No Longer Business as Usual
Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Deodat Maharaj, goes beyond polite conversations about Caribbean development, and points out why “business as usual” can only hasten the downward trend. He joins the voices pointing us in a new direction that could be our best chance for survival.
To me, development is about people It’s about people having choices, where they can do better than those who came before them. Where you can have equal opportunity regardless of your position on the social ladder. In light of this, it’s important to think not only about access, for example, in education, but the outcome of that access for all citizens. Development also means countries, big or small, having the ability to provide the requirements for their people to thrive and prosper. At the same time, there are some realities to consider. We, in the Caribbean, live in small states. Small states are vulnerable to economic shocks and natural disasters. Take for example Grenada. Twelve years ago they faced Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed 30 percent of homes on the island and caused EC$2.4 billion in damages, more than 200 percent of the country’s GDP. The risks posed by these disasters only increases with climate change. Climate change impacts the Caribbean in a major way. Across the world, the island nation of Kiribati, in the Pacific Ocean, faces an existential threat. Right here in our region, in Guyana, two-thirds of the population live on a thin coastal strip below sea level. The sea wall helps to protect much of Georgetown and the coast. Rising sea levels have major implications for Guyana and coastal communities across the region, where so many of our people live. Then there are a range of other challenges that have nothing to do with nature. Take for example, crime and security. We have some of the highest rates of violent crime in the world. Barbados, a relatively low crime society by most standards, has a homicide rate of 7 per 56 – THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14
100,000 people. Yet, this is still seven times that of the United Kingdom. Based on a study commissioned by the Commonwealth, if current trends continue, some of our Caribbean countries will be among the most violent in the world by 2050. In my “Future of the Caribbean Forum” address in Trinidad & Tobago last May, I spoke about these and other issues we face.
The Debt Cycle Now, there’s little Caribbean countries can do about our geographic size and location. What we can do is build resilience to better respond to shocks, be they economic or environmental. For instance, through long-term planning and the systematic diversification of our economies, we can address some of the threats to our future. Our current reality is that the Caribbean is among the most heavily indebted regions in the world. We have three countries in the region with debt to GDP ratios of over 100 percent. Think about it this way, every dollar spent repaying debt, is a dollar lost to investment in health or education. Furthermore, there have been major changes in the global financial system, that only exacerbate our financial challenges. There are now much greater compliance requirements for financial institutions, in order to counter the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and the illicit transfer of funds. Also, given the recent global financial crisis, banks are more risk averse. These factors help to limit international financial institutions’ involvement in the Caribbean. Overseas Development Assistance is also shrinking. Despite our challenges, most CARICOM countries