“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” – Proverbs 29:18.

“The Walcott-Jagdeo Carifesta clash: Who lost?” This was a headline in the Kaieteur News in Guyana on August 28.

The newspaper reported that: “President Jagdeo of Guyana may be twenty-five years younger than the Caribbean giant, Derek Walcott, one of the first three Caribbean Nobel Laureates (the other two: Arthur Lewis and VS Naipaul) but that does not mean he cannot challenge a theory or a hypothesis of Mr. Walcott…”

“…Mr. Walcott’s deeply held belief is that Caribbean Governments do not spend on arts and culture…Mr. Jagdeo offered Mr. Walcott an explanation that would have got any Caribbean academic really mad. He intoned that there isn’t money left back from the necessities of nation-building to spend on the arts and culture. Walcott was livid. One wonders what was going through the mind of the President when he made that statement, the implications of which are Naipaulian. If money is the reason, and we have been hearing that since independence in the sixties, then Naipaul was right – Caribbean society cannot achieve maturity. If money was short in the sixties why are funds still not there eight years into the 21st century? …Ireland was as poor as the Caricom states just ten years ago. Ireland today is the fastest growing European economy. Ireland puts finance into culture and education”.

Clive Bacchus, Managing Director of the St. Kitts radio station Winn FM 98.9, a regular participant at the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) events and a Caribbean Media Awards winner, telephoned me to request a few sound bytes on the Walcott-Jagdeo impasse. This request he made in the context of my experience in the tourism sector, the leading economic sector in most Caribbean countries, and my interest in the role of the media in the Caribbean.

I chose to hang my response on the framework of sustainable development which is an important goal, individually and collectively, for the countries of the Caribbean. Here is an attempt to paraphrase that response.

A widely used definition of Sustainable Development is “Action that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – Brundtland Commission (1983). Or, in other words, “What do we have to do today to protect Planet Earth for our children and grandchildren?”

Sustainable development is a holistic concept and embraces the spiritual, social, physical, economic and cultural environments. Successful sustainable development implies a better quality of life and is a measure of happiness in nations. Happiness, of course, is the purpose of life. Our planning must be balanced with respect to each of these environmental elements – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We must set realistic, time-specific and measurable objectives and take action to achieve them with the resources available to us.

Spiritually, we must protect our value system which nourishes our inner being. We must promote moral upliftment. Socially, we must develop our people, our most important resource, to the fullest. We must adopt comprehensive human resource development practices. Physically, we must preserve our top soil and keep our soil, water and air free of pollutants. We must independently enhance “disaster risk” and “post disaster” management and communication systems. Economically, we must sharpen our vision and seek to achieve synergies by applying timely action in the productive sectors, including tourism, which fuel our economy. We must aim for and sustain high levels of economic growth. Culturally, we must seek continuous improvement in our way of life: our Language; our Arts and Sciences; the Perceptions of the world around us; our Festivities and Life-celebrating events; and our Interaction with fellow human beings driven by smart partnership and win-win philosophies.

The public/private sector management teams of all our countries are challenged with all this and we have not been successful in achieving the balance necessary for sustainable development – no wonder Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was livid.

A business, where one is selling a product or service to an individual, corporate or public sector consumer, is only defined to be absolutely successful when it is sufficiently profitable to sustain the promised return on investment to its investors. This sustained profitability derives from the success of its revenue streams, its productivity enhancement and its ability to contain costs. The business is driven by revenue, without it there can be no profit.

Similarly a government, where one is providing services to a country, is only defined to be absolutely successful when there is balance in the elements of the environment. This balance derives from the success of its productive sectors, its productivity enhancement and its ability to contain costs. The government is driven by its productive sectors, e.g. tourism, without them there can be no sustainable development.

Unfortunately, the ideal is merely a beacon to which we aspire, we never actually get there but some countries are more successful than others. Walcott’s frustration reflects the large gap between the actual and the ideal in Caribbean countries.

My response to Clive Bacchus’ request was merely to say that the degree to which there will be sustainable development and happiness for Derek Walcott and the populace depends on the government’s vision and action in developing the productive economic sectors. President Jagdeo and other leaders therefore have a responsibility to strive harder to get it right.