As the world looks towards recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic, Caribbean nations are being told they may have more work to do than other regions. President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Gene Leon says the pandemic has created an opportunity to address ‘structural issues’ which have impaired development even before the pandemic.
He suggested that if emphasis is placed on fixing the long-standing issues, the region might find that improvements in the education system, for example, could overtake where it was before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID as a pandemic is not the beginning and end of our problems. We have had issues before COVID and I refer to those as existing structural challenges. Given that we had those challenges before, plus the pandemic and future climate change issues that we are facing as a region, I call that the trifecta of issues that we will need to overcome coming out of the pandemic,” said Dr Leon.
According to a 2018 Inter-American Development Bank Report on the region, “several common development challenges emerge, including weak fiscal institutions, crime and violence, a sluggish private sector, weak productive development policies, skill-biased emigration, and other structural impediments.” The report revealed that when taken together, these factors have resulted in a complex and challenging environment for promoting sustainable growth and development in the Caribbean.
It further highlighted that “the situation is made more difficult by recurrent natural disasters, which are projected to increase in frequency in the future. These challenges can be grouped into three areas: the public sector, the business environment, and social sectors/human development.”
With that in mind, Dr Leon has proposed four areas of focus to address what he calls the trifecta of issues. “One is resilient economies, second would be sustainable livelihoods, third is complete connectivity and the fourth is being agile, nimble and responsive as a region in terms of adaptability and being able to move in a competitive, highly productive, secure environment,” he continued.
But it won’t happen overnight; a reality Dr Leon duly acknowledged but noted that there are certain targets he’s hoping to achieve by the end of his first five years as president of the CDB. They include:
– Making a big dent in establishing and having as operational the data hub concept which would promote very strong evidenced-based decision creation.
-Moving the digital economy to at least 50 per cent of where regional leaders would like it to be, not in one country, but across the entire region.
-Making significant improvements in reducing the implementation capacity deficit that exists.
-Starting the process of repositioning education systems to generating learning modes that facilitate the innovation which is key to going forward in terms of focusing on enquiry, discovery and problem-solving as opposed to simply focusing on certification.
“If we could make headway into those four areas I’d be very pleased at the end of my five years,” he stated. “We need to reimagine the region in terms of how its development is going to emerge and that reimagining can be put together through what I’m calling a stronger CDB,” said Dr Leon.
In the same vein, Dr Leon said that the development has to be sustainable, “if it is sustainable we can only imagine that as remaining on a level trajectory or increasing as a trajectory, it cannot go south. If that is to be the case, the only way that can occur is if you have built in resilience and you can think of this simply as indicating if we were to go south we will not keep falling we will be able to come back to that level trajectory or to go above it.”
But it’s not an initiative which should be tackled by the Government alone, the CDB president is urging policymakers to forge a consensus with the private sector in order to achieve the development goals. “We do need to have goals that we can say are a common purpose or a specific purpose-driven mission that will cascade down in a way that says government is doing what it ought to be doing, private sector is doing what it ought to be doing and will integrate seamlessly towards meeting that common goal, so that we are not in a position where the private sector sees the Government as being enemy number one or vice versa,” Dr Leon noted.