Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is absolutely right!
It makes no sense for any of us to seek to downplay what the people already know. That is, there is “genuine material hardship” among huge sections of this region’s population.
Admittedly too, urgent corrective action is needed both nationally and regionally, since, as the Vincentian leader puts it, “national solutions are at best partial and a concerted regional approach is required to improve our economies, create wealth and jobs, and manage much better our fiscal and debt condition and strengthen the social safety net”.
Addressing last evening’s formal opening of the 35th summit of CARICOM Heads of Government, Gonsalves, who is the outgoing regional chairman, also warned that there was no magic wand.
“Hard, smart and productive work has to be the preferred option over profligacy, leisure, pleasure and nice time,” he told the regional gathering in St John’s, Antigua.
Little fault could be taken with the Prime Minister’s statement, except that another glaring reality, which our leaders must own up to, is that there are fewer opportunities these days for people to engage in not just hard, but decent work.
Indeed those placed in positions to make a difference on this front have failed to come up with a suitable response and some might even add that they are part of the problem not the solution.
It is a point that seemed not to be lost on the incoming regional chairman Gaston Browne when he took to the podium last night to deliver his inaugural address as the newest CARICOM Head of Government.
In his maiden speech, Browne acknowledged the need for the region to find work for jobless youth, less, he warned, we would have to face the consequences of the situation.
By our analysis, many countries in the region are already facing those consequences.
And they threaten to get worse as governments, in response to economic depression, some would say crisis, become contributors to the very problem that this region longs to see the back of – rising joblessness, especially among the youth.
Here in Barbados for instance, many of the recently retrenched, in both the public and private sectors, are the same “young . . . bright, able-bodied men and women” who Browne acknowledges are currently out of work.
The entire situation is actually a lot worse when we consider the full unemployment situation in the region as a whole, which intensifies the level of threat.
As Browne points out if nothing else, the “restlessness” of our unemployed youth “should make us realize that the sensible option for creating such space and widening such scope resides in our interdependence on each other”.
The alternative, as he rightly states, is their frustration.
“That frustration will result in their rebellion within our borders or their exodus to shores outside our region taking their talents that we urgently need . . .”
We agree that one of the greatest tasks we now face in this region is putting our people to work. But whether we treat the task “as we would treat the emergency of a natural disaster” is another matter entirely.
With due respect to Prime Minister Browne, we are not sure though that his suggestion of putting the matter to a regional commission will help us in dealing definitively with the problem.
For one, commissions have not had a good reputation either here or in the region.
Just look at our most recent experience in Barbados with The Alexandra School commission for instance. Many of those recommendations are yet to be implemented, so too those emerging from the 1992 West Indian Commission, despite the urgings of leading architects such as Sir Shridath Ramphal et al.
Still, we are grateful for the strong employment focus at the outset of the Antigua meeting. At least it gives the appearance that our leaders are not simply talking shop but actually connecting with the harsh realities of our existence today.
Hope springs eternal that we may yet find a regional solution.