“Humility goes before honour.” – Proverbs 15:33

The spirits of Caribbean people are under siege as we try to release ourselves from the current economic bondage. There was a temporary distraction recently as we observed the magnificent performances of the West Indies men’s and women’s cricket teams as they both reached the semi-finals in their respective world T20 cricket championships. Here too, we have to “wheel and come again”.

It was almost 25 years ago when Peter Boos and I first connected professionally. As far as I recall, he was then President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a two-year stint and I was practising as a management consultant. We were at that time concerned about the state the Barbados economy and its future. We were engaged in many discussions with the private sector and the Government. One thing led to another, more and more people got involved and the Private Sector Association of Barbados and later the private/public sector partnership’s social compact, which involved government, the private sector and the trade unions, emerged.

We have kept in touch over the years through my then consulting practice at Systems Caribbean Ltd.; through BimVentures, an enterprise development initiative, where he served on the Board of Trustees and I was project manager; through the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation where he was Chairman and I was one of the first Board members; through my weekly Columns on which he would comment from time to time; and through many other email exchanges.

Last week Peter, knowing of my interest in Singapore’s development and how it could stimulate development in the Caribbean, sent me an article from the current issue of Credit Suisse (March 20, 2014) entitled Singapore’s Economic Miracle. In this article, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam shares his thoughts on work, foreigners and low taxes. The opening paragraph reads: “Fifty years ago Singapore was just a commercial port in the middle of malaria-infested swampland. Today its per capita income exceeds that of Switzerland, making it the model of success for Asia.”

I thanked him for the article and reflected on what I had learned on my last visit to Singapore in 2007. At the C.O.R.E. of the Singapore Advantage was Connectivity, Openness, Reliability and Enterprise. I asked myself “What is the Barbados Advantage to which we aspire”?

Peter asked: “What is our problem”?

I replied: “Here is my preliminary 10-point diagnosis – (1) Lack of vision – A failure to recognise that if we keep doing things in the same way we cannot expect to get different results; (2) Egos get in the way and there is a failure to learn from global success stories; (3) Poor Governance – (a) political interference getting in the way of good governance, (b) an over-managed country (20+ ministries), whereas Lima, Peru – with eight million people – is managed by a mayor, (c) all ministers should surround themselves with advisors (the best brains in a given portfolio) and ask the advisory committee to make the minister “look good” and (d) the civil service is overpopulated; (4) Lack of confidence in our own ability to craft local solutions – over-dependence on advice from international organisations which are not necessarily focused on solutions for national micro economies like ours; (5) Lack of leadership – We are not placing the ladder against the right wall (Peter Drucker); (6) Lack of management – we are not mobilising the resources at our disposal, both locally and in the Diaspora, so we know who can climb the ladder efficiently; (7) Lack of access to finance – there is no lack of money in the private sector but we have to be creative and innovative in providing Government incentives so that they can be used for the benefit of the country – “when the country wins, we all win”; (8) Business development – there is no lack of ideas, but they have to be shepherded to business success; (9) Failure to recognise the relative roles of the social partners – Government (Regulatory and Service functions); Private sector (Do Business); and Unions (Act in a consultative capacity to employees and employers to aggressively increase productivity – labour, process and technology – for fair compensation); and (10) The role of social partnership, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, needs to be reviewed”.

Peter thanked me for these observations and asked: “What will change the game?”

My response: “If the media were well informed and were more aggressively proactive rather than placidly reactive, then the media exposure will put pressure on the politicians and that will change the game”.

Peter continued: “So how do we change the media?”

I responded: “The Private Sector Association of Barbados must take the lead. They must convene a media conference to share with the media what needs to be done and solicit their partnership. I believe we ‘wrote this script’ back in 1990/1”.

Peter’s concluding remark: “Quite honestly it is hard to believe how little progress has been made” to which I ended: “Indeed”.

As I was about to write this column I was reminded of the song by Bob Dylan: “Blowin’ in the wind”.

“Yes, how many times must a man look up before he can really see the sky? Yes, how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind”. 

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. Columns are archived at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.)