Thursday, April 25, 2024

AS I SEE THINGS: Aid and Caribbean development

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RECENTLY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER David Cameron rolled out his master aid programme for the Caribbean to the tune of US$544 million to finance mostly infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. Highlights of this bilateral aid programme include a fresh United Kingdom-Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund for the construction of new ports, roads and bridges to stimulate economic growth and international trade; assistance to enhance the resistance of our various health facilities to natural disaster; and additional activities to spur economic growth and development in the region.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about the potential benefits that can redound to the people and countries of the region if the goals and objectives of this new initiative are fully met. However, what troubles me is the issue of whose agenda is being promoted with this aid package. You see, history has a way of repeating itself and we in the Caribbean function sometimes as if we suffer collectively from the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2002, the then Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Lester Bird, speaking at a CARICOM Foreign Ministers meeting in Jamaica, wasted absolutely no time in calling for a “Marshall Plan” for the Caribbean with corresponding features of a comparable initiative to remodel Europe after

World War II. That call by the then prime minister was based on his conceptualisation of the existing state of affairs in the global economy at the time and the negative consequences likely for Caribbean countries.

Bird said: “We are met at a time when the world is once again perched on the precipice of calamity. In some important quarters of the globe, dialogue has been replaced by diatribe, negotiation has been abandoned for confrontation, and military might is again being perceived as sole arbiter and judge. Solutions are not sought in the language of peace, they are extracted from the carnage of conflict. And if that is not a sufficiently disquieting scenario, there is also a marked reluctance by the rich states to meaningfully address the grave economic problems of the poor. Thus there is now an even greater divide between the haves and the have nots.”

To me, the message should have been crystal clear to all and sundry: if developmental assistance is to be granted to the Caribbean, whatever mechanism is used to achieve that broad objective must be consistent with the economic realities facing the region. And that for me is fair game! I ask therefore: is the recent announcement by Cameron fair game in the context of the existing economic challenges facing Caribbean countries that are destined to benefit from the new aid package? Who decided on the three areas in which the funds are to be invested? To what extent will the aid package benefit economic growth and development in the Caribbean?

If Caribbean countries are the real beneficiaries of this “new deal” with Britain, couldn’t the priority areas for grant funding include things such as the diversification of our economies, the promotion of export oriented activities, improvements in the international competitiveness of regional companies and products, facilitation of small and medium enterprises growth and development, enhancement of international standards, increased awareness and application of information and communications technology, enhancement of our business environments, and the creation of more opportunities for the education and training of workers and young people?

Your humble servant is simply posing questions.

Email:bfrancis@uwi.edu.bb

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