“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” – Joshua 1:8
I can remember quite vividly landing at Palisadoes International Airport in Jamaica in October 1960 to begin my tertiary studies. There was no choice in air travel from Barbados to Kingston in those days. The economic alternative was to travel by the inter-island boats, the Federal Maple or the Federal Palm, which were gifts of the Canadian government in support of the West Indies Federation (1958-1962).
Ten days ago we landed in Jamaica, at the Norman Manley International Airport as it is known today. There has been a major transformation of airport infrastructure and a relatively smooth entry in terms of passenger airport logistics. The aircraft was the elegant Airbus 321 and the airline, Air Jamaica. The flight was smooth; there was excellent in flight service; we requested and received comfortable bulk-head seats; there was good value audio listening to accompany my laptop diligence; and, best of all, on-time arrival.
Part of the return journey was less pleasurable because of tedious passenger airport logistics but nevertheless the Air Jamaica personnel were proactive thus reducing the chance of passengers missing their flight because of the long check in lines. Passengers fed into the Kingston hub on their way to Barbados, Grenada and New York. There was a delay in departure because of this and because two passengers did not show up and their bags had to be removed before we could depart. The staff kept us informed. This was an excellent palliative to reduce the pain of the delay. We were not allocated bulk-head seats on this occasion but all six of them were unoccupied. A flight attendant kindly facilitated our relocation once the door was closed. The bulk-head seats, as far as comfort is concerned, are literally and figuratively the closest that you can physically get to first class travel and the Airbus 321 is no exception. The rest of the journey was as comfortable as the first leg.
The occasion was the 60th anniversary of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaican style. UWI is where I met my wife and it was delightful to see so many old acquaintances and friends after all these years, as well as meeting people whose names we knew but had never met and those who knew of us but whom we were meeting for the first time. It was a hectic 5 days, but enjoyable.
One of the highlights of the visit was a symposium on the occasion of which my wife’s recently launched book, “Truly a Gentleman”, chronicling the life of The Right Excellent Sir Hugh Worrell Springer, was on display and sale. The title of the symposium was “The UWI an Agency for Regional Development and Change – Has it succeeded?”
I could not resist the temptation to make a contribution from the floor. I interpreted regional development as sustainable regional development where one looks at the spiritual, social, cultural, economic and physical environment. From my perspective, sustainable development is driven by the economic thrust where focus is placed on the performance of the productive sectors. If we can expand our productive sectors – oil, tourism, agriculture, financial services, manufacturing, indigenous service exports and renewable energy, then we can grow the economy, enhance wealth, boost socio-economic well being and reduce poverty. With this economic development driver in place, attention can then be directed to the nurturing of spiritual awareness towards establishing a strong moral and ethical foundation; building the social and cultural platforms to demonstrate care for our fellowman and appreciate the finer things in life; and paying attention to the physical environment by ensuring that we make the right decisions today to protect Planet Earth for posterity.
I commented how economic growth is stimulated by enterprise development and that for enterprise development to be sustained, especially in emerging enterprises, training people capable of finding solutions to Caribbean problems and timely access to appropriate financial instruments, are key factors of success.
I pointed out that the UWI should significantly expand their thrust to train problem solvers, not just academics, in the ratio dictated by the challenges of economic growth. People are our most important asset and we must develop them to the fullest. UWI should research Singapore’s history, and more recently that of Ireland, to get the “people development” strategy right. Timely access to seed and venture capital has long been recognised as necessary to boost economic thrusts yet we in the Caribbean have procrastinated for decades at the expense of slow rates of growth and the socio-economic well being of our people.
The general opinion, at the end of the symposium, was that the debaters, panellists and the audience gave the UWI a passing grade while acknowledging that there were many areas left in which UWI could excel. The concept of Centres of Excellence was promoted – then thou shalt have good success.