Tuesday, 22 November 2011 02:30
By Dr. Isaac Newton
Perhaps the global economic crisis is necessary to boost the growth of the local economy. If this produces homegrown-confidence, Antigua & Barbuda is poised to navigate the impact of markets' contraction.
The anti-local talent crowd, as always, will only listen to foreign experts, to the country’s demise. But conscientious residents and citizens are anticipating that the 2012 Budget will include sound ideas meant to ignite steady recovery breakthroughs.
Just as spiraling joblessness is a bitter indictment against the gap between performance and promise, so too is our prolonged pain a powerful critique against our lack of indigenous innovation. The very notion that local response is the only cure to poor economic global conditions hardly occurs to the anti-local talent crowd.
A river of tears and a mountain of mud are empty excuses for the absence of a rock solid recovery plan. If all the local economy can do is to accept great suffering from the worldwide economic crisis, doom will wave a mighty hand. Attempts at relaxing the labour market with an increasing number of investments are urgently needed.
Even though Antigua & Barbuda shares the same global space with other Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), scientific data reveals that it is still lagging behind in economic performance. For example, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in its 2010-2011 Economic Survey, predicted that St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines would lead the 3.2 percent economic growth rebounding trend in 2011.
The survey noted that, “Despite the prospects for positive economic activity in 2011, the economies remain vulnerable to natural disasters, as evidenced by Hurricane Tomas in the last quarter of 2010, which caused substantial damage in Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.” The major stress the global recession has had on the OECS region suggests that local solutions must offset global blight.
At stake is whether Finance Minister Harold Lovell will execute his obligation to implement an economic stimulus plan. Such a plan should lessen the impact of international factors on the local economy. But the minister must stay away from the logic of learnt helplessness. This repressive logic motivates mindless politicians to sentence the people to years of devastating financial dislocation. Their response is an expression of moral callousness entangled in elite cronyism and straightjacket laziness. They are afraid of their own imagination.
Ironically, with the tacit consent of the people, the merits of a thriving national economy will drown in the tidal wave of partisan warnings and wars. A cautious optimism is the better option.Mission
The economic success of Antigua & Barbuda lies in creating a seamless recovery pathway between stability and prosperity. The focus should be on fiscal discipline, social equality, and economic growth. Short of this, the nation’s ability to contribute to regional prosperity and integrate itself more firmly into the global economy is in deep trouble.
Realistic optimism that rescues the poor, and pragmatic hope that cares for the vulnerable should define the tone and feel of the 2012 Budget. I recommend that Lovell concentrate on “Coping with the Global Financial Crisis: On the Road to Recovery” as his model for presenting the 2012 Budget.
The minister should begin by reviewing the operational shortcomings and successes of the 2011 Budget. Lessons learnt should reflect new growth areas and inspire new strategies for promoting growth.
But the minister needs to articulate a clear political vision of where he wants the economy to go. Although the global recession can’t be brushed aside, Lovell’s mandate is to pinpoint what the government is doing, both to overcome the recession and set Antigua & Barbuda in the right direction for long-term growth. If the minister identifies the key economic instruments he will use to balance austerity with growth, the 2012 Budget will have the right mixture of macro policies and micro activities to revive the economy.
It is expected that the Ministry of Finance and the Economy maps out the resources for implementing the government’s political vision. Advisors should not forget to highlight the sources of the resources needed to attain their goal. Merely reporting GDP statistics won’t account for the driving force behind economic growth. GDP stats may indicate the status of the economy.
But the driving force behind economic growth lies in educating the people, supporting business structures, and beefing up the resilience of local entrepreneurs. Since worker productivity mirrors capital investment per worker, I agree with Minister of Education Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro’s plea for a bigger budget. She is determined to use scientific data to tilt educational outcomes in the direction of bankable excellence. Her stance is in order.
I also recommend that Lovell illustrate how Antigua & Barbuda’s success is linked, but not ultimately determined, by the trends in the global economy and in CARICOM. He cannot continue to bow to the calamities of retrenching markets, or he will miss achievable goals tailored to bread and butter concerns. Wasteful expenditures must be discontinued. Prudence demands it. There’s a shortfall on revenues, and debt repayment of local creditors must get the minister’s priority.
Informed thinking implies revamping the tax structure to reflect local attitudes for savings and reduced corporate spending. Tax structure must be in sync with significant private investments to boost consumer spending. The 2012 Budget’s shift in focus should equally emphasize homegrown feeding strategies. These must be tied to government investments in pension, education, healthcare, green energy, and infrastructural upgrade and development.
Although mercy in the tourism sector is long overdue, the will of the people by itself cannot create wealth for all. It will take mature leadership with a common vision to revitalize the economy. Unless Lovell champions a brighter reality where unemployment and inequality are on the decline, we will see another negative economic cycle. Only a cozy relationship between objective analysis and creative initiative will keep the 2012 Budget debate on mission.
Dr Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.