by Marlon Madden
As Barbados and other Caribbean states continue to recover from the ravages of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, they are being cautioned not to become too comfortable and forget to address lingering structural issues that have been around even before the pandemic started two years ago.
This caution has come from President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Gene Leon, who said he believed there were three main pillars critical for the continued development of the region – better measurement in order to be more targeted, the need for development finance and more sharing and partnerships.
Adding that these areas must work together, he said, “the idea is always that when we grow when we move forward, we do that in a complete and holistic way so that the development is not lopsided.”
He said while countries were beginning to experience economic growth there should be continued strong focus on other issues including that of climate change. In fact, he warned against a “sugar-high” economic growth that he said was “not able to sustain itself”.
“It is these things that keep us, as it were, focused. [The growth] has to be holistic, it has to be sustainable, it has to be inclusive so that when we advance, we advance together, we advance as a whole,” said Leon.
He said while the region has done “well when compared to other places”, in relation to its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, there was still a lot of work to be done to “get the economies back on track”.
He pointed out that tourism dependent states, which would include Barbados, and natural resource- based economies, which include Guyana, benefitted from a resurgence of tourist arrivals in 2021 and commodity exports.
“So the region has come out of this well from a very 2021/2022 perspective. But I always want to caution that before COVID we were clearly not doing as well and we had our whole share of structural issues that didn’t go away with COVID,” he said.
“So those are still there, and even if we can revel in the fact that we have had a strong rebound, especially in the tourism service-oriented economies, some of those structural problems that we had before COVID are still with us.
I would hasten to add, let’s not make the mistake of doing the sugar high story, that we drink the Kool-Aid that is super sweet and feel we are energised and then tomorrow when that super energy goes, we are back down flat and facing our same issues,” Leon warned.
He noted that countries could not afford to continue to “provide support ad infinitum” as they continued to battle impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is why I think you are now seeing the switch [to] ‘we have to start to learn to live with COVID’ so that economies can go back to where they were with a different know-how, different requirements, to allow us to be able to continue to not need the crutch and the support that was provided,” he said.
He advised that the economic recovery being experienced by Barbados and other regional states should be used as “an opportunity” to drive sustainability and tackle some of the structural issues that existed before the health pandemic.
“[Or] else we will end up with the blip, and that blip may look good . . . only for you to come back in two years’ time and say ‘guess what, we’ve all fall flat again’. So let’s not make that mistake twice,” he cautioned.
The economist was responding to questions from journalists on Tuesday as he officially announced the upcoming CDB 52nd annual meeting of the board of governors, which is being hosted jointly with the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The June 1-16 meeting will focus on the theme Measure Better to Target Better: Adaptation and Resilience, and in addition to charting a future path for the CDB, officials are expected to discuss a range of issues spanning food security, renewable energy, climate change and access to finance, among others.