Conference on the Caribbean: Into the Briar Patch

During June 19-21, in Washington, DC, Caribbean leaders, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, and others will mingle with members of the US government, representatives of international and regional financial institutions, and others with an interest in the region (see link). There will be two side forums on private sector development and the Diaspora.

The Caribbean region has many issues to face. Whether politicians see the issues in the same way as their populations is not clear, but the democratic process will be a guide as elections come along later this year. To me there are several thorny problems that could derail the region’s vision for itself.

First, is the burr of intraregional trade. It has been clear for some time that each Caribbean nation does not view neutrally the arrival of investors from another country. I will cite just the recent reaction in Barbados to the proposed take over by Trinidad’s Neal and Massy of Barbados Shipping and Trading. Generally, people don’t see these moves as strengthening the region’s ability to compete in a broad international environment, but merely as the loss of an important national player to a foreign entity, and as such a bad thing. The economic and financial explanations of possible merits rarely sink into most people’s minds. It is little different, when we consider the movement of labour between the countries. The movement of skilled or other workers from the larger countries (Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica) is often seen negatively in the smaller countries such as Barbados. And these movements quickly get tinged with emotive and racist language, citing themes such as “invasions” and “aggressiveness”.  So, what future for regional intiatives such as CSME? There does not seem a readiness to share a common economic space, especially if it means an influx from poorer, more violent, and apparently less stable countries in the region.

Related to this is the prickly question of regional air travel. The region may not really be able to support its own stock of air operators. We have seen the demise of Caribbean Airlines. The merger of Liat-Caribbean Star is underway. Air Jamaica’s future has been called into question, not least by the recent selling of its Kingston-London route to Virgin Airways. The other problem is the high cost of travel within the region, with its related negative impact on tourism. Liat-Caribbean Star charges too much for travelling short distances within the region: the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Vincent Vanderpool-Wallance, has recently called these high fares the “silent killer” of regional tourism. The fact that some of the shareholders (Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent) in the regional airline also own their main airports, puts a contradictory twist to how to price for international travel, given that the airport investment needs to be recouped. St. Lucia’s government has recently announced that it will no longer finance Liat, and has contracted with American Airlines to provide services between St. Lucia and Barbados. A little friction between the governments over these moves will be no surprise!

A complex and growing issue is the relationship with China. This has the double dimension of which “China” countries decide to work with. Some Caribbean countries are for a “one China” policy and are building deeper relations with the People’s Republic (see Barbados’ PM’s recent visit to Beijing, for example). Others do not wish to follow that road and are deeping relations with Taiwan (see St. Lucia, for example). Some (like St. Lucia) seem to switch with a change of government (see article in Broad Street Journal). The People’s Republic of China has an interesting position at present. It is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (see link), with its own Director and seat on the Board of Governors. It is becoming a major source of financing in the region, especially of prestige construction projects (such as stadiums and highways). The People’s Republic of China is taking a fast-extending role in the development of poorer countries worldwide (especially in Africa, where this help can also mean access to valuable primary commodities), and has the resources to fulfill this role. It has also become an important source of labour to the Caribbean to help with construction projects. But this latter aspect is coming at a price as local opinion quickly turns hostile when it seems that local labour is being pushed to the side (whether due to proper procedure of suspected underhand dealings). Whether local labour has the skills to compete well against Chinese workers, it is often hard to compete with Chinese companies on price: anecdotal stories of Chinese workers getting US10 a day and having to rumage around to find food and live in what are seen as squalid conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the Chinese worker. The presence of Chinese workers and contractors is not a singular problem in the Caribbean, but part of the emerging impact that the People’s Republic is having on economic developments. It is becoming the dominant international force. Mix this with the pre-existing sense of invasion from foreigners that some are feeling and one does not have to look far to see an unhappy road ahead if somehow the apparent large influx of Chinese workers is not controlled, especially in the smaller islands.

The politicians and others will have more than these issues to think and talk about and I will try to see if some of these reflections can be quickly incorporated into this blog.

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Hoping for Leadership in Cricket

Many would have hoped that the Cricket World Cup would have provided a wonderful platform to showcase what the region can do. Yet, we have seen a tournament that had so many missteps that it is hard to believe that the region’s image has not been tarnished. Whatever legacy benefits may be expected, at the current time, these would seem to be distant promises. The world will not really be able to distinguish whether the conduct of the tournament was due to the role of local organizing committees, or to the role of the International Cricket Council. The world is not so interest in cricket to dig deep to know the real reasons. It will simply see the Caribbean as “not being able”.layout1_1_pklpigayle200gk.jpg

Continue reading

Having problems with regionalism and globalisation

A lot of talk has been generated by the Cricket World Cup (CWC) as an example of how the region can come together and make things successful. But around that talk there are other mutterings or loud shouts that suggest that not everyone sees it this way. Take, for example, the opening and closing ceremonies for CWC. I have heard and read comments that complained that the Jamaicans did not pay enough attention to the culture from the other countries. Recently, some Bajans have been complaining that the closing ceremony did not showcase Barbados, not least because the contract for the final music and dance “spectacle” had been given to a Trinidadian, Peter Minshall. That added to discontent that much of the final event had involved contracts going to foreign companies. Continue reading

Jamaican economic growth and inflation doing better, but budget overruns are worrying, says IMF

The IMF’s latest assessment of Jamaica’s economic performance is very positive (see http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2007/cr07152.pdf). It notes that the economy registered its best growth for nearly a decade, at just under 3% in FY 2006-7. Equally significant, prices rose by 6 1/2% in FY 2006-7, compared to a recent high of 19% in September 2005. The improvement in agricultural activity helped in both cases. The current account of the balance of payments also improved, helped by increased tourist receipts and remittances. With the help of capital inflows, net international reserves reached historically high levels, at just about US$ 2.3 billion.

However, the budgetary picture remains worrisome, and fiscal targets for FY 2006/07 were missed by a wide margin notwithstanding the overall strong economic context. Continue reading

What the Caribbean in paying for crime

This week, the World Bank in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime produced a report entitled “Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean” (see document crimeandviolenceinthecaribbeanfullreport1.pdf). It details and quantifies some of the startlingly terrifying statistics about violent crime in the region, and notes that the solutions are not to be gained from national actions, but need international efforts, especially from the United States of America, from where most of the guns come, and to where most of the drugs traded through the region go.

 The region’s vulnerability to drug trafficking as a transhipment point is a major problem, wedged between the major sources of cocaine in the south and the major consumer markets in the north. Continue reading

The Practice of Economic Management: A Caribbean Perspective

A Dominican friend of mine, Thomson Fontaine, recently reviewed a book by Dr. Courtney Blackman, former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, entitled The Practice of Economic Management: A Caribbean Perspective. The review appeared in the Winter 2007 Harvard International Review and is copyrighted, and I reproduce it below.

Mr. Fontaine is an economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He is also an executive member of the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences and President of the Caribbean Association of World Bank IMF Staff. He also manages the website http://thedominican.net.

Here is the review: 

In this compelling selection of 22 essays, Dr. Courtney Blackman, the founding governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, lays out a clear and concise description of economic issues affecting the Caribbean within a broader political context. Continue reading

What will we learn from CWC? We need honesty and to listen to the critics

ken-gordon.jpgI listened to WICB president, Ken Gordon (see photo), talking on the radio this afternoon. He talked freely about aspects of West Indies cricket management and poor performances in the recent CWC, noting that we played according to the form book, being beaten by better teams. (It’s worth remembering, though, that Mr. Gordon had predicted that West Indies would win the tournament.) But he lamented the manner of the defeats and the absence of a sense of wanting to fight for victory. He spoke about the need to change attitudes and practices in the team and more broadly, and felt that the WICB was a better organization now. We may not all agree on his assessment of the WICB (see recent commentary in The Jamaica Gleaner), the outgoing captain, Brian Lara, or how best to move forward with cricket in the region, it was good for him to speak on these subjects and not immediately duck some of the difficult questions. Continue reading

Fire in de belly! Election fever is starting

fnm-fire-belly.jpgThis year will see several general elections in the region, and The Bahamas have kicked off the races. In the Caribbean we put the party feeling into most things, including politics, and it’s good to see people getting out for rallies and “enjoying” their democratic rights. There are no certainties in elections, but opposition supporters are chanting loudly “It ain’ long now!” or “It ova!”, as they expect a massive victory. So far, the debates have been heated and the supporters fervent. We hope that this will continue to be the trend, without any descent into violence against candidates or supporters. fnm-fire-crown.jpgHowever, recent reports of possible arson with the burning down of the constituency office of “Tommy” Turnquest, a very promintent member of opposition party, Free National Movement, indicate that this may be too hopeful. Continue reading

Scrap the West Indies cricket team!

lara.jpgGet rid of the regional side and let the individual countries play as nations. Why do we want to hold onto a side that represents a group of nations? We don’t have that for football, where Jamaica and Trinidad have shown themselves good enough to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. We don’t have it for athletics, and whether individual islands or the whole region cheers for world records by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, he can be taken as a West Indian without having to represent a team with any such name. We don’t see it in swimming, or tennis, or netball, and we could go on. Continue reading

Disarray in West Indies cricket: WICB in financial trouble; team lags behind the world’s best in many aspects

wicket.jpgMany tough questions have already been asked about the preparedness of the West Indies team for the current CWC, but now that the team cannot qualify for the semi-finals, we begin to see the kind of news that many suspected was behind part of the failure. The West Indies Cricket Board president Ken Gordon  states that it has no money for money for development; while it is breaking even it has a US$15 million debt!

So, how will the WICB go forward to develop players and coaches? Already, we are seeing promises that “in another few months we might be able to make some progress but we have to keep working…”, but credibility has already been stretched by what we have seen during the CWC.  Continue reading