In what could be seen as a speech crafted to address the current industrial relations and fiscal challenges facing Barbados, one of the region’s leading financial institutions is warning that stakeholder engagement is critical “if any economic policy is to work”.
A day after the leading trade unions and the private sector attracted an estimated 20,000 protesters to a demonstration to try to force the Freundel Stuart administration to talk to them in a bid to agree a workable economic plan, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) urged Barbados and the rest of the region to communicate with all interested parties in the formulation of workable programmes.
While Director of Economics Dr Justin Ram did not make any reference to yesterday’s protest or the impasse between Government and the remaining Social Partners – labour and the private sector – the CDB official was clear on the importance of keeping everyone engaged, stressing, “it is very important to have constant communication.
“If you have an implementation plan you want to ensure that the population is on your side while you are going about implementation. It’s very important that you review your progress and you have validation,” Ram told participants this morning at the opening of the Central Bank of Barbados 37th annual review seminar at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, being held under the theme Practical Solutions to Strengthen Economic Growth and Adjustment in Small Open Economies.
“In order to have proper implementation it is really important that we include those stakeholders that are important in order for us to implement properly, the frontline practitioners and with citizens.
“So implementation means significant dialogue at all times and communication with all the necessary stakeholders,” added Ram, who throughout his presentation referenced Jamaica and Malaysia as countries that were showing positive signs from which others could learn.
Speaking on the topic Imagining the End of Slow Economic Growth, How to Deliver Economic Performance, the Caribbean banking official said the region was plagued with structural problems, restricting opportunities for economic growth at a time when some economies were “heading in the wrong direction”.
At the same time, he said, political leaders seeking re-election were forever in search of “big, fast results”.
However, he said in order to achieve meaningful results, there was a need for new ways of doing business, coupled with transformational leadership.
Ram said it was somewhat depressing that the region continued to underperform when compared to other small island developing states, while it was being weighed down by high levels of debt, high unemployment, lack of data, low foreign reserves, low levels of productivity and competitiveness, and low levels of implementation.
However, an optimistic Ram said he believed “we can turn things around if we take the right policy measures and the right policy steps”.
In addition, the former World Bank consultant said success and accountability depended on strong and highly visible leadership that was focused on implementation, as well as realistic budgets, plans and targets; effective tracking of performance; robust performance dialogue and action, rewards and consequences.
Ram recommended that part of the change process involved the establishment of a performance management and delivery unit “set up in the highest echelons of Government and supported at the highest levels of Government.
“These delivery units are really tasked with doing two things – one, tracking progress of what the government considers priority for its country, and secondly, investigating and intervening to solve particular challenges,” he said.
Not convinced that regional economies were achieving their national growth and development strategy, Ram suggested it was time regional economies adopt a path to success taken by countries such as Australia, Denmark and New Zealand.
“It means that government expenditure really needs to be prioritized on those social issues that are priority for that particular society, but more importantly, to have low levels of debt it means that private sector must take a much more active role in the development of the economy. This, I believe, is the road less travelled and one that we should try to emulate here in the Caribbean,” he said.