Unleashing Growth in the Caribbean - What are We Doing Wrong?

It struck me while listening to a lecture on 'Unleashing Growth and Strengthening Resilience in the Caribbean', based on a recent IMF publication with the same title, that we seem to have locked ourselves into one development model that has been delivering unspectacular results.

Our islands have almost all pursued a very tourism-intensive model of development, which has relied on unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources, massive tax concessions to the investors constructing or managing the hotels, very few horizontal linkages with agriculture or culture, and a focus on job creation of the type referred to in the book 'Tough Choices for Tough Times - The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce' as "routine work" for "less developed countries".

We have persisted with this model, even when the data show that the tourism-intensive economies in the Caribbean have lagged significantly in economic performance behind (i) Caribbean commodity exporter economies, (ii) Non-Caribbean small States, and (iii) the average for Emerging Market and Developing Economies (source: IMF publication referenced above). What is even more perplexing, is that while we have continued with this very heavy tourism-focused model, we have spent few resources in developing or diversifying our tourism product. There is no real focus on health tourism (even while we spend large sums improving our health care facilities and training health care providers), sports tourism (after we incurred significant debt developing sports facilities to host the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup), or ecotourism (when our region is home to one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world). Moreover, if we were to assess how well our tourism industry performs against the accepted benchmarks of (1) economic viability, (2) local prosperity, (3) employment quality, (4) social equity, (5) visitor fulfilment, (6) local control, (7) community wellbeing, (8) cultural richness, (9) physical integrity, (10) biological diversity, (11) resource efficiency, and (12) environmental purity, I fear the scores would not be flattering.

Nowhere in the prescriptions for 'unleashing growth and strengthening resilience in the Caribbean' is there a focus on the need to improve our food and water security status (even while these continue to deteriorate alarmingly), to value and manage our ecosystems and the services they provide (as if the need to develop climate resilience is somehow divorced from our obligation to sustainably manage our natural resources), to invest in research and development to exploit rapidly growing and lucrative niche markets for nutraceutical derivatives from products like turmeric, ginger, soursop and coconut (and whatever other treasure troves reside within our indigenous terrestrial and marine flora and fauna), or to focus and invest in our young people, even when it was shown convincingly by the 2010 Report of the CARICOM Commission on Youth Development that strategic investments in youth development can have significant positive impacts on GDP growth in all our islands.

Until we adopt a more balanced, visionary and people-centred approach to development in the Caribbean, and in particular Saint Lucia, our development will continue to be lopsided and unsustainable.

More and more I am coming to appreciate the wisdom of the words of Charles de Gaulle, President of France and founder of the Fifth Republic, when he said: "I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians". I used that quote in the opening to my book 'Governing in a Small Caribbean Island State'. However, I think we need to expand de Gaulle's thesis to say "national development is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians".

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