Ask my five siblings to pinpoint the number one need that we faced growing up and you may quite likely hear very different answers from each of them. One may say financial provision, others may say it was the availability of more dynamic educational opportunities, and still another may describe regret for not having the kind of mentorship that encouraged a greater sense of self-worth and purpose. The disparity in the strongly-held views among us may have to do with our varying ages, gender, talent, personality differences and so on. But when we come together from various parts of the world for Christmas dinner each year, our views meld into one shared concern and agenda. Our familial connection mixed with holiday collaboration encourages us to be able to broker agreement and consensus for us to strive for present and future well-being and better times together.
That’s sort of what the 2019 Annual Consultation of Caribbean Governors Meeting was like; a coming together of a family of nations with a shared history, but each approaching the development agenda from different ages, stages, resources and cultural differences. Ask the citizens of any of these Caribbean countries to identify the biggest issue facing them these days, and you quite rightly may hear very different answers.
Is it the problem of violent hurricanes and weather systems that bring the vibrant ebb and flow of Caribbean life to a halt? We can scarcely forget the pounding impact of Maria, Irma, Ivan, Gilbert and so many other storms which have bequeathed unimaginable tragedy to our region’s citizens in their wake. The news reports are the same: loved ones, dead. Thousands shelter-less and hungry without clean water or power. Businesses crumble. Already struggling economies contract. Heads of Governments wail. Without a doubt, disaster management is a huge issue in the Caribbean, and everyone generally appreciates that climate issues in our region have gotten worse. Storms are stronger, rainfall heavier, winds fiercer, and storm surges lunge further. Plus, rising sea levels are a real land-eating threat. The rapid erosion of the beloved Hellshire Beach in Jamaica is one of the clearest cases of the sinister impact of climate change on land, livelihood, and lazy days hanging out on the sand. Indeed, climate change and natural disasters affect the entire Caribbean, but is it our number one problem?
For some, the biggest issue may be more man-made in nature. For them, crime is the massive hole in the bucket of national and Caribbean development. All of the efforts to reduce unemployment, to support small business development, and to provide appropriate job training for the region’s workers to function more strategically in the modern world and generally improve productivity are snuffed out by a troubled youth firing? an illegal weapon. Of course, the data does elevate crime as a top development issue that requires urgent action.
According to a recent IDB publication, Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combating Violence with Numbers, the Caribbean has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. The report found that youth of 18-24 years of age are the main victims of these assaults and threats, and that they generally occur in the victim’s community, and are perpetrated by a friend of the victim. Moreover, one of the defining features of crime in the region is the uniquely high level of violent crime against individuals and relatively low levels of property crime. What does this say about our value for human life and how we resolve conflicts as Caribbean people? Certainly, no one can disagree that violent crime is a major problem throughout the Caribbean, yet some still point to other issues deemed to affect their population more generally.
For example, the blacklisting of several countries in the Caribbean and branding them as ‘high risk’ because they may have a low tax rate and no requirement for physical presence, can seriously stymie growth and development. Blacklisted jurisdictions face reputational damage and stricter controls on their financial transactions, which can therefore more broadly affect the quality of life of the general population and send ripple effects throughout the region. Sir Ronald Sanders, a leading Caribbean analyst, wrote that CARICOM countries must confer urgently with the OECD to find solutions, noting that “the decline of the economies of eight of them will impact the neighbourhood in which the other seven exist. All are involved, and all can be consumed.”
These are the types of pressing issues that contend for evidence-based best-practice solutions during consultations between Caribbean governments and the IDB. At the recent consultation with Caribbean Governors, a compendium of development issues was discussed and examined with portfolio and knowledge experts from across the globe. In addition to disaster management, climate change, crime and blacklisting, there were exciting discussions around digitization, public sector modernization, leveraging technology, medical tourism, the blue economy, promoting foreign direct investment that can easily flow throughout the Caribbean, and how best to prepare for automation and artificial intelligence.
Delegations from Barbados, The Bahamas, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were astute and committed to debating the biggest issues facing the region. Caribbean leaders were challenged to take a fresh look at how they frame problems and solutions, and to be unafraid to discuss the IDB’s financial requirements for partnerships. It was disarming to listen to senior Government officials, financial experts and techies, like app developers, drone makers and city designers, get excited about solving problems in new and innovative ways. Wrapped in that kind of energy and commitment even the cynic can’t help but feel a sense of hope for the way forward, regardless of what you estimate our number one problem to be. Regardless of the issue that stands at the top of each country’s list, one thing is certain – collaboration, connection, and consensus among Caribbean countries working with development partners like the IDB, are key to arriving at effective sustainable solutions that improve people’s lives; an idea consistent with how a true family or a community may strive for present and future well-being and better times together.
At the end of two days of dialogue and deliberations, it was therefore fitting for Caribbean delegations to unwind with 12 Angry Men, an adapted play depicting that outcomes can be changed through open and honest dialogue.