At a time when many Caribbean countries continue to struggle to overcome relentless economic and social challenges, it is mandatory that great care be taken in the allocation of already scare financial and human resources.
This allocation of resources cannot be deemed important only in relation to the payment of wages and salaries, interest on loans, the acquisition of goods and services and subventions to statutory bodies and regional and international organisations.
The fiscal situation facing Caribbean countries at present should no doubt signal to our governments that they ought to give serious consideration to not only their participation in regional and international conferences but also to the cost of such participation.
After all, participation in regional and international conferences at this crucial time in Caribbean development should be done on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. What that means is that the purpose and anticipated outcomes of these conferences must be weighed against the cost of participation and a determination is then made as to whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
At the practical level, it means that our governments must do all in their power to ensure that the issues that are most important to us are put on the agenda and are given adequate attention during deliberations at those conferences. How often does this happen?
This brings me, therefore, to the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that took place in Apia, Samoa, during the period September 1 to 4, 2014.
That conference, held under the theme The Sustainable Development Of Small Island Developing States Through Genuine And Durable Partnerships, addressed several important and timely matters such as sustainable tourism, climate change, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, oceans and seas, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, sustainable transportation, sustainable consumption and production, management of chemicals and waste, health and non-communicable diseases, gender equality and women’s empowerment, social development, and biodiversity, among other things.
Indeed, no one would reasonably deny that these issues are important for the survival and development of Caribbean economies. But when it comes to the question of sustainable development the top priorities for Caribbean countries at the moment should clearly be our fiscal and debt challenges.
It was therefore rather surprising to me when I came across a story by Jubilee USA under the caption United Nations Small Islands Conference Fails To Address Major Debt And Tax Crisis in which Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, is reported as saying that “while the final [outcome] statement talks about the urgency to raise revenue for these struggling islands, it’s baffling that there is hardly a mention of their debt crises and no proposed tax plans.”
The executive director is further reported as saying that “The conference hasn’t ended yet and there is still time to build partnerships to tackle the economic crises facing the islands. I’d encourage the delegates to not head to a Fia Fia Luau tonight and instead work late until they have a plan.”
If, indeed, that conference ends without a solid plan to tackle the debt and fiscal challenges confronting small countries like those in the Caribbean, then, to me, we would have missed an important opportunity to address two of the more pressing issues we presently face in relation to our sustainable development.
And for that reason alone, I would tend to believe that the costs of our participation in this conference may very well exceed the benefits.