Amid dire economic challenges, a top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) grouping today expressed disappointment that Barbados and other Caribbean countries were not taking full advantage of the development funding available to them.
The Guyana-born Secretary General of the ACP Dr Patrick Gomes made his concerns known to a group of regional journalists who visited his Brussels office on Wednesday as part of a European Union-sponsored tour.
Gomes pointed out that his organization had been mandated to seek out such assistance on behalf of the region, in several areas, including agriculture, climate change, public health, public finances, science and research, migration policy and trade.
However, he said countries – including Barbados – were simply not taking full advantage of the financial assistance available to them, including £20 million in development support, which was agreed to back in 2013 with a view to improving the overall management of public finance and administration of taxes.
Under the seven-year programme, monies were also allocated to help Barbados and 19 other Caribbean countries achieve better supervision of central banks and improved operational capacity in terms of the management of public debt, Gomes said.
However, he further lamented that regional countries were “still sleeping” on the £346 million Caribbean Regional Indicative Programme provided under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) 2014-2020, even after the ACP “fought” to get the amount up from an initial £200 million.
“I was happy to see though, that there seem to be some Caribbean investment proposals there, but it is not moving as quickly as it should,” he said, adding that the media had an important role to play in highlighting these shortcomings.
Regarding the Caribbean’s high food bill, Gomes said while proposals had been put forward by some organizations to address the issue, “we have to expose the non-functional capacity or orientation of our administration structures”.
Insisting that the region needed to go after available funds in “a more aggressive way”, the ACP spokesman said: “If our institutions and organizations that are to perform are not doing that in an adequate way then there is no point quarrelling about if we have money [or] if money is available.
“It is there and we must make use of it,” he stressed, while pointing out that a number of African nations were adequately making use of funds allocated to them.
Zeroing in on Barbados’ fiscal problems, Gomes described the situation as “complex and complicated”, adding that though “we are not sufficiently close to know the reason it went wrong, some malfunctioning of the process in terms of planning and execution and monitoring and being willing to making corrections” had occurred.
“We [ACP] are open to receiving how you are addressing your problem and support that . . . . The Barbadian economy and what it has been facing and going through, we would like to participate in what is the national plan for recovery and transformation in areas in which we can make an input,” he said, while pointing out that even though the island was considered a high per capita income country, there were still some development funds from which it could benefit.
Singling out the island’s bread and butter tourism sector, Gomes suggested that some pertinent questions needed to be asked and answered in relation to its development.
“Is it time to appeal now to a wider market . . . [and target] West Africa. I know that discussion has been taking place. Or how do we look at enhancing the market from other parts of Europe that don’t know enough about Barbados? If there is a tourism development programme that is on the table that is brought to us then we look at how we can contribute in a specific area,” he said.
Gomes also warned against allowing short-term development goals to suffer at the hands of “political gains”.