made remarkable gains in human development which measured the quality of people’s lives.

The Human Development Index (HDI) compiled by the UN had in the 1990s ranked Barbados in the top 30 states worldwide. Not so anymore and when the 2015 report is released later this year, Barbadians shouldn’t be caught off-guard if their country fails to make the list of the 50 most highly rated states.

The methodology used to rate the HDI of UN member-states has undergone radical change since Barbados’ heydays, resulting in a systematic downgrade of its score and ranking. Barbados has also been hurt by poor performances in both economic and social areas of evaluation.

“I am waiting anxiously to see how Barbados rates when the UNDP comes out with its HDI. The dramatic decline may shock Barbadians into realising how far their country has fallen in recent years,” said a former UN diplomat.

“Barbados has failed to move forward while other developing countries in Latin America and Asia are progressing. That’s particularly true in recent years as the economy has suffered significant declines, Government has been forced to reduce expenditures on health care and various social services. It’s turning out to be a case of how far hath the mighty fallen.”

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