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Dr Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon (Photo courtesy of Caribbean Development Bank)

CDB head says financial investments needed to build resilient, sustainable regional economies

Dr Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon (Photo courtesy of Caribbean Development Bank)

President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Dr Gene Leon said significant levels of financing and the buildout of proper social resilience are urgently needed if the region is to be placed on a path to sustainable welfare.

Delivering the keynote address at the 22nd annual SALISES Conference held virtually this week, the CDB president said that, with estimates indicating the need for a doubling of investment expenditure to halve the region’s poverty by 2030, similar increases in investments are necessary to achieve the sustainable development goals.

“A holistic approach will be needed that encompasses traditional forms of development finance, as well as a range of alternative and innovative financing instruments,” he said.

He noted that, while some progress has been made in deploying innovative financing, such as catastrophe bonds in Jamaica and insurance risk coverage through the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility in other countries, “new financial tools, such as resilience bonds, climate for debt swaps, and regional bond issues should be explored”.

Last year the organisation approved financial support to its borrowing member countries to the tune of approximately US$536.6 million — a 77 per cent increase on the prior year — in loans and grants to finance improvements in economic infrastructure, social resilience, policy-based initiatives, and novel coronavirus mitigation.

The president, in underscoring the challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic, also urged regional states to take bold and innovative steps as they shift towards a new development trajectory.

“Our development challenge is not merely to recover lost ground and close the distance to achieving the sustainable development goals, but to fundamentally alter the development path so that our societies can be placed on a higher and more sustainable welfare path in the future. This is the legacy that we need to leave for future generations,” Leon said.

He highlighted the education system as a bridge to building social resilience. He prompted academic institutions to become the buffer between technology and activity that allows the private sector and the international development partners to provide the financing and technicalities to take products to market, supported by an enabling environment.

Further calls were made by the president for the establishment of a regional knowledge hub, one which he believes should be supported by the co-operation of regional institutions, including The University of the West Indies, central banks, Caricom, and other multinational partners.

Headquarters of The University of the West Indies in Mona, St Andrew Jamaica (File photo)

“The knowledge hub would include a tracker for the region’s progress and serve as a platform for policy options and design based on the sustainable development goals. Moreover, the knowledge hub would become a database with comparable social and environmental statistics, while providing a fertile ground for cultivating an innovation lab,” he noted.