Much time and energy have been expended on the economic woes confronting our country –– and rightly so. However, as we seek to identify strategies and solutions to move us forward on a better trajectory as small open economy, I believe that it is critical that we map out where we want to be as nation in the context of a full National Development Plan.
Several of the challenges we now face reflect our uncoordinated and unsustained approach to many of the underlying issues that have led to or promoted the existence of each respective challenge. Our National Development Plan should seek to address the following key aspects:
1. Production and capacity building –– a major part of the challenges confronting Barbados is one of scale and capacity. Owing to our size and availability of resources, our output and production capacity is severely restricted. There needs to be a clear articulation on how we can overcome these limitations through new and improved productive processes, utilizing technology and seeking vertical and horizontal integrations.
2. Population planning –– the relevant agencies, in conjunction with our census data sources, must seek to forecast trends in birth and death rates, as these will be critical to labour, education, health, housing and other concerns.
3. Labour and immigration –– based on our population plan, we must develop a comprehensive immigration policy. The availability and cost of labour in our productive sectors, especially at the operational level, remain a serious issue confronting this country.
4. Education –– any development plan must address a national approach to educating citizens; but it is even more imperative that we articulate how this education relates to the creation of intellectual and other capacities to assist in fuelling our economic growth and social development. The education component of the plan must be clearly tied to the development of existing and new industries and sectors.
5. Health –– can we adequately meet the demands on our health care system? How can we effectively utilize the assets we have deployed in this sector to provide optimal health care at a city, town, parish and national level.
6. Agriculture –– we must articulate our position on food security and how we can best use our lands for the right mix of food, recreation and housing.
7. Housing –– in the past seven years there has been a proliferation of housing development, both private and government. However, this development must be guided not only by population forecast, but also the quality of employment available within the economy.
8. Export readiness –– all of these components must come together to maximize our ability to export both products and services to earn foreign exchange and create economic growth.
9. Protectionism –– protection of our culture and our national identity is critical in ensuring that the output of the plan is authentically Barbadian, despite any international influences. This does not mean exclusion of others from our development, but simply a preservation of who we are, regardless of our development.
These are just some of the critical aspects to be considered in such a plan as I am proposing, but it is also important to note that such a plan can bear no relation to the political manifestos that seek to address many of these issues in any given five-year electoral cycle; rather the plan would become the roadmap for our national governance and management at all levels.
The key areas highlighted above all interact to provide the type of socioeconomic conditions that any country seeks to attain.
What we as a country (government, citizens, enterprise) must clearly appreciate is how each of these components interact and interlock to create the required environment. For too long, it appears that despite the prospect of challenges, we have seen the need for a clear articulation of a national vision and creation of the requisite plan.
Let me be clear; as urgent a process as I see this to be, it cannot be left up to our Government and politicians to execute on this –– any national plan has to be a national effort. This country can no longer advance on the vision of 30 people only; and our vote every five years does not count as input into the national dialogue.
A month ago, in this space, I reviewed the history and purpose of the Social Partnership, which been touted by our leaders throughout the region and internationally. While the tripartite arrangement demonstrates that there is room for improvement, I do believe that it is the rightful place for our National Development Plan to be birthed. Government, labour and enterprise are well placed to bring such a plan into life for further consultation and expansion, as the input of the people who must live, work, invest and play in this country is vital.
My vision is for a country that advances the position of each citizen, regardless of class, race or educational background; a country that, while possessing limited resources, is able to use its expertise and innovation to advance its socioeconomic agenda in an effective way.
The magnitude of our current crisis dictates that the responsibility for change falls to each of us. We need to reclaim our country from the politicians and political parties, and understand the power of our collective voices –– and not only our votes every five years.