Barbados has been in survival mode for too long.
Economist Marsha Caddle has contended that answers are needed to the question raised in 2014 by former prime minister Sir Lloyd Sandiford about the perilous state of the national economy, “How did we get here?”
“The last decade has been presided over by a group of people who thought their only task was to make no sudden movements; to get by; to survive; keep the country where it is; take no risks so that, presumably, you take no licks,” she said as she delivered the Grantley Adams Memorial Lecture last week.
Caddle, a former United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) programme manager on poverty reduction, gave that analysis as she also suggested that it was time to move beyond just existing with so-called middle class comforts that really cannot withstand the shock of emergencies.
Although telling her audience in the Central Bank’s Grand Salle that she had no intention of making a political speech, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for St Michael South Central took some jabs at the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, if we stay on this current path with this current Government, we will end up as a failed state. Thankfully, this Government and their path to nowhere will soon come to an end. But, the day after the election, when the Barbados Labour Party along with the people of this country convene to start setting things right, it matters what we do next,” she said.
On the matter of the next step after a presumed BLP victory at the polls, Caddle warned her colleagues that they too could take the country full circle.
“If we set our nation up only to survive, if we set our people up only to eke out a living, only to do the bare minimum to create wealth for the few and not sustained wealth and well-being for the many, if we fail to transform our governance . . . we may find ourselves right back here again,” she said.
“It’s now or never for a new development model in Barbados,” Caddle added in a presentation that drew accolades from internationally-renowned economist Professor Avinash Persaud.
She dismissed the post-Independence approach as a strategy whose era has passed.
“The purpose of the old model of governance and social and economic development was the establishment of a stable economy and democracy and the dignifying of a generation that yearned for respect and dignity. And it was highly successful for a time,” she pointed out.
“Our model was utilitarian, functional. We educated people to be bright, polite and orderly, to fit well into the business of running the public sector or of growing a private sector from which they did not benefit too far beyond the earning of a wage.”
But she contended that in this old model, “we couldn’t acquire the types of flexible assets that would protect our income and well-being from some unexpected incident”.
She said this led to heavy reliance on a grossly underperforming tourism sector and a recurrent trap of low growth, low levels of domestic investment and low levels of real, broad-based wealth creation.
Caddle, who has worked with several international organizations and left her last posting at the Caribbean Development Bank to seek political office, insisted that Barbados must take a new approach, not just to economic security but to socio-economic security, both at the macro and the individual levels.
“We need to consider not just growth, but who is participating in growth; not just investment, but who is able to invest,” she said.
Caddle’s new development model is concerned with expanding access to a broader base of people, “because when those people have access and have opportunities, those are replicated in that community”.
“When a country’s socio-economic progress has been so derailed as Barbados’ has been in the last decade, investing in people’s productivity directly at the community level is part of what will ensure a recovery with people at the centre,” she contended.