“For the first time, I saw that the Government was thinking about the same issues as I was. I didn’t know.”
These hotel owner’s words are characteristic of many in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In many OECS countries, trust between the public and private sector may be at historically low levels but the implications for policy making are enormous, particularly at a time in which tough choices need to be made.
The recent financial crisis hit countries very hard. Affecting foreign direct investment and tourism revenues, debt levels surged. And this has been compounded by natural disasters such as Hurricane Ivan, which led to estimated losses of twice Grenada’s GDP in 2004. (Debt to GDP ratios reached 150% in Saint Kitts and Nevis, 100% in Grenada and 90% in Antigua and Barbuda, with even the wealthier OECS islands reaching 70%).
Everyone I met, from the government to the private sector and civil society, expressed the same sense of urgency in moving forward with the growth agenda. Time is key to finding ways to generate growth, diversify the economy, strengthen regional connectivity and, most of all, provide a brighter future for the youth.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. As a member of the tourist association in Saint Lucia reminded us during our meeting there in January “we already know what needs to be done, what is needed now is action.”
The priorities are clear, as the World Bank report describes:
- improving macro stability,
- making the public sector accountable on reforms,
- enhancing the investment climate,
- building skills for a new knowledge economy,
- developing a proactive trade agenda and
- strengthening regional integration.
But knowing all of this has, so far, not helped much. And “business as usual” is no longer enough. Real change will require going beyond political will and building a strong and broad-based social coalition for growth, which can overcome existing resistance.
The Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF) brings a structured approach for public-private dialogue, helping governments move towards inclusive, transparent and accountable policy making. Shared solutions are solutions that work. Not surprisingly, the public and private sector, as well as civil society, in the OECS share many common needs and concerns. By actively engaging in the policy reform dialogue through the CGF, they also are now beginning to build a common vision for their country, as well as for the Caribbean, in the 21st century.
The movement is growing, and I can already feel skepticism give way to a sense of possibility.
“We’re here to discuss ICT (information and communication technologies), but in school we’re not even taught ICT. We’re glad we can be here and have a way to express our voice,” said students during the launch of the CGF in Antigua and Barbuda. Now, why not add your voice? Speak up for change in the Caribbean. Join the CGF discussions on Twitter (@caribgrowth) and Facebook.
So far, the CGF has begun in the Dominican Republic and five out of seven OECS countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis), and it will kick-off in Dominica on March 15th.
To learn more about the CGF, a multi-donor initiative supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank (WB), and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in collaboration with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) visit the webpage.
Sara Giannozzi contributed to this blog.