“Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people – The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” – Nehemiah 4:19-20.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), headquartered in Santiago, Chile, is one of the five regional commissions of the UN Economic and Social Council. It was created in 1948 to support Latin American Governments in the economic and social development of that region and reinforces economic relationships among the countries and with other nations of the world. The sub-regional headquarters for the Caribbean is in Trinidad & Tobago.

The thirty-second session of ECLAC was held last week (in its 60th anniversary year) in the Dominican Republic. The feature address at the opening ceremony was brilliantly delivered by His Excellency, Dr. Leonel Fernández, President of the Dominican Republic.

One of the primary activities at these biennial meetings is to review the performance of the countries over the last two years and to approve the plan of operation for the next two years. This process included four panel presentations on the following topics: (1) LAC and structural changes in the world economy; (2) Competitiveness and learning in the natural resources sector; (3) Competitiveness and learning in the manufacturing and services sectors; and (4) Public-private partnerships for innovation and restructuring of production. Panel 4 was moderated by the Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade of the Republic of Korea. This was the first formal intervention by Korea since its admission to membership of ECLAC last year.

Barbados is one of the few countries in LAC which has formally established a private-public partnership at the national level and I was commissioned by ECLAC to review this Barbados Social Compact experience. I presented a synopsis of my findings at the ECLAC sub-regional meeting of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee in Trinidad in April 2008 and was a panelist in Panel 4 in Santo Domingo last week.

I must say that the sprinkling of Caribbean participants among the 385 persons who attended in Santo Domingo did reflect the relative insignificance of the Caribbean in this LAC setting. However, E.F. Schumacher observed, that “Small is Beautiful” and that if we are not noticed by dint of quantity, we certainly have the opportunity to impress in the context of quality. I did have occasion to recall that whereas Lima, Peru (8.5 million people) is managed by a provincial mayor, the English speaking Caribbean (6 million people) is managed by 14 Prime Ministers.

Barbados was officially represented in Trinidad by Senator the Hon. Maxine McClean, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and in Santo Domingo by the Hon. George Hutson, M.P., Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce. H.E. Ambassador Dr. Christopher Hackett, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations was also in attendance last week.

On each occasion, I concluded my presentation with recommendations for the way forward, in the context of the Barbados Social Compact. Based on the feedback both locally, regionally and internationally, many countries which do not have such a formal social compact system are very interested in maintaining contact so that they may benefit from the concepts developed for Barbados now and in the future. Indeed, the sub-regional ECLAC office has been approached about mounting a Barbados conference which would focus specifically on public-private partnerships to which the leading countries in the world, which practise this philosophy, would be invited.

Whereas the ongoing operation of the Barbados Social Compact may have resulted in proposals for its institutional strengthening and whereas the new political administration in Barbados may have other proposals, I have independently determined that the following recommendations should be considered: (1) integrate the social compact into the governance structure of Barbados; (2)  annually review the National Strategic Plan to take into account any changes in the environment; (3) formally establish the social compact as an entity with a specific mission and autonomous operation which is an advisory body to the Prime Minister; (4) monitor the roles of the partners in the tripartite group i.e. the private sector should “do business”, the Government should provide regulatory and services functions, and the trade unions should expand their role to include inducing employer/employee harmony towards increased productivity for fair compensation; (5) promote the concept of the social compact throughout LAC; (6)  establish a strong public relations arm so that all persons in Barbados think “smart partnership” in their day-to-day living; (6) expand the tripartite nature of the social compact to include wider representation from national stakeholders; (7) strengthen the internal operation of the social compact by institutionalizing the higher level, lower level, and national consultation groups, so that they are most effective; (8) review protocols with a view to strengthening them as required; (9) appoint a full-time CEO, with highly qualified and experienced supporting staff; (10) fund a budget to adequately manage a centre of excellence in strategic thinking with the best brains available.

Even though the time taken to travel around the region is great compared with the effective time of one’s intervention, the networking opportunities are valuable. As the trumpet sounds, let us rally for mutual benefit.