The Caribbean Commission on the Economy has issued an impassioned plea to regional leaders to take action now to advance the Caribbean Community (CCARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME), or face further social and economic decay.
The warning is contained in a draft report that outlined several recommendations to leaders during the recent 31st Inter-sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Bridgetown.
“We owe it to our parents and we owe it to our children, to return our economy to the path of strong, sustainable and equitable development,” Chairman of the Commission Avinash Persaud said as he delivered the report.
Pointing out that over the past 25 years, action has been scarce while threats and vulnerabilities facing the region have been plentiful, Persaud contended that “this is one of our last chances to act before the lateness of the hour dims the possibilities available to us”.
“If we do not act, too much of our talented will leave, never to return; our vulnerability to natural disasters will so undermine our fiscal position that governments can no longer borrow to invest. Then, the frontier of the possible will close in, triggering a self-feeding cycle of societal and economic decay,” he warned.
Persaud pointed out that Caribbean people were impatient for change but not pessimistic, adding that despite the threats they still see viable opportunities.
According to the Commission, while some challenges could be addressed nationally, there were others that should be dealt with regionally and would not cost governments a cent.
Among its recommendations, the Commission called for changes to the existing regulatory framework to ensure the easy travel of people, goods and services between islands.
It also called for “a different education system” that uses more technology, and for greater transfer of skills between countries.
“We propose two simple, small, powerful changes. First, that any CARICOM national would be treated as if they are a skilled national with rights to stay and work, as long as they had two or more Caribbean Secondary Education Certificates or their equivalent,” said Persaud.
“Equally important, however, is that we propose that those that have this qualification do not need any documentation other than electronic verification.”
The Commission also proposed that participating member states should establish “a single, independently operated, internationally credible and scrutinized agency” that would deliver an anti-money laundering (AML) certificate to anyone in the region seeking to open a bank account, send money abroad, or set up a financial business in any of the member states.
“Singapore did it. It will dramatically reduce the cost and time of compliance and release resources for more productive use. It would also remove AML and CFT [Countering the Financing of Terrorism] as an anti-competitive device to thwart the introduction of fintech solutions to the high cost of payments in the Caribbean,” said Persaud.
Another proposal was for governments to “prioritize building resilience for those least able to afford it and encourage those who can, to fill the resilience gap”.
“For that, we need new instruments. We propose that this encouragement take the form of new resilience requirements for homes – that they should be hurricane resistant from the roof down, for instance; should have minimum reserves of power, water and food.
“These new requirements for those who can afford it must be matched with inexpensive, long-term financing, through the issuance of a new asset class of growth and resilience bonds focused on resilience investments only and, as a result, drawing in social impact investors.”
The Commission also called for greater use of technology to help countries overcome the constraints of distance as residents seek to offer goods and services globally; and for the billions of savings in the commercial banking system to be mobilized to support growth and development of people in the region.
“Our report recommends the creation of a new asset class of growth and resilience bonds, funded by our own savings,” the Chairman said.
The Commission further proposed that a new governance arrangement be put in place to tackle the issue of crime and violence, adding that if it was not speedily addressed “there will be a major confrontation between the region’s tourism dependency and its high crime rates”.
“There are good opportunities for the sharing of intelligence, experience and specialized personnel,” it said.