“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” – Psalms 133:1
A Social Partnership exists in Barbados between Government, Employers’ representatives and Workers’ representatives. This partnership is called a Social Compact, the first Protocol of which covered the period April 1, 1993 to March 31, 1995. April 2004 signaled the start of Protocol V and Barbados has benefited significantly by the ‘brethren dwelling together in unity’.
The Social Partners desire through their association in a Social Compact to create a modern, efficient economy which is able to (1) produce high and sustainable economic growth accompanied by increased employment, (2) establish through low inflation an equilibrium between prices and incomes, (3) achieve a society which enjoys a greater degree of inclusiveness in all its facets and (4) engender a conscious and deliberate effort to distribute equitably the benefits of economic growth.
The annual Private/Public Sector Consultation on the economy took place at Sherbourne Conference Centre on Friday and Saturday last week. This annual event was undoubtedly inspired by the social compact and it was reported that Barbados is one of the few countries in the world where this type of consultation takes place on a regular basis.
At the opening ceremony on Friday, Prime Minister Arthur was reported as saying that the economy faced many challenges, although there were a number of positive developments. He added that Government had to create a framework for tackling them to ensure the island remained on a path of sustainable economic development.
Mr. Chris DeCaires, President of the Barbados Private Sector Agency, cautioned that Barbadian Business Leaders have to improve the efficiency of their management, using better information systems, and a slogan of ‘doing it right the first time and every time’.
Trade Union Leader, Sir Roy Trotman underscored the key role of labour by stating that it has a pivotal role to play in any strategising for national, regional or even international development which we may attempt. He cautioned that, without enhancement of the human resources, development will not take root and economic growth will not be sustained.
In each of these statements there is evidence of concern that even though we have done well, we cannot rest on our laurels. In the context of posterity, our journey has only just begun. Because of the rapidly changing external environment, we must constantly be refocusing our radar and be prepared for the challenges of the new images on the screen. This calls for a period of Visioning, which is presumably part of the mission of the annual Private/Public Sector Consultation, followed by dedicated and sustained diligent Action.
It is in this Action process that the Social Compact, in my opinion, has broken down. There are endless examples, but before I mention a few, let us examine the roles of the social partners involved in the social compact. The role of government is to provide regulatory and service functions towards a user friendly enabling environment; the role of the private sector is to do business in an efficient and competitive manner towards the end of achieving sustainable net foreign exchange gains; the role of the trade union is to induce employer/employee harmony in the interest of high productivity for fair compensation.
Economic growth cannot take place unless there is sustainable enterprise development, which is a private sector function. Necessary and sufficient elements of enterprise development are the entrepreneur, management and money. The emerging private sector has to be encouraged to seek new areas of enterprise development, identify appropriate entrepreneurs, train and/or import management if necessary and devise creative of investment in these innovative enterprises. This latter task is not as formidable as it may appear, if we adopt the concept of ‘management as collateral’ which indeed protects against the risk of failure. Government’s responsibility here is not so much as to provide money but to work with the private sector, which already has access to money, and create an enabling environment to facilitate protection for private sector investment.
Government should not be tempted to meddle in private sector affairs, even if it does have to finance a project initially. Any attempt by Government to be involved in financing enterprise development can be fraught with bureaucracy, political interference and non-visionary thinking. This is not to say that the existing private sector is perfect but we have to focus on the goals of the respective roles of the social partners and relentlessly pursue this path.
I am especially concerned with reports in the press relating to the allegation that the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers was not consulted by government on the latest plans for traffic management which include the construction of flyovers. Generally, there is a wealth of knowledge in the community which is not systematically accessed by Government. Take heed of the word ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’. The social compact has to reach out to all sources of Barbadian expertise to address the many existing challenges e.g. delinquent youth, constitutional change, solid waste management, ‘minibus culture’, impact of CSM(E), West Indies Sea Island Cotton, diversification of sugar cane and renewable energy. We must convert the Vision, which obviously exists, into Action.