By Marlon Madden
There are concerns that Barbados and other Caribbean countries are stuck in a cycle of rebuilding because of a lack of resilience against crises, even though authorities know what must be done.
This was highlighted on Wednesday by Development Specialist with the Caribbean Policy Development Centre Geneva Oliverie, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr Kevin Greenidge, and Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Private Sector Organisation Gervase Warner who were panellists at the Caribbean Economic Forum.
The virtual event, which was hosted by the Central Bank, was held under the theme, Managing Caribbean Economies in an Era of Many Crises.
Results of a quick survey, presented at the start of the event, showed that people were more concerned about high prices, followed by debt levels, food shortages, climate change and natural disaster, and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Those surveyed said they believed governments were responsible for taking the lead in addressing those crises.
Oliverie said she was very concerned about the impact these crises continued to have on the region.
“I feel as if the Caribbean is in a permanent state of rebuilding because of our debt issues . . . . It is no longer silent; it is loud, it is screaming at us and it is something that needs to be addressed very soon, or else we will not ever know what sustainability means in the region,” she said.
The development specialist noted that events like climate change have resulted in higher unemployment levels and unsustainable increases in fiscal expenditure, resulting in higher debt levels.
“So this permanent state of rebuilding prevents us from growing. How can you grow something that is constantly being broken and for how long can we sustain the unsustainable? In addition to [debt], we have a vicious cycle of climate change from climate events,” she said.
The civil society representative said authorities were aware of the need for greater focus on economic growth, diversification and policies to protect residents and create employment opportunities for the youth.
She said it was also time for regional leaders to devise ways to get non-debt financing to help build resilience across their economies.
“The citizens don’t have to suffer. We don’t have to be the eggs that are broken in order to make an omelette,” Oliverie said.
“We need to take a look at our sustainable development model and find out if it is fit for purpose and if it is still relatable and if it is something that we should revise as we seek to move forward. However, how are we funding resilience so that we wouldn’t be in this cycle of debt and this permanent state of rebuilding?” she questioned.
Warner, who is the President and Group Chief Executive Officer of the Massy Group, said that in addition to the crises identified, the challenge to the region’s progress and ability to bounce back faster after a crisis was further compounded by the lack of affordable air travel and high levels of bureaucracy.
However, he said there were equally tremendous opportunities and assets in the form of highly-skilled residents that set the region apart from the rest of the world.
Warner said the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine should serve as a wake-up call for the region to return to producing most of what it consumes while pooling resources to help meet global demands.
“For us to be resilient, for us to be able to react to crises as they are happening, we need to be far more agile, we need our people to be more empowered to make decisions, we need our people to know that we are listening to them,” he said.
“If we made it easier for our entrepreneurs to actually generate ideas and start businesses and get access across the CARICOM scope of countries, if we make it easier for them to access financing and get counsel as opposed to making it hard because of the artificial barriers that we all face, I think we would unlock the opportunity to truly diversify our [economies],” added Warner.
Greenidge gave the assurance that Barbados continued to make strides towards building resilience, as he singled out work being done under the Bridgetown Initiative and the ongoing Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme, and infrastructure projects, as well as building in natural disaster clauses into debt securities issued by government.
“We are now in an environment where crises after crises have now become the order of the day and we can expect the next crisis around the corner. I think what we have to do individually and collectively is to build resilience in our economies, in every way we do our business,” said the Central Bank Governor.
He indicated that the Government has been driving down debt while ensuring more prudent fiscal management, therefore creating more space to adequately respond to crises.
“My point is, I think our focus has to be building resilience in everything we do; for example, we need to build resilience in our institutions, in our regulatory institutions, state-owned enterprises where we reduce wastage and inefficiencies, and build structures so that when the next crisis hits we are able, because we are lean and fit for purpose, to step up expenditure without having to layoff persons and without having to rely heavily on government,” Greenidge said.