While Caribbean governments have done more to reach out to the private sector and civil society organizations in terms of seeking partnerships in various ventures over the past two decades, they still have not done enough to fully include all parties in their overall decision-making processes.
Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Dr Kristina Hinds-Harrison, told Barbados TODAY: “I recognize Governments have a lot of responsibilities placed on them, but it would be helpful for them to employ a more participatory approach as they try to achieve their national development goals.”
She acknowledged that the social partnership among Government, the private sector and trade unions in Barbados had been successful, and commended successive governments for keeping it in place over the last 27 years. However, in her opinion, other groups should ideally be involved as well. “Its perspective right now is somewhat narrow, so while it deals well with labour issues, it might not be the best mechanism to fix wider societal matters.”
Dr Hinds-Harrison said sometimes governments were very selective in the groups with which they chose to interact. Too often they sought to include civil society organizations when they were on the verge of making a decision which ideally should have included them from the start. She cited the recent example of the Barbados Government’s decision to ban styrofoam packaging within the next few months, and spoke of similar situations in other islands.
“In St Lucia and some of the other Eastern Caribbean islands, town hall meetings are often held, and while they are well attended and tend to get heated depending on the subject matter, most of the time they occur when problems arise just before a project is about to start. Sometimes meetings are held just to say that they invited people to give their opinions, but most of the time civil society organizations are denied access to important information which they could have had had they been invited into the decision-making process earlier in the game.”
In her view, it should be easier to get civil society organizations more intimately involved in policy-making in the Caribbean since “most Caribbean countries have populations under half a million people, but one of the problems is that we tend to have a top-down approach as people in authority do not like to have their actions questioned. And we will always have this dilemma until our prevailing culture changes. The rules in CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) do make provisions for consultation with civil society groups, but it seems as though it is not utilised on a regular basis.”
Dr. Hinds-Harrison has just published her first book, entitled “Civil Society Organisations, Governance and CARICOM”, which features case studies of government and Non-Governmental Organisation partnerships in Barbados, Trinidad, St Lucia, the Bahamas, Belize and St Vincent.