“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” – John 14:27
In the middle of last week Mr. Peter Boos, well known private sector leader in the Caribbean sent an open letter to the Barbados political fraternity, on both sides of the political divide, and to the press entitled “The Barbados Economy-Competitiveness Essential”. The opening paragraphs of this letter were: “In the Prime Minister’s own words “phenomenal challenges face Barbados” and the road ahead is extremely daunting. There is no easy nor any quick fix for the problems which we face. We can do little about the global economic recession. How bad it gets and for how long it lasts nobody can predict. We are in unchartered turbulent waters. We must however accept full responsibility for having created an economy characterised by too much Government debt (over 80% of GDP), an unsustainably high fiscal deficit (over 5% and rising) and a lack of capacity to generate foreign exchange (falling foreign direct investment and erosion of foreign exchange reserves)”. He went on to say, “To put it simply we have three major serious problems to solve: (1) Insufficient ‘capacity and diversity’ in our foreign exchange earning sectors – unless we export we cannot afford to import (oil, cars, TVs, refrigerators, I-pods Nikes et al) nor pay for overseas vacations or own nice homes. (2) The cost of Government is far too high and productivity far too low. The tax burden to support this makes our industries uncompetitive. In a shrinking economy the size and cost of Government must also shrink. (3) Lack of competitiveness (high cost + low productivity) in key sectors. Unless we fix these problems we will see our standard of living fall sooner rather than later”. How do we fix these problems? The answer is to get back to basics and lay the foundation. The first layer is the spiritual layer. If we are spiritually aware then we should realise that there is no need to fear, to feel abandoned, bereft or distraught but to revel in the Peace which has been bestowed to us. If we are not spiritually aware then we need help and what better place to start than a study of John 14:27. The other layers are in the terrestrial plane. The second layer is to recognise first of all that the private sector’s role is to lead business activity in order to grow the economy and secondly that the public sector is to determine policy and create a user-friendly enabling environment by providing regulatory and service functions, in support of the private sector. A public private partnership was introduced in Barbados in response to the 1991 socio-economic crisis. The introduction of this Social Compact was heralded as the single most important action which resulted in a transformation of the Barbados to a relatively healthy state. Today, turbulent global waters have destabilised the Barbados economy. Should we not return to strengthen the Social Partnership at least until such time as the turbulence subsides? Indeed, Prime Minister David Thompson, soon after taking up office in January 2008, addressed those gathered for the opening ceremony of the 64th Annual General Conference of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) in the Horatio Cooke Auditorium. He promised a new look for the Social Compact and said that efforts will be undertaken to expand and strengthen the tripartite grouping to convert it into a meaningful tool. Now is the time to act. The third layer is sustainable economic development which can only be achieved by creating an environment to accomplish one successful enterprise after another. This enterprise development strategy, if diligently followed, could address Peter Boos’ problem number one “Insufficient capacity and diversity in our foreign exchange earning sectors”. Ten days ago BBEL, a Barbados partnership between CBET Inc., the Barbados Government and the Barbados private sector made a joint presentation, with Choice Hotels International (CHI), a Fortune 500 company, to the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association. Choice represents ten hotel franchises including their prestigious ASCEND collection which is a network of Historic, Boutique and Unique hotels that gives you an authentic, local experience. It was designed specifically for people who appreciate an upscale hotel with a strong local flair. Hotels have already responded positively to ascend with a Choice franchise which best suits their needs, in order to increase their occupancy rates and average daily rates. It is expected that the combination of CHI (promoters of a diverse hotel marketing franchise operation) and BBEL (promoters of Seed & Venture Capital services) would enhance the pipeline of prospective hotel enterprises for BBEL. Problem number two “The cost of Government is far too high and productivity far too low” can be addressed by taking action on the Auditor General’s report rather than ignoring it year after year. Where is Government’s accountability year after year? Problem number three can be addressed by introducing a National Trading Trust for each economic sector with a mandate to coordinate the flow of commodities from supply to market and to elicit support services to induce greater competitiveness by lowering cost and increasing productivity. A proposal has been put before the National Agricultural Commission in this regard and will be presented to the Minister of Agriculture today as a means of systematically revitalising the agricultural sector.