BARBADOS SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP REVISITED – BASIL SPRINGER COLUMN JUNE 26, 2017
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“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:8
Caribbean politicians these days, perhaps it is endemic to the profession, guard very jealously the power surrounding their election to political office.
Their egos drive them to pursue myopic tactics which they think that their constituents will appreciate and which will maintain them individually in power. Despite this, they eventually, sometimes unceremoniously, get booted out of office and the economic fortunes of the country continue to fluctuate.
The challenge is to find a solution to achieve sustainable economic growth.
The solution is to be found in the recognition that, no matter how hard politicians try, they cannot do it on their own and need to aggressively solicit the help of the social partners, the private sector, trade unions and other members of civil society (e.g. the church and service clubs), to take the country on a path to sustainable success rather than just pay lip service. The resulting social partnership may then shepherd the development of a modern efficient economy.
In the early 1990s, a tripartite Social Partnership (government, trade unions and the private sector) was formally established to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis and to implement the Structural Adjustment Programme with the IMF without need for currency devaluation. The first Protocol agreed upon and focussed on wage and price policy as well as fiscal adjustment but also established the National Productivity Board. In 2005, the tripartite partnership agreed on the fifth in what has become a series of Protocols. In 2007, the parties signalled their intention to extend the fifth protocol for another two years.
In my view, this Social Partnership did not execute that Vision and Action that was expected to induce the synergy needed to stimulate the growth in the economy. The Barbados Social Compact has been documented and studied extensively, especially regarding the impact of the Protocols on wages and prices as well as on fiscal policies and its macroeconomic effects. See Journal of Eastern Caribbean Studies, Special Issue on the Barbados Protocols and Social Dialogue in the Caribbean, Vol. 29, No. 4 December 2004.
I was privileged to have been asked by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 2008 to tell the story of the learning experience and relative success of Barbados as an example of a country that has employed public-private alliances. This was at the time of a change in political administration which heralded a promised new look for the Social Partnership by the late Prime Minister David Thompson.
The performance of the Barbados economy, since the advent of the social compact, was reviewed quantitatively (evidence-based analysis) and the conclusion is that the economy, which was in crisis in the early 1990s, has grown significantly. How much of this is due to the social compact and how much would have happened anyway? No one can be absolutely sure. The instruments and institutions which arose out of the social compact were all designed to have a positive impact on the economy so it is reasonable that some credit for the improved economic performance be given to the social compact.
Whereas the ongoing operation of the Social Compact may have resulted in proposals for its institutional strengthening and whereas the new political administration in Barbados may have other proposals, I independently made recommendations for consideration by the Prime Minister of Barbados that Barbados’ Social Partnership builds on its strengths and strengthens its weaknesses. The economy has declined in recent years and I humbly suggest that these recommendations made in 2008 are still valid today.
Let us remember the power of prayer and that “for everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Let us condition our minds to search for solutions, and implement the answers found.