It has been almost four years since I first became involved with the regional public-private dialogue initiative, the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF). In June 2012, I walked into the conference room at University of the West Indies, Mona Campus for the Launch of the first phase of the initiative and there was something electric in the air. It was new and fresh, but old fears lingered; was this to become 'just another regional talk-shop?'
Wide-eyed and optimistic I was determined that for my small part it wouldn't turn out that way.
The fact is that a government can soften a recession by increasing spending (the counter-cyclical approach) to raise demand and output. If government reduces spending (the pro-cyclical approach), the likely result is a deeper recession.
Volatility in financial markets gets wide attention in the public eye. Less noticed is what we in the development world call macroeconomic volatility—faster-than-desired swings in the broad forces which shape an economy. Think investment, government spending, interest rates, foreign trade and the like.
There are three key questions to analyze: how do these forces interact, what is their effect on overall growth, and what policies are best to follow? All this is of more than academic interest: macroeconomic volatility can bring substantial hardships to millions of people
“Plantain nu eat like rice” — a Caribbean saying roughly translated as “Make do with what is available to you” — applies to the region’s experience with public-private partnerships (PPPs) as well as to life on the islands. For many decades, implementation of PPPs in the Caribbean has been mixed; government officials and citizens alike have had to “make do” with these results.
Some partnerships have successfully delivered new or improved roads, ports, airports, bulk water treatment facilities, and electricity generation plants, along with other high-quality infrastructure facilities. However, other promising PPPs faced challenges that were never overcome. In many cases, the complexity of the PPP development and implementation process meant long delays in delivering projects; others resulted in questionable value or unexpected costs to governments or consumers.
To help Caribbean governments fulfill the promise of PPPs to deliver improved infrastructure assets and services, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the World Bank Group (WBG), and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) have created the Caribbean Regional Support Facility. This US$1.2 million program was launched at the High-Level Workshop on Practical Implementation on PPPs in Saint Lucia on June 15. An important component of its near-term activities, an upcoming series of boot camp-style workshops, will increase technical capacity among Caribbean government officials, offering the depth and breadth that’s been missing from the PPP market.
A boat trip from Port Elizabeth to Kingstown, in the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is a one-hour trip that locals take several times a day. It was during one of these journeys that the boat of Kamara Jerome, a young Vincentian fisherman, ran out of gas six miles from Bequia City in what is termed locally as the "Bequia Channel." While waiting for help with strong wind gusts and the sun on his head, the idea of developing a boat that would run with wind and solar energy was born. Soon after, the idea became a prototype; a boat using green technology was on the water making 20-year-old Jerome a winner of international innovation competitions and a role model to other Caribbean youth.
In Mexico, young engineer Daniel Gomez runs a multimillion bio-diesel company originally conceived as a research project for his high school chemistry class. Gomez and his partners - Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez, and Mauricio Pareja - founded SOLBEN (Solutions in bio-energy in Spanish) in their early twenties.
Although Daniel and Kamara have different educational backgrounds, they do share one important skill, the ability to identify a problem, develop an innovative solution, and take it to the market. In other words, being an entrepreneur, an alternative to be economically active, that seems to work and not only for a few.
In addition to their often devastating human toll, natural disasters can have an extremely adverse economic impact on countries. Disasters can be particularly calamitous for developing countries because of the low level of insurance penetration in those countries. Only about 1% of natural disaster-related losses between 1980 and 2004 in developing countries were insured, compared to approximately 30% in developed countries. This means the financial burden of natural disasters in developing countries falls primarily on governments, which are often forced to reallocate budget resources to finance disaster response and recovery. At the same time, their revenues are typically falling because of decreased economic activity following a disaster. The result is less money for government priorities like education or health, thereby magnifying the negative developmental impact of a disaster.
To address this problem, the World Bank Treasury has been helping our clients protect their public finances in the event of a natural disaster. The most recent innovation is our new Capital-at-Risk Notes program, which allows our clients to access the capital markets through the World Bank to hedge their natural disaster risk. Under the program, the World Bank issues a bond supported by the strength of our own balance sheet, and hedges it through a swap or similar contract with our client. The program allows us to transfer risks from our clients to the capital markets, where interest in catastrophe bonds is growing.
What does it take to make reforms work in small island countries?
At the end of June 2013, twelve Caribbean countries presented a roadmap for growth in three areas -logistics and connectivity, investment climate, skills and productivity- to a broad audience of private sector representatives, international development institutions, regional organization, civil society and media. That event culminated a 7-month long phase during which policy-making was not the result of close-doors meetings, but a process of intense negotiation, consultations, and consensus building among all actors of each Caribbean country’s societies. All of which was documented in real time and in a transparent fashion by each government. Yes, business was not “business as usual”.
Reforms priorities were agreed and a calendar for implementation brushed on a power point slide in the wonderful framework of five stars Bahamian hotel…After the workshop lights, projects and microphones shut down, many of us went home with a familiar sound in our ears: and now what? Was it another “talkshop”?